I love doing collaborative pieces with colleagues, friends, seniors, mentors, etc. The week before the Global Internet Governance Forum, I KINDLY asked my good friend Joshua Joshua to plug in and join me in the penning of this piece the brief being, what the IGF is and why Africans should care.
The cold wind 💨 blowing and it’s Monday 28th November 2022 at Addis Ababa where over 2000+ policymakers, academics, civil society and government officials are gathered for the 2022 Internet Governance Forum (IGF).
The Internet Governance Forum is a global multistakeholder platform that facilitates the discussion of public policy issues pertaining to the Internet. The first phase of IGF was at the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), held in Geneva in December 2003, failed to agree on the future of Internet governance, but did agree to continue the dialogue and requested the United Nations Secretary-General to establish a multi-stakeholder Working Group on Internet Governance (WGIG).
Following a series of open consultations in 2004 and 2005 and after reaching a clear consensus among its members the WGIG proposed the creation of the IGF as one of four proposals made in its final report. Since then the forum has been a place where conversations about the internet have been argued and most especially cases of the internet have been done. Every year the IGF has hosted thousands of multistakeholders to discuss the future of the Internet.
The United Nations Secretary-General has recently chosen a Leadership panel for the IGF, Following the Roadmap for Digital Cooperation which calls for the strengthening of the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) through, among other aspects, ’’creating a strategic and empowered multi-stakeholder high-level body, building on the experience of the existing multi-stakeholder advisory group, which would address urgent issues, coordinate follow-up action on Forum discussions and relay proposed policy approaches and recommendations from the Forum to the appropriate normative and decision-making forums.’’
The 17th annual IGF meeting was successfully hosted by the Government of Ethiopia in Addis Ababa between 28 November to 2 December 2022. This year`s IGF had several sessions focused on Addressing Advanced Technologies (including Artificial Intelligence (AI), Avoiding Internet Fragmentation, Connecting All People and Safeguarding Human Rights, Enabling Safety, Security and Accountability, Governing Data, and Protecting Privacy as thematic areas.
This year's forum was an interesting one because it happened in Ethiopia, it might be well-known that Ethiopia has long shut down the Internet in the Tigray region, Human rights activists have long since argued why the IGF is holding a place that lacks the foundation of the basis of the IGF and most importantly is a key conversation in this years IGF thematic area which is focused on avoiding Internet fragmentation.
The Largest Meeting on how the Internet is Governed - Top of Mind
Being my second in-person IGF meeting I was very clear on what my intentions and agenda were.
First, I was extremely keen on getting visibility on new trends and what’s happening globally. What are the burning issues globally on the internet? I found that AI and ethics remain a key concern, internet fragmentation and what that means to various people in terms of geography, demographic, gender, and ableness came top as well as digital rights protection. Respect for human rights in the digital age be it the right to access the internet #keepiton, equal and meaningful access and what that means, freedom of expression, and right to privacy online. Data governance was huge too. Especially for most majority world attendees, how personal data is collected, used, and capitalized across geographic lines. Misinformation and Disinformation continue to be a running theme in the ecosystem.
I expected to hear more on platform accountability and governance, which I’m working on, but there was only a session or two relevant to that.
Secondly, Networking + Consensus Building.
If you’ve been in policy long enough you understand that policy isn’t made in board rooms or in government offices, it’s made in person, on the move, in conferences - not in the rooms - but along corridors. The best way to build consensus is in person and this being the 2nd in-person meeting was critical. It was extremely important for me to meet people in person (and though my voice completely betrayed me) I managed to do this, albeit in whispers.
The Internet is managed as a public utility. That means a resource of - multistakeholderism. The decisions made and conversations had at the IGF will affect how the internet as we know it continues to be managed the world over.
As Josh mentioned above, Ethiopia’s complicated relationship with the internet was definitely at the fore. A key issue was during the opening session with the Ethiopian Prime Minister where attendees were asked to leave their phones and devices at the registration desk rather than take them with them. Only other gathering I’ve seen that happen in Kigali, Rwanda, an address graced by President Kagame.
Africa as the Next Billion of Internet users
When it’s all said and done, I expected to see a lot of African-centric engagement. This is the second meeting in Sub-Saharan Africa after Kenya hosted in 2011 and the third in Africa after Egypt hosted in 2009. This meeting on the Continent was a true question of inclusive multistakeholderism and representation. It was fantastic to see such an overwhelming show of African attendance and representation.
The fact that ...
Ethiopian and African hospitality remains unmatched.
When a Space X rocket takes off from Cape Canaveral, it uses up a large portion of its total fuel just to overcome the gravitational pull of the Earth. Once it is free of gravity, it can pretty much glide through space for the rest of its mission. That's the result of building momentum. It's like that in business and careers as well; you have to do what it takes to get to the place where people see you as an expert and a person of integrity. And as long as you maintain a high level of professionalism, you will be able to reap the benefits for a long time.
Jack Canfield with Ram Ganglani and Kelly Johnson