What did Africa Get out of NetMundial Internet Governance Discussions?
NetMundial, the Global Multistakeholder Meeting on the Future of Internet Governance concluded recently in Sao Paulo, Brazil. The meeting’s goal was to develop internet governance principles and proposing a roadmap for the further evolution of the Internet governance ecosystem. In total, 1,480 participants from all stakeholder groups were physically present at NetMundial while, there were more than 30 hubs around the world (from 97 countries) with at least 200 daily views thus facilitating remote participation.
Our previous analysis of African stakeholders’ contributions to the initial NetMundial open submission process found that stakeholders from Africa emphasized human rights and role of governments in matters of internet governance.
COMPARISON WITH THE NETMUNDIAL MULTISTAKEHOLDER STATEMENT
NetMundial concluded with the approval by acclamation of a final statement on internet governance principles. The final text built on the contributions made at the initial NetMundial open submission process and inputs from the Public Consultation at the NETmundial’s website. However, in the process of negotiations and attempts to reach consensus, compromises were made along the way. With this blog post we compare the contributions from the African region with the final NetMundial statement.
As noted above, submissions coming from Africa had a strong emphasis on human rights issues. Notably:
- CIPIT Kenya emphasized the need for full respect for freedom of expression, privacy, and protection from surveillance;
- a group of African ICT/IG Stakeholders noted that intellectual property, freedom of expression, and the privacy and protection of personal data, minorities and children must be protected;
- Our Rights Nigeria focused on the rights for people in Least Developed Countries, which must also be protected online, and should not be held to different standards;
- Zimbabwe Human Rights Forum emphasized the lack of provisions for protecting the right to privacy in legal framework in Africa, and the need to learn from best practices from other regions; and
- a coalition of Entertainment and Cultural Organizations (with members from Africa) called for ensuring the protection of intellectual property rights, as well as users’ rights, in an environment where stakeholders share knowledge and information.
Generally, the final NetMundial statement is in line with the priorities expressed in the African submissions in acknowledging the universality of human rights and taking into consideration internet governance priorities from developing countries’ perspectives. For example, the NetMundial outcome document recognizes that the internet is a global resource, which should be managed in the public interest.
The final text was also consistent with African inputs in reinforcing the point that the same rights that people have offline must also be protected online, elaborating certain rights such as freedom of expression, freedom of association, and privacy among others.
Other similarities were seen in regards to positions on communications surveillance and privacy. While the final NetMundial text did not live up to some high expectations from civil society, it did ultimately address the issue, noting:
“Procedures, practices and legislation regarding the surveillance of communications, their interception and collection of personal data, including mass surveillance, interception and collection, should be reviewed, with a view to upholding the right to privacy by ensuring the full and effective implementation of all obligations under international human rights law.”
With regards to rights of accessibility for people with disabilities, the final NetMundial text went beyond what most of the African submissions called for, stating that persons with disabilities should enjoy full access to online resources and citing the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
As noted above, some African submissions emphasized the need for internet governance to address the needs of people in developing countries. NetMundial addressed this issue in stating,:
“all people have a right to development and the Internet has a vital role to play in helping to achieve the full realization of internationally agreed sustainable development goals. It is a vital tool for giving people living in poverty the means to participate in development processes.”
Culture and linguistic diversity
African submissions highlighted Africa is home to 54 countries, with 1 billion people of varying ethnic descent, more than 2,000 languages and several writing systems or scripts. As such, cultural and linguistic diversity are important principles for Africa and efforts should continue towards local development of online content and making content available in forms that are locally relevant. The final NetMundial text takes this issue into account, stating that “Internet governance must respect, protect and promote cultural and linguistic diversity in all its forms.”
Unified and unfragmented online space
African submissions noted that the open architecture of the internet and its status as a public good should be preserved to ensure that innovation and creativity in its use and evolution continues without undue interferences. Additionally, African submitters highlighted that knowledge-sharing is an important aspect of preserving openness as it supports innovation and interoperability. The NetMundial text closely reflects this concept, asserting that the:
“Internet should continue to be a globally coherent, interconnected, stable, unfragmented, scalable and accessible network-of-networks, based on a common set of unique identifiers and that allows data packets/information to flow freely end-to-end regardless of the lawful content.”
On a related point, NetMundial’s treatment of access to knowledge and intellectual property rights reflects competing interests coming from African submissions, as well as elsewhere. For example, while Africa ICT Alliance (AfICTA) and the Tunisian government highlighted the importance of access to information and knowledge-sharing, the coalition of Entertainment and Cultural Organizations (which in part included: ANCOP, Nigeria: Association of Nollywood Core Producers; SAFACT, South African Federation Against Copyright Theft (Southern African film, home entertainment and interactive games
industries), for example, emphasized the need to protect intellectual property rights. Regrettably the language on freedom of information was altered to include the phrase “consistent with the rights of authors and creators as established in law” as a result of intensive lobbying from elements within the private sector. Even within Africa there were different views on this issue.
Access and low barriers
On Access and low barriers, it is notable that this was a key issue for African stakeholders, with at least one submission from each of the stakeholders focused on this. The final NetMundial text asserted that “Internet governance should promote universal, equal opportunity, affordable and high quality Internet access.” This goes beyond what the African submissions called for, as they did not use the term “high quality internet,” but is a welcome inclusion.
The final NetMundial text reflected the importance raised in African submissions of involving all stakeholders in the further evolution of the Internet Governance ecosystem. For example African Stakeholders’ Contribution to NetMundial had proposed that there was need for coordination between Regional and National IGF meetings while NetMundial final text expresses, “National multistakeholder mechanisms should serve as a link between local discussions and regional and global instances. Therefore a fluent coordination and dialogue across those different dimensions is essential.”
African contributions and more specifically the Tunisian government submission had emphasized the importance of capacity building and one can note that this has also been elaborated by the final text of NetMundial as, “Enabling capacity building and empowerment through such measures such as remote participation and adequate funding, and access to meaningful and timely information are essential for promoting inclusive and effective Internet governance.”
With respect to institutional improvements, African submissions had suggested that the global IGF and Regional IGFs produce tangible outcomes in the form of non-binding opinions, recommendations, or policy principles and better coordination among various players in the internet governance ecosystem
The NetMundial final text is in line with these suggestions. The relevant sections reads,
“There should be adequate communication and coordination among existing forums, task forces and organizations of the Internet governance ecosystem. Periodic reports, formal liaisons and timely feedbacks are examples of mechanisms that could be implemented to that end. It would be recommendable to analyze the option of creating Internet governance coordination tools to perform on-going monitoring, analysis, and information-sharing functions.”
“There is a need for a strengthened Internet Governance Forum (IGF). Important recommendations to that end were made by the UN CSTD working group on IGF improvements. It is suggested that these recommendations will be implemented by the end of 2015.”
We can also note that both the African submissions and the final text recommend an extension of the current IGF mandate to a few more years.
Globalization of ICANN and IANA
Most African submissions addressing the globalization of ICANN and the IANA transition focused on this matter only focused on the importance of multistakeholder involvement in the process and did not suggest how the globalization ought to be carried out.
The NetMundial final text calls for multistakeholder involvement and gives a specific timeline 0f 2015 which was not given by the African submissions. The NetMundial Text states: “This transition should be conducted thoughtfully with a focus on maintaining the security and stability of the Internet, empowering the principle of equal participation among all stakeholder groups and striving towards a completed transition by September 2015.”
In conclusion, one can say that generally speaking the outcome of NetMundial reflected the priorities expressed in the submissions coming from Africa.
It is important to note, however, that the language of the NetMundial statement was watered down when compared against the text included in the African submissions in some respects. This left some of the paragraphs of the final text too vague and open to varied interpretations.
Perhaps the best example of this is NetMundial’s treatment of net neutrality: Some aspects of net neutrality were contained in the outcome document, such as the principle that “data packets/information to flow freely end to- end regardless of the lawful content,” but the term itself was not included, except in the section “Points to be discussed beyond NetMundial.” Net neutrality was a clear priority in some African Submissions: Contribution of the government of Tunisia, African ICT/IG Stakeholders, CIPIT Kenya and in Sudan’s Beta Advanced Projects.
One reason African priorities are not always addressed at international internet governance processes is that there are often low levels of participation from the region. In the case of NetMundial, the meeting had approximately at least 200 daily views from remote participants across each of the 5 hubs located in Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa and Tunisia and there were 77 participants physically present in Brazil.
While participation from Africa may have been lower than that of other regions, African governments made up one-quarter of the group of governments co-hosting NetMundial- Ghana, South Africa, Tunisia among the 12 countries that co-hosted the meeting. There were also a number of prominent African persons in leadership positions in the meeting: Nnenna Nwakanma spoke as a civil society speaker in the opening ceremony, Jimson Olufuye, Tarek Kamel, Adiel Akplogan, Anriette Esterhuysen and Andile Ngcaba among others participated as members of leadership committees and chairs of sessions.
Additionally, a number of high-ranking government officials spoke at NetMundial, including Edward Kofi Omane Boamah (Minister of Communications, Ghana), Thierry Moungalla (Minister of Posts and Telecommunications, Republic of Congo), and Jean Philibert Nsengimana (Ministry of Youth & ICT, Rwanda).
In order to bring the NetMundial outcome forward in Africa, it is up to those who engaged in the process and see value in its outcome to continue to press for progress around their priorities. There is no shortage of fora to do so. Africans who participated physically and remotely at NetMundial are already engaging through various mailing lists such as: AfNOG (African Network Operators Group), AFRINIC (African Network Information Center), AfREN (The African research and education networking), AfTlD (African Top Level Domains Organization), AfricaCERT, ISOC African Chapters, the African IGFs, the AfPIF (African Peering and Interconnection Forum) and AfriSIG (Africa School of Internet Governance). Most of these organizations have slotted sessions regarding issues pointed out in NetMundial final document during their physical meetings in 2014.
This article was originally published on Ephraim’s professional page on Access Now.