African School on Internet Governance 2014: Defining Priorities and Addressing Capacity Gaps

2014 African School on Internet Governance

2014 African School on Internet Governance (Picture by Nnenna N.)

“Thank you, Madam Chair”, he said, before going ahead to make a point about which paragraph – in a statement various groups worked on over the past few days – he thought required some form of revision. This form of language is not new to actors within the United Nations system, or similar platforms, but today, delegates are not in such a session but at the 2014 African School on Internet Governance’s Practicum Plenary.

Over the past few days, 38 participants from 17 countries across Africa have been discussing the subject of Internet Governance and its relevance to Africa, guided by a faculty that cuts across almost as many countries as participants. Subjects discussed around Internet Governance include Policy Making Institutions, Internet Infrastructure, Internet Addresses and Name Management, National and Regional Polices, Internet Governance in Africa, Multi-Stakeholder Issues, Human Rights and Cybersecurity.

As I listened to the class discuss – even argue – issues, it was obvious that participation was meaningful. I imagine that the Association for Progressive Communications and other co-organisers of the School are proud of the intensive 4-day training session set up to address the capacity gaps that obviously exist, and that have a huge impact on Africa’s participation in global Internet Governance processes.

The representatives of civil society organisations and government institutions at the training have at least started on a new knowledge path that could inform meaningful contribution to the global process, and I trust that most would now take this to their respective organisations in order to at least spread the knowledge a little. However, the School has done a lot more than create an atmosphere for learning and active participation; it has, to some extent, helped define priorities for Africa’s participation in the Internet Governance process.

For a continent that is not a stranger to issues competing for attention, many ICT Policy experts and advocates have been met with the challenge of defending the suggestion that certain issues within the Internet Governance conversation deserve attention without the assumption that they have been imported due to donor influence. The 2014 African School on Internet Governance was not one without the contest of ideas – a great reflection of the success of the School, if you ask me – but every issue enjoyed its own attempt at gaining priority, on the merit of relevance to the various stakeholders across the continent.

As the School comes to a close later today, a huge burden (no pressure, ladies and gentlemen) rests on the shoulders of participants as they must now go on to do at least 3 things: put new knowledge to use in their work; share acquired (or refined) knowledge with colleagues and/or other stakeholders; and improve their contribution within the national, regional and global Internet Governance Forum space. Beyond the opportunity of facilitation, I leave Mauritius with a smile, knowing that the 4 days of learning helped to define priorities and address capacity gaps.

“I am going to challenge delegates to continue this conversation online, to take care of areas where compromise is needed”, stated Madam Chair as she thanked delegates for their hard work towards coming up with a statement with input from the 4 stakeholder groups that participants joined over the course of the School – Civil Society, Government, Private Sector and Technical Community. The sessions leading to the statement might have been simulated but the final statement coming out of the 2014 African School on Internet Governance’s Practicum Plenary session demonstrates new learning and understanding of the issues.

What is true for this School is true for Africa and the ICT Policy space in general: Africa must define priorities in order to improve engagement, and we must address capacity gaps that ensure we do more than just have a seat at the table.