This week Nairobi Kenya is hosting the Internet Governance Forum on “The Internet as a Catalyst for Change: Access, Development, Freedom and Innovation” . The global IGF is being held in Africa for the first time and thousands of internet experts and users are in Nairobi to discuss challenges facing the internet. Considering the number of things which have happened so far this year, you can see that the forum’s theme is well chosen: the political uprisings in North Africa and the Middle East, the concerted effort by the US government to shut down Wikileaks after exposure of cables from US embassies are only some of the reasons why net activists are up in arms demanding less control of the net by government.
The following summarizes the main points covered on the first day of the IGF:
- The state should be a protector and not a killer
There is a general consensus that the internet empowers citizens to a level never seen before. With that in mind, all stakeholders should work together towards promoting and encouraging the growth of the internet as a space for freedom, expression and innovation. Only unfortunately, there’s one elephant in the room among the stakeholders called Government which probably has a different agenda. It is obvious to many that for the internet to achieve its true potential, public authorities must support and protect it, and should never do something as silly as to kill it.
- Future growth and development depends largely on the Internet
The internet accounts for more than one quarter of GDP growth in mature countries with e-commerce playing a central role in this. That is supported by a study by McKinsey published this year which showed that the Internet accounted for 21 percent of GDP growth in mature countries. In developing countries like Kenya, the picture is slightly different. Kenya in particular bypassed the e-commerce stage and went straight to m-commerce (mobile commerce refers to consumers shopping through a mobile payment system). According to the Communications Commission of Kenya (CCK) director-general Francis Wangusi, ICT contributes 2.8% of Kenya’s GDP. Given the massive growth of mobile phone subscribers seen in the last few years, this is expected to rise steadily. See the Infographic: Kenya Mobile subscribers, Penetration and Internet.
- Cyberattacks on governments, corporations, and individuals; Security
How safe is the internet – especially for those with less technical expertise or for children is one question which will be discussed throughout the three days of the gathering. Neelie Kroes, vice-president of the European Commission responsible for the Digital Agenda believes that the internet must inspire confidence. According to him, people will use the online world only in so far as they can trust it.
“If the internet is for everyone, then it must be a place of security, privacy and safety for everyone, not just for those with deep technical expertise, or deep pockets” he said in his speech.
In Kenya alone, we have seen all forms of cybercrime including mobile money transfer fraud, electronic banking fraud, government website hacking (defacement of the Kenya Police Website is just one example). Then there is the issue of children who require protection from the dangers they face online.
We will wait and see if the forum will come up with any action which can be taken to make internet completely safe for everyone.
Is the multi-stakeholder approach to governance of the internet the way to go or should it be changed to direct regulation by each country or region?
Some international organizations and governments are calling for multi-stakeholder solutions to be abandoned in favour of direct regulation of the internet. The main contentious issue here is the question of attribution and of who is responsible for what. Under what law does the internet operate? Governing a borderless environment like the internet is a big challenge and sometime there can be uncertainty or outright conflict. Discussions on this continue.
- Climate Change
This is one the biggest issues facing humanity today, and ICT could be crucial in this regard. It is said that while ICTs are responsible for 2-3% of global greenhouse emissions, they can help to reduce emissions in other sectors by 15%. This is a huge margin which deserves to be paid more attention.
….I am looking forward to the second day!