Sophia Bekele: AU Declaration on Internet Governance (IG) needs more participation, infringes on national sovereignty Staff Writer


CIO East Africa sought the views of Ms Sophia Bekele, also Founder of DotConnectafrica Group, on the recent AU Declaration on Internet Governance, and the global emerging IG activities and developments.

The African Union put out a call in May 2015 for comments for the AU Declaration on Internet Governance, which closed June 30, 2015. Among the issues of interest that are within the declaration are factors about Africa’s position on IG, the Internet Assigned Names Authority (IANA) oversight transition and the IGF status among others. Below are excerpts:

Question: Internet governance is currently under very many processes, with the IGF, IANA transition and NETmundial. What is your take on all these, and what do you think is the African position therefore?

Sophia Bekele: The internet is currently at an inflection point, a state where everything kind of merges together or comes to a space where everything is connected to everything. First, I will say that I would be very careful with the choice of the word ‘African position’, simply because it is almost difficult to put Africa in one basket. There could be views taken at an African view, or in a document yes, but as you are well aware, African Nations are sovereign states, therefore, each country within Africa has or could have its own position and interest, as regards internet governance matters.

We are learning, but still have long way in getting Africa to have a voice out there as a continent,. There is still over dependence on institutions such as ICANN to give Africa preferential opportunity, which we should actually out-grow and start taking our own independent responsibilities.

Question: With the latest call for comments on AU Declaration on Internet Governance, has there been enough engagement?

Sophia Bekele: No, there has not been a lot of discussion; in fact I won’t be surprised that people will start discussing it after they read about it on your forum here. The AU Declaration should have adapted a “comment by all” approach versus a Top down “Declaration” authored by few individuals. We need to stop these practices of few people speaking on behalf of 1billion population.

Question: What does that mean, then?

Sophia Bekele: This therefore shows that such declarations put forward on behalf of Africa without actual input from all stakeholders will be detrimental to the overall good of the continent in coming together to craft an acceptable creed or document that can be valid. Africa should not remain a victim of declarations that have been approved without enough public input.

Question: What are the areas of concern on the AU Declaration on Internet Governance?

Sophia Bekele: If you look at the 5 page Zero draft there are several areas that need to be expunged or seriously modified, some of the proposals though is acceptable, I will outline a few areas of concern: That is, Cyber-Security and Data Protection is an issue of Sovereignty and therefore African countries are ‘Sovereign Nations’.

The inclusion and engagement of all relevant African stake-holders in IG is Important. We have a dangerous over stating of the “role and influence of organizations such as the Afr* (AfriNIC, AfNOG, AfREN, AFRISPA, AfTLD, etc.), this should not be exaggerated in the ‘AU Declaration on Internet Governance’ to the detriment of other organizations that have been actively involved and legitimately engaged in Global Internet Governance work in Africa”

Question: What about ICANN accountability on IANA Transition

Sophia Bekele: Secondly, accountability and transparency remains to be a great worry in all these internet governance discussions; it is not a very palatable topic to many individuals. Further to that, Africa has not had so much input on the IANA transition discussion. Therefore since the Africa Union has put the language of the transition within the declaration then ‘AU Declaration on Internet Governance’ should have seriously stressed that the IANA Transition be conditioned on ICANN’s accountability improvements.

Question: What are your last comments?

Sophia Bekele: We need to see more multistakeholder engagement, and all inputs should result from a bottom-up process that reflects the inputs of regional Internet Governance Forums, African country ccTLD representatives, private sector corporates and non-governmental sector operatives, African civil society, concerned individuals.

Again the detailed listing of any and all public comments that have been submitted on this ‘draft Declaration’ by different stakeholders should be made available for public viewing by any interested party.”

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