Internet Universality underlined as key for Sustainable Development at the 4th African Internet Governance Forum

news_170915_iu.jpg

© UNESCO

“If you are not at the table, you will be on the menu” stated Jan Moolman from the Association for Progressive Communications during a panel of the African School on Internet Governance dedicated to underlining frameworks, principles, charters, and spaces linking internet governance and human rights. The need for the African region to be at the table, and not on the menu, as it concerns issues of internet governance and the necessity to ensure the region is equipped not only as consumers, but as producers on the internet took center stage during the 4th African Internet Governance Forum at the African Union in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, from 6 to 8 September.

Following the CONNECTing the Dots conference and outcome document underlining the significance of the Internet for human progress and its role in fostering inclusive Knowledge Societies, UNESCO presented the “internet universality” concept during the African School on Internet Governance, which brings together civil society professionals from across the continent prior to the Internet Governance Forum to discuss emerging issues in the changing ecological landscape of the internet in Africa. AfriSIG 2015, held in conjunction with APC's Gender in Internet Governance Xchange (GIGx) for Africa, was founded to ensure African multi-stakeholder participation in internet governance processes and a forum on the continent where government, civil society, businesses and technical people from across the region can develop strategies to ensure the internet assumes its rightful role in the post 2015 development agenda.

Following UNESCO’s presentation during AfriSIG and prior to the African Internet Governance Forum, UNESCO held a side event entitled “UNESCO’s Priority Africa and the Internet Study – Relevance to Human Rights Online.”  An overview of the Internet Study was presented, with a particular focus on the need for the internet to be rights based, open, accessible to all, and multi stakeholder. Following the overview of the study, a panel of the study in the context of Africa was moderated by Chris Kabwato from Highway Africa. Grace Githaiga (Kenya ICT Action Network) underlined the need for principles of freedom of expression to be translated to the digital environment. Ephraim Kenyanito, Dora Mawutor from the Media Foundation for West Africa, and Emilar Vushe from the Association for Progressive Communications articulated the ways in which issues of privacy, ethical dimensions of the information society, and access to knowledge and information are at the forefront of the agenda of debates on Internet Governance in Africa.

During the African Internet Governance Forum held at the African Union and as chair of the session on “Human Rights and the Internet,” UNESCO reiterated the need, in light of the African Union’s Agenda 2063 and post-2015 development agenda, to place human rights at the heart of Internet Governance in Africa, using the concept of “internet universality” with its four guiding principles that the internet should be human rights based, open, accessible to all, and multi-stakeholder as a basis for ensuring human rights online.  UNESCO further underlined that “Internet Universality” accords with the Report of the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression and also echoes the first resolution on “promotion, protection and enjoyment of human rights on the Internet” passed by UN Human Rights Council in 2012.  Lastly, UNESCO introduced the internet freedom series and recently published internet study “Keystones to Foster Inclusive Knowledge Societies” to underline cross cutting and emerging issues in the field related to free expression, privacy, ethics, and access. 

Linking current work by UNESCO to the African Declaration on Internet Rights and Freedoms, a Pan-African initiative to promote human rights standards and openness principles in internet-policy making on the continent, panelists from Nigeria, Gambia, and South Africa and participants of the African IGF recommended the need to use “internet universality” and the Declaration as guiding principles for emerging issues in the changing ecology of the internet in Africa to ensure the internet plays a central role in post 2015 development work.