What you need to know:
- A highlight was the question of "blockchains", the new internet technology said to be the next disruptive factor, particularly, but not limited to, the financial sector.
- Another contentious issue was the question of whether to regulate "Over-The-Top" services, or OTTs, as they are known.
- Many participants felt that ICT-related innovation in Kenya was happening in spite of, not because of, academic input.
Last week, the eighth national Internet Governance Forum (IGF) was held at a Nairobi hotel. It attracted more than 200 participants and was officially opened by ICT and Innovation Principal Secretary Victor Kyalo.
The IGF is a local chapter of the UN-sanctioned global IGF that meets every year to discuss policy relating to how the internet is evolving and governed.
The forum brought together government, the private sector, academia, the media, civil society, technical communities and individual users to deliberate on existing and emerging internet-related matters. I review some of the key issues discussed in this blog.
A highlight was the question of "blockchains", the new internet technology said to be the next disruptive factor, particularly, but not limited to, the financial sector.
A blockchain is often defined as a public framework for securely registering and storing electronic transactions in a decentralised, anonymous manner. It’s a big deal in the financial sector because it allows crypto-currencies like Bitcoin or BitPesa to exist outside the control of central banks.
The Central Bank of Kenya was invited to the forum. Although officials from the bank were unable to make it or send a representative, they do have a public statement against crypto-currency technology that most stakeholders saw as retrogressive, given that the currency already exists and is in circulation.
Furthermore, blockchain technology can be deployed outside the financial sector. It could even find use within our electoral process, given that it allows for secure registration and storage of anonymous electronic transactions such as online votes.
Another contentious issue was the question of whether to regulate "Over-The-Top" services, or OTTs, as they are known.
OTTs are those content services, such as WhatsApp, Twitter and Instagram, among others, that ride over existing telecommunication infrastructure.
These services consume telecommunication bandwidth without having to enter into agreements with the telecom operators – the owners of the telecommunication infrastructure.
If anything, most telco providers consider these services predatory because they tend to eat into traditional revenues streams, such as voice or SMS, by providing free alternatives.
The global trend in the developed North is to leave these OTTs un-regulated, but developing countries have argued increasingly for a revenue mechanism for OTTs, particularly because the content owners benefiting from these services are usually not local.
LIP SERVICE TO INNOVATION
Discussions around elections and the internet noted that governments in Africa tend to shut down the internet during election periods. Most participants, however, felt this was really a strategy to suppress freedom of expression rather than to promote national security.
Ezra Chiloba, the CEO of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC), said that such decisions are outside the mandate of IEBC and are handled by other state agencies.
He, however, assured participants that the IEBC’s intention was to use ICT to ensure openness and promote transparency in the electoral process.
Another heated discussion revolved around the question of academia and innovation. Many participants felt that ICT-related innovation in Kenya was happening in spite of, not because of, academic input.
Universities, in particular, were singled out for not being active in the innovation ecosystem, with some paying lip service to the agenda by having innovation labs that are out of bounds for regular students.
Participants warned that there was an acute need to bring together academia, industry and government to scale up the innovation potential in Kenya to global levels.
In conclusion, the Kenya IGF has come of age. Different stakeholders with often-conflicting positions can agree to sit and deliberate the whole day on ICT issues, trying to understand each other’s perspectives.
This is the only way to move the ICT agenda forward.
Mr Walubengo is a lecturer at the Multimedia University of Kenya, Faculty of Computing and IT. Email: [email protected], Twitter: @jwalu