Last week, the annual Internet Governance Forum (IGF) week – Kenya edition came to a close at a Nairobi Hotel. Hosted by the Kenya ICT Action Network and now in its twelfth edition, the IGF week presents the best platform for ICT policy dialogues.
Fashioned along the annual Global Internet Governance Forum, it aims to bring together different stakeholders with different perspectives to discuss contemporary policy matters that the ever-evolving ICT technologies present.
The unique proposition that the IGF presents is that all stakeholders are on ‘equal’ footing.
In other words, whether you are from government, media, academia, civil society or whatever else your stakeholder grouping maybe, your views will be heard and adopted on merit.
Also commonly known as a bottom-up approach to policy making, this is in contrast to the traditional top-bottom approach that nation states are familiar with.
Governing the Internet is therefore quite different from governing countries or state agencies. The Internet’s pervasive nature that cuts across different countries and sectors means that a top-down approach to addressing its emerging challenges would, at best, be ill-suited and, at worst, detrimental to its growth.
This reality was recognised fourteen years ago when the UN Secretary General commissioned the first global IGF, IGF Greece, in 2006.
Since then, there has been an annual gathering of policy makers to discuss challenging public policy matters that technological developments of the Internet present to society.
This year’s policy matters included but are not limited to data governance, digital inclusion, security and safety online.
Data governance is something that Kenyans can identify with, particularly in light of the current effort by government to collect citizen data with respect to the Huduma Namba project.
Typical questions that may arise include the validity of the scope, purpose, security and which third parties would subsequently access this data and under which parameters.
These are data governance issues that just two years ago never bothered Kenyans when they flocked to the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission during their digital voter registration exercise.
The IGF platform presents opportunities and spaces for citizens to meet and engage directly government policy makers on these issues.
Digital inclusion relates to the traditional issues that explore how to increase affordable Internet access to communities through a variety of technical infrastructure.
Common debates would revolve around whether Telco providers’ push for profits far outweighs the public good or the right for everyone to communicate – which covers those who may not afford the communication services.
The Security and resilience of the Internet infrastructure cannot be over-emphasised. As more and more of our socio-economic life moves onto the digital platforms, so does our vulnerability to cybercriminals.
New forms of attacking both the Internet infrastructure and users keep cropping up faster than the ability to contain them.
Vulnerable groups like children, cyber-newbies and others are the easiest targets and presents challenges in terms of how they can be protected – even from themselves.
The infamous Cambridge Analytica attack on both the Facebook infrastructure and its users comes to mind. The Internet continues to evolve in ways that are both positive and criminal and it does require a multi-stakeholder approach to address these challenges.
The IGF was precisely made for this type of reality and Kenya continues to make its contributions both locally and at the global level.
Its is therefore important to keep the IGF alive by staying engaged and, more importantly, bringing different voices and perspectives to the table.
Mr Walubengo is a lecturer at Multimedia University of Kenya, Faculty of Computing and IT.
Email: [email protected], Twitter: @Jwalu