DCA Exclusive Commentary: A TRAVESTY- The Africa Internet Governance Forum (AFIGF)

DotConnectAfrica attended the recent African Internet Governance Forum (AFIGF) inaugural meeting, held on 30 September 2011, in Nairobi, Kenya as an observer.

As a corporate body that has an enduring stake in good Internet Governance as it pertains to Africa generally, DCA would like to express its acute concerns and overall dissatisfaction regarding how the AFIGF was inaugurated and the ‘selection’ of a Chairperson as an outcome of the meeting.

The pervasive viewpoint that was expressed by different speakers conveyed the feeling that the AFIGF was organized with no input from national IGFs and regional IGFs.  This implied the lack of the necessary quorum and lack of proper consensus on the organization and inauguration of an African Internet Governance Forum.   Lack of input from the supposed building blocks means that a bottom-up approach that is both inclusive, consultative, participatory and democratic will not be followed, instead, an ‘agenda’ is now being imposed highhandedly on all those who may have an interest in Internet Governance in Africa but have not been given a voice in the entire process. DCA believes that people should be given a choice in a matter that affects them.

The issue of “youth participation in AFIGF” for eg. further buttressed the above point, when DCA’s Samuel Ochanji posed the question. “This question was very relevant to the situation, since AFIGF was being formed for African’s at the grassroots level”, said the representative from West-Africa IGF “and not for the AU and UNECA”.  If one has not constituted national IGFs, and were looking forward to a Continental IGF, then the efforts were futile”.

This has already made most stakeholders very uncomfortable with the outcome of the AFIGF as something lacking broad legitimacy.

What is more, the ‘selection’ of Ms. Alice Munyua by a process of ‘anointment’ has not only raised eyebrows by many, but also calls into question the legitimacy of this ‘selection’.  Again, the arbitrary manner in which this was done clearly suggests that there was a pre-conceived plan to legitimize the appointment without any deliberative consultations amongst stakeholders.   It would appear on face value that Alice, an active Government Advisory Committee member, was only ‘anointed’ because she is a known defender of governmental positions on IGF matters, and her posturing has continuously proved to be anti-multistakeholder.   She has used every opportunity to advocate and advance the position of governments and inter-governmental organizations in Internet governance matters thus constricting the governance space for other non-governmental stakeholders.

Against the backdrop that the AFIGF is simply a ‘shell’ lacking a legally constituted framework that National IGFs from Sovereign African countries are supposed to approve and assent to its charter or constitution; many participants have already expressed deep concerns, and DCA is indeed worried that such arbitrariness that has been used to set-up and take control of the AFIGF by employing the tactics of a coup d’etat, if left unchecked at this early stage could be used to foster other private objectives that could be used to undermine the multi-stakeholder model of Internet governance.

The process of ‘selection’ of Alice Munyua as Chairperson of the AFIGF as a fait accompli has clearly failed to demonstrate credibility and legitimacy, as also expressed by prominent participants.

No due process was followed, and the absence of consultations has resulted in deep and widespread skepticism since many people believe that what transpired in Nairobi was a travesty.   No Secretariat was appointed and no interim officers were elected as a working group or interim committee to facilitate and oversee the affairs of the AFIGF for a clearly-defined interim period.

DCA hereby reiterates its profound concerns and would like to condemn the present practice whereby a few people simply meet without any initial consultations, and in the absence of consensus and a proper quorum, convene to take important decisions that will be considered binding on everybody. This is not only undemocratic but should not be accepted since this is clearly not the right way to proceed with good and representative Internet Governance in Africa.

We cannot preach good governance and credible elections within the larger polity, but practice ‘selections’ in the appointment of officials that would lead the AFIGF.

We need to learn to do things better for the benefit of all Africans.

Overall, the outcome of the AFIGF was clearly disappointing in more ways than one. The Terms of Reference (TOR) was not indicated and no proper structure has been put in place.

Moreover, the African Union’s position on African Internet Governance was not articulated by the AU representative at the meeting for the benefit of the participants. To all practical intents and purposes, the AU’s official views on African Internet Governance, and what definite role the organization hopes to play in AFIGF matters remains nebulous.

Therefore, DCA is of the opinion that the AFIGF meeting outcomes did not meet expectations, and should not be accepted as legitimate.

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