Thursday, November 04, 2004

Africa Calls For More Cyber-Rights

A recent article in PANOS FEATURES (03/08/04) by Gumisai Mutume tackles the issue of Internet governance and raises questions about how countries fromn the South might have an influence.

He writes: ..."Only three of the 13 computers that are essential for the proper functioning of the Internet are located outside the US (in Japan, Sweden and the UK) and the US government, which financed its development, only contracted out the services of administering the resource to a non-profit agency, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), in 1998.

.....Two main issues confront ICANN today: one of equity and the other of legitimacy. Increasingly questions are being raised over how much control over the resources and functions essential for the operation of the Internet the agency should hold. Also, can the agency represent the broader interests of other nations, particularly those in Africa?.....

South Africa is among the countries leading the call for the formation of an intergovernmental agency within the United Nations to take over the functions of ICANN.

The proposed role of the agency would go beyond dealing solely with technical matters to broader issues such as content, and helping countries build their Internet structures and develop bandwidth (the rate at which information is transmitted over communication lines) which remains very low in Africa. An intergovernmental agency could also provide space for politically and economically weaker nations to be heard, by providing equal seats or votes to each nation represented.

The current debate around Internet governance provides an opportunity for developing countries to tackle the long-standing question of the “digital divide” – the gap between those with access to information communication technologies, such as computers, and those without. In sub-Saharan Africa (excluding South Africa), there are an estimated 1.5-2.5 million Internet users, which translates to about one in every 250-400 people. In the rest of the world, 1 in 15 people have access.

Africans have long been calling for an international strategy to redress this and other information technology questions such as lack of content. They produce very little of the information materials available on the Internet. For the medium to be useful to Africans, they need to generate material relevant to each other, produced from their own environments and in their languages. A step in this direction would be for Africans to have a stake in the way the medium is run."

For the full article see Africa Calls For More Cyber-Rights