Africa’s Active Participation in Internet Governance: A Vital Key To The Realization of NEPAD Goals (Part 2)

…. Continued from Part 1.

The Legal Component:

There are two main approaches to the legal aspects of the Internet. There is the real law approach where the Internet is treated no differently from previous telecommunication technologies; hence existing legal rules can be applied to the Internet. The other is the cyber law approach based on the notion that the Internet introduces new types of social relationships in cyber space, creating a need for new laws.
The real law approach is gaining predominance because of a general thinking that a considerable part of existing legislation can be applied to the Internet while creating new ones as the need arises.
A very contentious issue in the legal aspect of Internet Governance is jurisdiction and this is due to the perceived borderless nature of the Internet. African Governments need to take this very seriously, especially those who are labeled as online scam perpetrators because in the nearest future every scammer will claim to be a Nigerian (Apologies to the good people of Nigeria).
The following questions arise when considering the issue of jurisdiction in the cyber space:
• Which court or state authority has the proper authority to try offenders?
• Which rules should be applied?
• How should court decisions be implemented?
African countries should advocate:
• The modernization of international private laws to keep up with the reality of the present Cyber society.
• Harmonization of national laws to reflect common goals by countries in eradicating crime and unwholesome behaviors.
• The use of arbitration in cases where normal law is ineffective.
• Employing technical solutions such as geo-location software for identifying the location of Internet users.

The Economic Component:

The Internet has no doubt changed the economic system of the world. Many businesses are going online and the reality of the present day economy is that soon, countries with low e-commerce penetration will be disadvantaged in the world economy. There must be a conscious effort by Africans to harness the power of e-commerce in developing its economy.
E-commerce can not be properly implemented without a functional e-payment system which requires a stable, secure and functional legal environment. The disturbing trend is that most developing countries do not have such infrastructure for now and might not reach the desired level if there are no conscious efforts made. The use of e-banking and e-money will no doubt bring a revolution to the worldwide banking system. It will reduce the cost of running banks and push the world towards a cashless society; it also has its potential loopholes in being a tool for money launderers and the menace of hackers.
To increase exports in Africa, there is a need to push more African businesses into the Internet. This will no doubt help in improving economies and provide more jobs. Essentially, the advantages of embracing e-commerce far outweighs the disadvantages and part of the NEPAD goals should be finding ways of harnessing its potentials for Africa’s development. Bearing the infrastructural disadvantages of Africa in implementing e-commerce, Africa should make a strong report to the WGIG on areas she needs help to properly get into the e-commerce loop.
Issues like consumer protection, misleading advertising, delivery of defective goods, taxation and customs which are all present in normal market situation also needs to be applied to online business. This is a challenge and we have to start thinking of ways to develop or adapt existing legislation on these matters.


The Development Component:

The Internet has brought a lot of development to the world, from education to health to agriculture, e.t.c. But it is clear that the developed countries have been able to make use of the information super-highway to change the lives of their citizens for the better. Sadly, this is not the same case for the developing nations and there are even a lot of speculations that the Internet might even cause more harms to them than good. An example is the school of thought that when the world finally moves to e-commerce; The American giants will be favored such that local firms in emerging economies would effectively frozen out since they have better access to cutting-edge technologies. I do not subscribe to this because those technologies are the same all over the world; it just depends on how we can develop our human resources to use those tools efficiently. This is a call to African leaders to encourage curriculum revision and infrastructures in their Universities to meet up with the global challenge.
The development of Telecoms and Internet facilities to provide better access to both urban and rural youths will help in evolving more informed individuals. Financial supports from International agencies as well as debt forgiveness for deserving countries should be advocated. The truth is that in bridging the digital divide, poverty must first be eradicated. Africa should push for debt forgiveness, bearing in mind that most of these debts were incurred by military regimes that were not voted in by the citizens of these countries. The Digital Solidarity Fund is also a very good initiative that could help in providing access; the only caution is for the developed countries that are fond of taking back 80% of their donations through contracts given to companies in their countries when there are qualified local personnel in the project community.
The scourge of brain drain should be addressed and a good way is by encouraging outsourcing of jobs from developed countries. ICT skills literacy and language protection should also be taken as matters of high importance.
Telecommunication policies and regulations should be developed in African countries as both private sectors and public donors are not ready to invest in countries without proper and legal environment for Internet penetration.

(To Be Continued)