Africa’s Active Participation in Internet Governance: A Vital Key To The Realization of NEPAD Goals (Part 3)
The Socio-Cultural Component:
This is a very interesting component of Internet Governance. There are a lot of discrepancies in the way different stakeholders see issues relating to the socio-cultural aspect of the Internet. The two major contenders in this area are the Government and Civil Society. The recurring subject is content control. Government is very passionate about controlling the kind of contents on websites in their countries. An example is a country like France where Nazi materials are banned, the only setback is that the civil society is not wholly comfortable with that and usually emphasizes freedom of expression.
However, there are some contents that are mutually agreed upon by all stakeholders as being illegal such as child pornography, e.t.c. Almost every developed nation has a form of content control or the other, but it is still a dream for most African countries. If the fight against scam and cyber crime will be effective in Africa, then our Governments should realize that there is a need for appropriate legal framework for content control.
Content control will be effectively done if a multi-stakeholder approach is employed at enforcing it. This will require –
• Government filtering of contents using appropriate legislation.
• Private filtering of contents e.g. through embedded scripts in Internet browsers.
• The use of Geo-location software to track users of the Internet and catch offenders.
• Internet service providers can filter contents for their customers.
• Search engines like Google should only bring out accepted output when a search is done. Example is Google in France where if you type Nazi, you will not get any result.
Multilingualism and Cultural Diversity: This is a very important socio-cultural topic in Africa and the rest of the world. There must be a conscious effort to bridge language and cultural barriers in such a way that the issue of Anglophone and Francophone will be forgotten. The division is always very obvious during international meetings and all sorts of misunderstanding ensue in such meetings. If Africa wants to present a common agenda in Tunis 2005, a very proactive solution must be put in place to erase any sentiment and only give Africa its rightful place in world politics.
Local Content: Most Africans are Illiterates and 85% of contents on the Internet are in English, almost the remaining are in French, Portuguese, Arabic and Chinese. That spells a doom for majority of Africans who can at best read and write their native language. We must start developing local contents to help this people and to also show that we are original. If Prof. Phillip Emeagwali is right at the end of the day, then in a few centuries – “Human beings start having IP address and constitute the Internet and not computers anymore; hence emails will cease to exist, but telepathic mails” . This looks a bit crazy, but coming from a man of his reputation, we need to take him seriously. The goal of African governments should be to find ways to get the poorest farmer in a village to appreciate the Internet using his local language.
Education/E-learning: The information superhighway has brought the whole world closer together. It is now very easy to be in touch with a friend in China when you are in Abidjan in a matter of seconds. This has also helped in education dissemination. We now have access to quality teaching materials from leading institutions all over the world and the concept of virtual universities is now a reality. This is an area in which African leaders could leverage on to ensure the development of its citizenry. The concept of e-learning is very important to the development of Africa.
While the debate for the governance of the Internet is still going on and Africa is clearly not contributing in a very effective manner due to the low level of understanding of the whole concept by its representatives at meetings. It is also very clear that such meetings where Internet Governance is discussed are very costly and cannot be afforded by many Africans. There is no doubt that the Internet is a tool that Africa can use to leap frog (I prefer to use the term Cheetah Pole-Vaulting) its development and relevance in the world economy and politics.
We do not have any excuse to be left out of Internet Governance because it is a clear way to achieve that equality we have always wanted. African Governments must start developing experts in Internet Governance who can successfully ask for positions that will favor our continent on the pathway to continental rebirth.
1. Internet Governance: Issues, Actors and Divides by Eduardo Gelbstein and Jovan Kurbalija
2. A summary of NEPAD action plans: NEPAD Secretariat 2004.
3. My search for the holy grail of immortality by Prof. Phillip Emegwali
4. A paper by Meyer & Baber, 1995, p. 248