Inclusive e-commerce and cyber security: Supporting the digitalization process in french-speaking Africa

28 Sep 2016 10:30h - 12:00h

Event report

[Read more session reports and live updates from the 2016 WTO Public Forum.]

This session, organised by the Francophone Association for Digital Risk Prevention (AFPRN), International Organisation of La Francophonie (OIF), and DS Avocats, presented initiatives to support the digital economy of French-speaking African countries, and expressed the need for a global legal framework to mitigate its cyber risks, primarily in the area of data protection.

Vincent Routhier, Partner at DS Lawyers Canada LLP, and Vice-Chair of the Customs and International Trade Law Practice Group, introduced the topic by explaining the increased relevance of e-commerce in WTO discussions, and the WTO’s work towards developing a legal framework to regulate digital trade. He noted that some African countries have already looked at such issues, and are interested in scaling up their national initiatives to a multilateral level.

Eric Adja, Deputy Director of Francophonie économique et numérique at the Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie (OIF) discussed the OIF’s approach and initiatives to promote digitalisation in Africa. The OIF’s strategy focuses on promoting diversity online, to ensure the presence of both languages and cultures on the World Wide Web. He identified four areas of intervention:

  • Improving digital ecosystems, by training French speakers to participate in digital policy processes.
  • Promoting the idea of digital common goods, by supporting 1500 beneficiaries in initiatives ranging from digital humanitarianism to e-health.
  • Promoting creativity and digital talent, by organising competitions to promote talent in digital innovation.
  • Disseminating innovation, by training young French speakers in digital entrepreneurship and setting up a participatory financing platform for business projects.

Ultimately, Adja expressed the need to find a way for digital trade to contribute to inclusive trade, ‘not to increase the digital divide, but to build bridges between the north and the south. Not to compete, but to create partnerships with businesses in the north.’

Following Adja’s presentation, an audience member asked why the OIF does not focus more on access and infrastructure, as this should go hand in hand with its capacity-building approach. Adja responded that the OIF attempts to find a niche for its own activities, while complementing other organisations that specialise in other ways to promote digitalisation.

Another intervention was made by an UNCTAD representative, who presented the eTrade for All initiative, which was launched in July 2016. She explained how UNCTAD works with the private sector to see how companies can work most effectively with developing countries to improve the conditions for e-commerce.

Arnaud Tessalonikos, Head of the Computer and Digital Laws, Data Protection Department at DS Avocats, provided a legal perspective on the topic, and stressed the need for a new legal framework, one that can meet the challenges posed by digitalisation and convergence. This challenge has components in legal and technical fields, as well as in the area of risk management and insurance. Tessalonikos demonstrated an analysis of the existing legal framework, on the level of the African Union, the African region, Europe-Africa agreements, and international agreements. By providing two examples, one related to digital identities, the other to data protection, he argued that the current legal framework is not sufficient, and that we need a global agreement.

During the Q&A that followed, many topics were addressed. For instance, Chrystiane Roy, First Secretary, Cyber Policy Issues, Permanent Mission of Canada in Geneva, raised the question of whether a global framework would be able to encompass the different cultural understandings of what privacy is and should be, and whether the WTO is the right place to discuss this issue. Tessalonikos agreed that the understanding of privacy differs greatly around the world, yet argued that a common vision would enhance not only the political, but also the business domain. Routhier added that there is a need for consistency at the multilateral level.

The representative from UNCTAD shared her experience from the organisation, where it has proven to be difficult to reach a global agreement on data protection due to generation gaps and cultural differences. Her recommendation was to use Council of Europe’s Convention 108, which can be sufficiently flexible and general to accommodate different interpretations of privacy.

Finally, several capacity-building initiatives were mentioned that are promoting digitalisation while mitigating cyber risks, including a capacity-building programme for French-speaking parliamentarians by the Assemblée Parlementaire de la Francophonie and the Global Forum for Cyber Expertise

by Barbara Rosen Jacobson