[Read more session reports and live updates from the 12th Internet Governance Forum]
The moderator Ms Helani Galpaya, Chief Executive Officer, Learning Initiatives on Reforms for Network Economies Asia (LIRNEasia), called on panellists to share their experiences from national Internet Governance Forum (IGF) initiatives and examples of meaningful governmental involvement and incentives, challenges and output.
Mr Frederico Links, ACTION Namibia Coalition, explained that the standards agreed upon within the Southern African Development and Economic Community (SADEC) facilitated the multistakeholder process in Namibia and prompted the government to give civil society the mandate to organise a national IGF. He affirmed that national IGFs should not be all about government presence. While government presence is crucial for legitimacy and followup, the national IGFs are more about legitimising the multistakeholder approach so that it can be transposed to other sectors and adopted as a valid consultative process for the development of policy and legislation in all other sectors. He revealed that the national IGF is helping to raise awareness about issues related to Internet governance and it is helping to build a positive image of the Internet. It creates an opportunity for capacity building and it brings all stakeholders on board to help them understand the changes and complex issues which concern Internet governance. It is an opportunity to bring knowledge from the global level to the national level.
Ms Natasha Tibinyane, Director, Namibia chapter of the Media Institute of Southern Africa, also explained that Namibia’s relatively small population facilitates collaboration among different stakeholders. The population size she said, promotes and enhances the consultative process. She advised that civil society should consistently engage government and remain open. It is necessary for each stakeholder to understand their role and be held accountable when they fail.
Mr Gabriel Ramokotjo, Internet activist, South Africa, revealed that when the IGF was launched in 2014, in South Africa, the government was not involved and so the initiative did not have the legitimacy to be considered as a national IGF until 2016 when the government became involved. He explained that lack of government participation in IGF process could be caused by the lack of capacity building and the negative perception of the challenge of learning all the complex issues related to Internet governance. National IGFs could therefore serve as an opportunity to bring the needed capacity building to the level of the government and other stakeholders. He revealed that through the years, they have been able to convince the government that the multistakeholder process is the way to go and the national IGF has generated positive outcomes within the country and sub-region and this has made the government take the IGF seriously. He proposed that, to the extent that it is possible, a government panel for the IGF could be convened every five years.
Mr Sunil Abraham, Centre for Internet and Society India, said he is not in accord with the appellation IGF because the meetings do not lead to binding or guidelines documents. He said he prefers the Internet Governance Learning Forum (IGLF) because the forum is essentially about sharing experiences and building capacity. He explained that India’s first attempt to organise a national IGF failed because the multistakeholder structure was weak. He said IGFs are essentially a consultative forum where stakeholders come to the table for discussions and exchanges but decision making is essentially the role of governments. He explained that government leadership is necessary because only governments can take decisions. The consultation must not be done in a homogenous or predictable manner because the model and structure are dependent on specific countries and institutions. India had tried to bring governments into the national IGF by launching a ministerial IGF which was eventually changed to a high-level IGF. Building on the Indian experience, he stated that it may be necessary to create separate consultative processes for different stakeholders as this could facilitate trust.
Ms Marjolijn Bonthuis, Deputy Director, Platform for the Information Society (ECP), Netherlands, affirmed that national IGFs are held annually and all stakeholders are involved. She revealed that it is still hard to get politicians involved because there is no decision making at the IGF. Nonetheless, key ministries are involved including the Ministry of Economic Affairs which started the IGFs, and the Ministry of External relations and they are working to get the Ministry of Justice on board as well. She stated that it is necessary for more politicians to go to the IGFs to gain knowledge about the Internet and related challenges and benefits. The Internet influences every aspect of human life and it is important for decision makers to know what is at stake. She said it would be worthwhile to give the IGF more weight by empowering the forum to produce documents which can be used for guidance in decision making.
Mr Juuso Moisander, Desk Officer for Information Society and ICT at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Finland, explained that the national IGF of Finland is based on the WSIS recommendation that Internet governance initiatives integrate all stakeholders in their respective roles and responsibilities. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is the coordinator and institutional home of the WSIS process in Finland and parliament has been facilitating the process. This helps to guarantee visibility. He advised that the relationship between the national IGF and global IGF should be as flexible as possible and that the IGF need not necessarily lead to decision making.
Mr Peter Major, Vice Chairperson, UN Commission on Science and Technology for Development, advised that in order to bring about the change we want, it is important to be present in fora like the IGF. He affirmed that the IGF adds a lot of value to Internet Governance and the multistakeholder approach. He explained the rationale for the consultation process to examine how to implement enhanced cooperation as envisioned in the Tunis Agenda. The concept he said, creates a certain degree of ambiguity and it is necessary to determine how it fits within the UN system.
All panellists agreed that government is a key stakeholder to allow transition from Internet governance debates into policy. The challenge is how to make IGF spaces attractive to governments. The panellists agreed that a rigid model imposing government collaboration is unrealistic and national mechanisms and IGF platforms will vary from country to country depending on the realities and priorities of each country. It is crucial to maintain the consultative process but the IGF could gain more by being empowered to make recommendations since a lot of knowledge is generated during the Forums which could be beneficial for sustainable Internet governance outcomes. In relation to the new consultation process to define the concept of enhanced cooperation, the panellists agreed that there is always room for improvement and it is not necessary to create a new platform. It was advanced that a change in the perception of the Internet by society may promote greater engagement from governments. It was recommended that efforts be made to promote an understanding in society that the Internet is a resource like water or electricity and it needs to be managed sustainably.
By Manyi Orok - Tambe