The Collaboration for International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA) recently published "ICANN, Internet governance and Africa", a public briefing on the current status and key points of the debate that provides essential background for the second phase of the World Summit on Information Society (WSIS).
During the last few years the relationship of African stakeholders with ICANN has received greater attention, largely driven by a few key individuals within African governments, the technical community, and civil society organizations. Meanwhile, the broader topic of Internet governance has been put on the public agenda in the context of the WSIS. And the United Nations-sponsored Working Group on Internet Governance has spent the last year reviewing the many issues within that broad rubric, including the responsibilities currently under the purview of ICANN. Decisions taken at the upcoming second phase of the WSIS (to occur in Tunis in November 2005) are likely to have a profound impact on ICANN and the field of Internet governance more generally.
If African stakeholders are to have a real say in the discussion — whether in the short term through the WSIS process, or in the longer term through ICANN and/or whatever new structures emerge — they need a basic understanding of ICANN's role and functions and how it fits within the Internet governance area more broadly. Being generally informed on the issues may be as relevant to a ground-level NGO as it is to a government official — even if the conclusion is that governments should leave Internet technical management to the technical community.
While the issues at stake have the potential to affect all current and future Internet users, the Internet governance field tends to be dominated by a handful of experts and interested parties, many of whom have dedicated their careers to understanding the political and technical minutiae involved. In Africa, only a few are in the position to dedicate fulltime attention to the dialogue, which occurs both online and in numerous face-to-face meetings around the world.
For those who are interested in the issues but do not have the resources to follow the details, this brief explains the current status and key points of the discussion on ICANN and Internet governance as relevant to Africa.
CIPESA director Vincent Waiswa Bagiire said, "Before now there was no single place where all the basic facts about Africa's participation in ICANN could be found. So learning about the issues required a lot of Internet research, and some savvy to find the best online sources — which isn't simple because connectivity is so costly in Africa. This document brings it all together, and tells you where to find out more."
The brief sets out basic facts and describes opinions about the main issues for African stakeholders. It provides an overview of ICANN, noting what it does and does not do. And it describes the main points of the WGIG report, considering what the findings could mean for ICANN's future role in the management of Internet resources, and where the debate will play out leading up to, and beyond, the second phase of WSIS. Finally, it looks at views on why Africa should care about ICANN — and why not.
The full briefing is available at CIPESA website.
By Teresa Peters, bridges.org
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