The Role of Government in Shaping the future of Internet Governance in a Post-COVID world

To: All Stakeholders and Delegates at the 2021 Mock IGF

From: Government Stakeholders Group (Ebenezar Wikina; Mbang Young; Confidence Mawusi; Ruth Mandigo; Loveday Onyeanula; Annett Onchana; Ange Koua; Sylvia Uzoh)

Date: 19/08/2021

Re: The Role of Government in Shaping the future of Internet Governance in a Post-COVID world

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Executive Summary

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought to the fore the importance of technology and the urgency to ensure that we connect the unconnected. Government, being the primary duty bearer of public service delivery, has recognised that the future is indeed digital and more than ever before there’s need to work closely with all stakeholders in the internet ecosystem to build the internet of the future which is fair and accessible to all. To achieve this, the government stakeholders at the 2021 Mock IGF have resolved that we shall provide grants to academia to advance research on the internet of things, AI,  and the fourth industrial revolution. We shall also work with the organized private sector to offer tax breaks to indigenous startups who are building solutions to local challenges. The government stakeholders also recommend that a Youth-led Civil Society Taskforce be constituted to monitor the implementation of IGF recommendations and resolutions henceforth. Finally, we will commence the development of a continental broadband plan, in collaboration with ITU and the African Union, which seeks to connect the 50% unconnected in Africa by 2040.

Background & Analysis

According to Deloitte, Africa today has 450 million people connected (out of 1.2 billion) via their Smartphone. The most connected region is North Africa and in many ways, the health crisis has accelerated the urgency to get the entire continent connected. Some regions on the continent have large parts of their population completely absent from cyberspace and the growth opportunities it presents. This situation is due to the weakness of national infrastructure which makes broadband expensive. For example, in Equatorial Guinea ($65.83), the cost of 1 GB in mobile broadband is 60 times more expensive than in Egypt ($ 1.49). 

It should also be noted that cybercrime has become more rampant on the continent caused by the relatively increasing accessibility to the internet, the development of 3G/4G, anonymity on the web, the lack of security of certain critical and sensitive infrastructure,  as well as the lack of cybersecurity awareness among many internet stakeholders operating on the continent. Although many governments have continued to denounce this fact, it is obvious that the continent shows a huge weakness in cyber defense. This weakness was further highlighted by an African Union Commission survey on Cyber ​​Security and Cybercrime Trends in Africa which highlighted that only 15 African countries have cybercrime legislation in place. With government at the heart of decision-making policies, it is very important to analyze the role of government in shaping the future of Internet governance in a post-COVID world especially as it relates to access and the cost of data, the preservation of rights and the security of data and intellectual property.

Fig 1: The Price of Mobile Internet in Africa, 2019 (Source: HowMuch)

Statistics have also shown that across Africa there is little knowledge about the internet ecosystem and its governance. Data compiled by the International Telecommunication Union show that the amount of people using the internet in Africa are 20% women and 37% men, with the youth making up 40% and others (old people, children, and adolescents) forming 29%. While these numbers may represent the worst/best case scenarios, they also illustrate that between 15 to 20 years, or less, the internet governance community in Africa may be facing the repercussions of a knowledge gap.

Policy Recommendations

With these challenges and facts in mind, the government stakeholders propose the following recommendations for all stakeholders in the internet ecosystem in Africa to work collaboratively towards building the internet of the future in the post-COVID world:

  1. Research Collaboration with Academia: To foster development of the internet, governments on the continent need to provide research grants to academia to advance research on key components of the fourth industrial revolution which will aid growth in the future. Some of these components include; the Internet of things, Artificial Intelligence, 3-D printing, 5G, to mention a few. Although data already exist on this, research has to be done from an African context to aid better understanding of these issues.
  1. Collaboration with the Organized Private Sector: It is important to recognize the role of the private sector in fostering innovation in the society. In the spirit of Public-Private partnership, the government needs to work with private sector groups, with support from the World Trade Organization, to offer tax holidays to local startups who are building solutions to challenges facing communities in Africa. There’s a need to also foster ease-of-doing-business to make the business environment favourable for private sector stakeholders to thrive. 
  1. Youth-Led Civil Society Task Force: Moving forward, to ensure that recommendations from Internet Governance Forums (IGFs) are properly implemented, governments across the continent should encourage civil society to establish youth-led civil society task forces at the country level whose core responsibility will be to make sure all stakeholders concerned action the recommendations agreed upon at IGFs. The taskforce will be co-funded by the government and private sector but will operate independently with quarterly progress reports disseminated across the IGF community. 
  1. Continental Broadband Masterplan: Knowing that growth of the internet in Africa has been uneven, the government stakeholders with support from the African union have resolved to develop a continental broadband policy which will be submerged under the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA). The broadband policy document will be used as a barometer to track investment of respective governments in the growth of internet infrastructure in their countries. 

Urgency Statement

As the world advances further in the Fourth Industrial Revolution, there’s urgent need for Africa’s policy makers to take the lead in the removal of constraints to growth of internet infrastructure on the continent so that Africa would not be left behind in this new era. While doing this, digital rights need to be upheld and all stakeholders need to be engaged collaboratively for the collective interests of all to be advanced.

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