Our generation has the luck and responsibility to live through and shape an era in which information and communication have become the driving force of human progress. It is the most powerful and also the most tangible tools to exploit the resultant opportunities.
It is clear that the Internet, mobile networks, and related information and communications technologies (ICTs) have become indispensable tools for governments, businesses, civil society, and individuals across the globe. These technologies have spurred tremendous economic development, increased the free flow of information, and promoted gains in efficiency, productivity and creativity across Africa.
African citizens have a genuine expectation that the Internet will be accessible and affordable, secure, reliable and continuing. For the preservation of the Internet’s dynamism, Internet governance must continue to allow permission-less innovation through an enabling Internet environment.
The rapid growth of the Internet has created new opportunities for perpetrating cybercrime on a global scale, to exploit the inherent vulnerabilities in constantly evolving technology. As African countries increase access to broadband Internet, issues relating to cyber-security and cybercrime are emerging and there is a need to ensure that citizens, governments and business are protected.
The increasing global cyber threats and cyber-attacks may even constitute a threat to the national, regional and international peace and security. Cyber threats represent global problems and they need global frameworks as instruments to promote security and stability in cyberspace. Cyber security concerns are broader than national security and yet, few cyber-security initiatives have been implemented at continental level where a strategy and cyber-security framework based on a common approach and common understanding are needed among Member States of the African Union at all stages of economic development.
Africa is facing several Internet-related challenges in relation to security provisions to prevent and control technological and informational risks, such threats can only be fully addressed by developing a strong culture and behaviour of cyber-security, creating robust response capabilities and enacting appropriate and effective national policies and cross border cooperation.
The African Union Convention on Cyber-security and Personal Data Protection is now open to all Member States of the Union for signature and ratification in conformity with their respective constitutional procedures and subsequently the convention shall enter into force thirty (30) days after the date of the receipt by the Chairperson of the Commission of the African Union of the fifteenth (15th) instrument of ratification. It is high time for member states who have not signed the Convention to do so.
Internet Governance is a broad term that encompasses several aspects relating to the management and administration of the Internet and associated resources. It affects a wide range of social and political issues including who gets to participate in the online economy, issues of intellectual property, issues of cyber-security and privacy and who gets access to the key technical resources, such as domain names and IP addresses that make Internet service possible.
The Internet has climbed up the ladder of most developed countries political priorities. Three out of 15 pages of the Deauville Declaration dealt with the Internet. The G8 leaders agreed "on a number of key principles, including freedom, respect for privacy and intellectual property, multi-stakeholder governance, cyber-security and protection for crime.”
The General Assembly of the United Nations (UN) unanimously adopted a resolution recognizing a human right to protection of personal data on the Internet.
The High Level Coordination Meeting between AUC- AfDB –UNECA has requested the African Union Commission to “Develop a comprehensive report on the importance of the use of Outer Space for Africa’s development and the importance of Africa’s effective participation in the international internet governance structures.”
Currently, Africa is a net consumer of Internet products and services and as such is not reaping maximal economic benefits associated with the Internet.
Africa’s participation in Internet Governance and Cyber-Security regional and global Forums is relatively low. The reasons for this are many. To mention a few:
•Limited awareness that Internet Governance is about the future of the global economy; the Internet Economy;
•Limited consistent participation in global dialogues and lack of a consensual regional or continental voice;
•Lack of inclusiveness in national processes; need for all stakeholders (civil society, government, private sector, academic) to be involved in national and regional processes;
•Lack of resourcing at national or regional level for Internet governance and cyber-security processes.
The 4th ordinary session of the African Union Conference of Ministers in charge of Communication and Information Technologies (CITMC-4) held in Sudan in September 2012 requested member states “to support the establishment of national IGF to create dialogue between all stakeholders on ICT for development issues and facilitate the countries’ participation in the regional and African IGF processes as well as in the global IGF.”
The African Union Declaration on Internet Governance has been developed through a consultative process in order to fully accrue the benefits of the digital economy by creating a conducive and an enabling environment for African stakeholders to come together, deliberate critical emerging issues and contribute to the development of Internet public policies that take into account the needs of Africa.
The Declaration will act as the guiding principles for stakeholders and constitutes the shared values and pillars that all can agree on and build upon during future deliberations and debates on the future of the Internet from an African standpoint.
We are inviting all member states to join us and together formulate common Africa positions on Internet Governance and Cyber-security for the benefit of our economies, for the benefit of our people. This is what drives our action. This is what will eventually achieve the integration of Africa.
By H.E. Dr Elham M. Ibrahim,
Commissioner for Infrastructure and Energy, African Union Commission.