Multi-stakeholder Model Stands Out at 2011 IGF in Nairobi

Internet activists emphasised the need to maintain the multi-stakeholder model of the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) at the sixth IGF meeting in Kenya at the end of September 2011.

The multi-stakeholder model allows for numerous internet stakeholders, such as those from government, private sector, technical community, academia, civil society and users, to meet and debate internet policy issues without making decisions for anyone. This non-decision making nature of the IGF has been widely praised, as it has allowed for the emergence of national and regional IGFs created by communities in a bottom-up manner.

The IGF was created from the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) to provide an environment to continue dialogue on internet public policy issues so as to ensure the sustainability, robustness, security, stability and development of the internet. The 2011 IGF under the theme ‘Internet as a catalyst for change: access, development, freedoms and innovation’, attracted more than 2,000 participants, the highest number to attend the IGF.

While making his opening remarks, Rob Beckstrom, the president of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) asked participants to “stand up for the multi-stakeholder model in all its manifestations, including the vital institutions of ICANN and the IGF.” ICANNis a non-profit public benefit corporation that manages the Internet address system. ICANN works to ensure a secure, stable and unified global Internet is based on the multi-stakeholder concept, which allows everyone with an interest in the Internet to participate in its work.

Besides Access, Diversity, Critical Internet Resources and Security, Openness and Privacy, which have been recurring for the last three years, this year’s forum also, provided a session for discussing emerging issues. For the first time, mobile internet and its role in internet governance was discussed. Discussion was centered around how governance of mobile internet varies from that of wired internet; and how internet policy and regulation choices in the mobile internet context impact human rights, openness and neutrality.

While calling for an inclusive IGF, participants reiterated the need to uphold internet freedoms, including freedom of expression on the internet. Participants also called for less control of the internet by governments, noting that the internet should be freely accessible to all without undue restrictions.

Some stakeholders welcomed the Declaration by the UN for adoption of Internet Rights as a basic Human Right. While others called for Internet Rights to be adopted as next year’s theme, urging that Internet Governance cannot be complete without Internet Rights. This recommendation was welcomed by many stakeholders as it is argued that the Internet and the opportunities it presents serve a wider benefit to its users.

The event in Kenya saw the formation of the Africa IGF (AIGF), which will be coordinated by the African Union. The question is why does Africa need an IGF? Despite the high mobile penetration in Africa, internet bandwidth continues to remain high in some parts of the continent. Hence the formation of the Africa IGF comes at the time when African countries need to be moving at the same pace. It is nonetheless believed that issues such as lowering internet costs, increasing access to the internet, regulating cyber crime and increasing freedom of expression on the internet will be addressed at a continental level.

The African forum will allow for input from national and regional IGFs as a way of ensuring that the multi-stakeholder model is observed. With endorsements from regional bodies like United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), DiploFoundation, United Nations Educational and Scientific Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), Department of Communication (DOC) – South Africa and FOSSFA among others, participants called for wider consultations amongst stakeholders to discuss the way forward in managing the AIGF. Egypt offered to host the first Africa IGF next year.

The Nairobi meeting called for more participation of developing countries while stressing the need for greater e-participation. 47 remote hubs were set up during this year’s forum, which  allowed for over 823 people to follow and contribute to the forum. An estimated 2,500 connections were made throughout the week from over 89 countries. (Chairman’s report of the Nairobi IGF 2011)

The next IGF will be hosted in Baku, Azerbaijan.