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Growing the Internet 3 September 2015

The Internet needs Africa as much as Africa needs the Internet – a speech to the African Union

By Sally WentworthManaging Director, Incoming CEO

Note: Today Sally Wentworth, our VP of Global Public Policy, gave the following speech at a meeting of the African Union Specialized Technical Committee on Communication and Information Technologies (STC-CICT) in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

Mr Chairman, Excellencies, distinguished delegates, ladies and gentlemen,

Thank you for this opportunity to address this important gathering of leaders from across Africa.  My name is Sally Wentworth and I am the Vice President of Global Public Policy at the Internet Society.   We are grateful for the long-standing partnership with the African Union and look forward to finding more ways to work with policymakers in the region strengthen Africa’s role in the global Information Society.  I am here today with Dawit Bekele, our Regional Bureau Director for Africa.  Dawit leads a dedicated team in Africa that has a long history of working hard to build connectivity throughout the continent.

The Internet Society is a global, non-profit organization dedicated to a vision that the Internet is for everyone.  Our organization has over 70,000 members and 110 chapters around the world, including 30 chapters here in Africa. We firmly believe that the value of the network grows as more people come online – our work in the technology and public policy spheres is focused on achieving that vision.

If I can leave you with one message as a result of my talk today, it is this:

The Internet needs Africa as much as Africa needs the Internet

There is a vibrant Internet ecosystem here in Africa.  Businesses are going online and finding new markets.  People are learning online and connecting in ways never before possible.  The region was once a spectator to global Internet development, watching from the fringes. Clearly, this is no longer true. Africa now sits at the forefront of Internet expansion and the continent is positioned to help drive the future of the global Internet.

We are pleased that the African Union is playing a key role in this regard through projects like AXIS and dot Africa and by spearheading the landmark African Cyber security convention.  Today’s meeting will make key steps in this meeting toward a comprehensive ICT strategy that supports the 2063 Agenda.   And next week, the AU is promoting the African Internet Governance Forum in Addis Ababa.

All this means that the African Union and its members are  key stakeholders in the regional and global Internet governance debate.

With the ten-year Review of the World Summit on the Information Society, the international community is set to shape the next decade of Internet governance.

We were very pleased to see that the new UN Sustainable Development Goals include text that highlights the importance of ICTs and the need to provide universal and affordable access to the Internet.

In this regard, it’s encouraging to see some of the latest statistics which show a remarkable improvement in connectivity across the African continent – growing from around 7% of the population with Internet access in 2008 to over 20% with Internet access in 2015.  This is a remarkable upward trend.  But that still leaves 80% of the region’s population that needs access to the opportunities of the Internet.

And this is why Africa’s voice must be heard loud and clear.

Connecting the Next Billion” will be a central theme of the upcoming Internet Governance Forum or “IGF” in November in Brazil.  Case studies and success stories from your countries should help inform that discussion in the global IGF.

As we assess progress made over the past decade in implementing the WSIS targets, and think about the things that have driven connectivity growth in the region, it is clear that the cooperation and commitment of a range of stakeholders – policy makers, technologists, industry players, end users – was key.

Some refer to this inclusive governance model as the multistakeholder model. I prefer to call it “collaborative governance”.

  • It is the recognition that governments alone cannot determine the future of the Internet.
  • The network operators alone cannot determine the future of the Internet.
  • Nor can the Internet engineers or civil society.

We have to come together to solve the hard challenges of the information age.

It is critical that this spirit of collaborative governance be embraced by all those involved with the Internet  – because as much as there are many opportunities, there are also tough challenges.

Over the last few years, on an almost a weekly basis, we learn of massive data breaches which have exposed personal information about millions of users.  We’ve learned of very large-scale pervasive surveillance by both governments and intelligence agencies – and also by corporations and criminals. Cybersecurity has emerged as one of the most important issues we collectively face.

While these attacks and surveillance obviously have an effect on the people directly involved, they also have a larger and more disturbing effect.  These attacks weaken trust in the overall Internet as a system for communication and economic opportunity.

Instead of a narrative of opportunity people see a narrative of apprehension and fear.

This is among the most fundamental challenges we face in this age – how do we increase the level of trust in the systems that make up the Internet?

As I said before, it will take all of us.  Governments.  Industry.  Civil society. NGOs. Organizations like the Internet Society and the African Union.  Working together in a spirit of collaboration. Again, Africa’s participation is key to this success.

Let me leave you with these points:

Collaborative governance is how we build trust in Internet governance.
Collaborative security is how we build trust in the Internet’s infrastructure.

This is critical as we all work to bring the next 3 and 4 billion people online.  They should have the same “Internet of opportunity” that  the current generation enjoys.

In the end, it is this work together that will bring about an open, trusted Internet that will lead to greater connection, communication, collaboration, creativity and commerce all across Africa – and across the rest of the world.

We look forward to continuing to join with the African Union and all you in this room to bring about a truly global Information Society for the benefit of people worldwide.

Thank you.

Disclaimer: Viewpoints expressed in this post are those of the author and may or may not reflect official Internet Society positions.

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