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IGF11: My impressions on 6th Internet Governance Forum held in Nairobi, Kenya

It was like a dream come true…… the 6th Internet Governance Forum (IGF11) was held in my home town, Nairobi!


The relaxed space that is the United Nations Office at Nairobi (UNON) facilities, offered speakers and participants a serene environment for rather hurried discussions on access, development, freedoms and innovation at time-limited workshops and main sessions which in my opinion had more panellists than necessary.


The hosting of IGF11 in Africa was at an excellent time when the continent is experiencing marked improvement in access to high-speed internet connectivity through terrestrial and submarine fibre optic cable.  This has been made possible by government financing and enabling regulation.  Most governments’ in the region are intent on utilizing this broadband infrastructure for socio-economic development.  Despite these noble intentions the bulk of traffic flowing through these infrastructure pipes is to and from social networks and Google.


I once asked participants of an Internet Governance Capacity Building Programme (IGCBP) the following question: “Is access to Google equivalent to access to the Internet?”  This is an important question that governments’ need to consider as they continue to make significant investments in internet infrastructure particularly in these tough economic times.  In these circumstances would be prudent for governments to employ traffic management on these networks prioritising data to and from government agencies?  In my opinion this is a valid question which needs careful consideration in any future network neutrality discussions to ensure that the initial objectives of governments’ investments are met.


At workshops focussing on privacy and data protection that I attended at the IGF11, Google reps were hard pressed to convince the audience that Google does not infringe on users’ privacy.  For example “Google should not be allowed to do to build a profile” based “search requests?”  Does Google share any information that’s in its system with third parties?  In answering to this question Vint Cerf, Google's Chief Internet Evangelist, stated that Google “…does not share any of the information that's in the system with any third parties except under the legal constraints that we're (Google) required to abide by”.


This was affirmed at a Silicon Valley Human Rights Conference where Google is quoted as saying that it (Google) “regularly receives requests from government agencies and courts around the world to remove content from our services and hand over user data”. This raises another question; Can governments’ “threaten the good functioning of the… internet” as they seek to “control their citizen’s access and use of the global network in order to meet economic, security, or political objectives”.  It is therefore imperative that internet users in Africa are aware that the internet never forgets and that “our choices …are creating some of the erosion of privacy”. 


Another hot topic at the IGF was innovation and the related topic of protection intellectual property rights.  As in any other country, job opportunities for young graduates in Kenya are few and far between with some opting to become techprenuers.  This development has caught the eyes of several organizations including Google which is one of the corporate partners for initiatives such as iHuB.  According to Gemma Ware “Google has been busy moulding a new generation of bright, tech-savvy Africans who are incentivised to evangelise…. these geeks will rule Africa’s online universe”.  Is this the protection intellectual property another concern that Google may face in the future?


After the closing ceremony, as I boarded my ‘matatu’ to get me home from the UNON, I still had one question unanswered “Is Google good for Africa?


Disclaimer: Views expressed here (except those quoted or referenced) are the author’s own

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Comment by Jovan on October 31, 2011 at 1:42pm
Mwende, Matatu is a great place to think about the question if Google is good for Africa. Should it be always there? Can it be affordable? Is it going to be replaced by luxury buses?
Comment by Sammy Gatere on October 28, 2011 at 4:22pm
Interesting impressions ! :) Your final question! hmmm very interesting :) and ties in well with the initial question if Access to Google is the same as access to the Internet...



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