The Internet Governance Forum (IGF) is convened under the auspices of the Secretary-General of the United Nations as a multi-stakeholder policy dialogue on the Internet. The mandate of the IGF is primarily contained in Paragraph 72 of the Tunis Agenda. The mandate includes discussion on policy issues related to the Internet governance in order to foster the sustainability, robustness, security, stability and development of the Internet; facilitate discourse on issues that do not fall within the scope of any existing body; interface with appropriate organizations and facilitate the exchange of information and best practices, among others.
Having considered the impact and need for the Commonwealth of Nations to participate actively in the IGF discourse, the Commonwealth Internet Governance Forum (CIGF) was set up to encourage greater participation from Commonwealth member states on policy issues and discussions related to Internet Governance, with a view to coming up with informed solutions or the pooling of good practice to address their needs more directly.
At the IGF in Sharm el Sheikh, the CIGF brought together young professionals from commonwealth countries, which are active in Internet Governance in their countries to participate in the Forum and make recommendations for a CIGF Agenda. The fundamental objectives of the CIGF are to promote awareness of the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) amongst stakeholders in Commonwealth member countries, establish links around the Commonwealth with the particular aim of engaging Commonwealth member countries which have not previously participated in the IGF, foster links between Commonwealth national and regional IGFs and the identify areas of common concern such as affordable and secure access for all, provide a forum for stakeholders from Commonwealth member countries to discuss and formulate Commonwealth-wide policies, best practice and position papers for the IGF, inform national positions on public policy issues for the good governance of the Internet and provide a forum for Commonwealth members to enable them to work towards formulating Commonwealth wide policies or positions to be tabled at the IGF.
The CIGF has identified certain priority areas, namely: Access and Diversity; Infrastructure; Security; Increased engagement as well as capacity Building. So far the Commonwealth countries have not fared badly in terms of attendance of the IGF. However in order to develop an articulate Agenda for the commonwealth, there is a need to pool together resources and share information on the various priority areas identified by the CIGF.
One of the main criticisms of the IGF is the increasing complexity of issues being addressed. There are too many things, too many events, actors, issues, coalitions, organizations to grasp. This is the view of Dr. Jovan Kurbalija and I absolutely agree. This makes it extremely difficult for entry level participants to grasp the issues and participate effectively. This may well be the case of the commonwealth countries.
I would therefore suggest that the first item on the agenda for the CIGF should be unbundling the issues in IG. This has already been achieved by outlining priority areas such as Access and Diversity; Infrastructure; Security; increased engagement as well as capacity Building.
The second step would be to build a network of young professionals on each of the identified priority areas. Having done this, an online forum preferably a social network could be used as a tool for getting these professional together to share ideas, periodically, through comments and reports of the status of each of these priority areas within their countries or territories. I am not sure about availability of funds for specific projects but it may be helpful to carry out some specific projects.
For the specific priority areas I will suggest as follows:
ACCESS AND DIVERSITY
• Use the network of young professionals to identify needs of various countries;
• Having identified the needs, exchange information on how these needs are met in other commonwealth countries;
• Where feasible, set up rural internet access centres in some countries; and
• Develop a web portal to encourage diversity and provide opportunities for local languages to be put on the Internet.
As in the first priority area, the network should be used to identify needs and share information on how such needs are met in other commonwealth countries. As regards infrastructure, most infrastructure projects are capital intensive and so I do not think that the commonwealth would have the funds to embark on infrastructure development. However I think the commonwealth can help member countries by providing frameworks and strategies for infrastructure development and also sources of donor funding and collaboration where needs have been identified.
As a lawyer, my approach to security would simply be to enact laws to punish for crimes and thus ensure cyber security. However the presence of laws does not automatically result in reduced crimes or improves security. As an alternative I would an initiative targeted at consumers and users of the Internet through civil society advocacy. This does not preclude the fact that the commonwealth can set up a portal for the sharing of information for governments intending to set up a cyber security framework.
INCREASED ENGAGEMENT AND CAPACITY BUILDING
On this item I would suggest that the commonwealth should have a discussion forum two times a year with policy makers in the area of Internet Governance. This forum will develop a Commonwealth agenda for every IGF as long as the forum is allowed to exist. The target group should be the current policy makers from the executive and the legislature. Also I would suggest a consistent capacity building programme for young professionals.