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Multistakeholderism (MS) and what it constitutes continues to be a topic of interest in many internet governance discussions and gatherings.
In the recently concluded IGF 2014 in Istanbul, I was one of the panelists in the session Developing meaningful multistakeholder participation mechanism http://www.intgovforum.org/cms/igf-2014/schedule-igf2014
Prior to speaking in this session, I participated in the session on Discussion in multistakeholderism in Africa http://www.intgovforum.org/cms/igf-2014/schedule-igf2014, a session that focused on mapping multistakeholders participation in Internet governance from an African perspective which brought concerns of an African nature to the table.
However, in my session, I was first asked to respond to the question of how do we develop trust in multistakeholderism?
These were my thoughts gleaned mostly from different discussions in different foras and conversations on this issue.
There is a lot of MS engagement in Africa. However, it is uneven, erratic, not institutionalized and not transparent. MS in Internet Governance is complex and various people have asked what exactly it is. Further, how critical is it in Africa viz a viz other issues?
The Internet is distributed and a global resource. It therefore calls for multistakeholderism in its governance.It should be noted that different stakeholders participate for various reasons. For example, civil society tries to look at different existing problems in Internet Governance realm and pushes for their addressing. Governments are in the discussions to either protect or adhere to treaties and agreements. Businesses/technical community, learn about the issues it may not have considered in its planning and implementation.
It is therefore important to appreciate that each stakeholder is unique, an expert in a policy issue and well placed to provide output. Further, acknowledge that each stakeholder brings onto the table something useful, and has a role in shaping the policy process in question. Multistakeholderism recognizes the need for various stakeholders’ participation in policy processes as well reflection of their views in the final outcome. If for some reason these views are not reflected, then it is only reasonable to provide legitimate explanation for their lack of incorporation for example, that such views were not grounded in law, or are offensive to public, or are not empirical etc.Actions must be taken in light of what stakeholders have provided to avoid suspicion.
How is trust lost in multistakeholder practice?
This happens if one stakeholder wants to act as the superior one and chooses which stakeholder participates in which policy process(s), then goes ahead to define the roles. Definition of the roles of each stakeholder should be done in consultation and no stakeholder should determine the role and responsibility of the other without consultation.
A question was raised on whether we need to allow governments special status in multistakeholderism and if they should participate on an equal footing like other stakeholders. The same was raised of businesses and what their role should be.
It would be important to convince governments to participate and work in a multistakeholder way so that they engage in an effective way. Businesses which have resources should also be encouraged to participate in MS processes.
However, stakeholders must be able to see the value in their participating in policy processes, and in what they bring onto the table. They must also see that their voices matter.
Further, and in light of concerns raised by some on what exactly is multistakeholderism, there is need for it to be defined as well as who are the stakeholders, and how to handle who participates in this approach. There is also need to understand the different stakeholders and their different interests. This conversation if it happens should enrich all stakeholders.