The Internet Governance Forum (IGF) has been under threat and there is a raging debate on its sustainability. When the Indonesia government announced it would pull out as the convener of the 2013 IGF, the entire Internet community was thrown in a spin. For that reason among others, Internet Society (ISOC) has resolved to establish a legal structure with the objective of achieving stable and sustainable funding for an association in support of the global IGF and regional IGF initiatives. This is a welcomed development which will give stakeholders more resolve and confidence in participating in this important forum.
The setting up of a group composed of ISOC, IETF, IAB, Regional Internet Registries, and ICANN’s Supporting Organization and Advisory Committees to steward IANA transition is welcomed. To have an all-inclusive IANA transition acceptable by both the East and West, ICANN which has been granted the privilege to spearhead the process will have to appear to be as inclusive as possible. The script had already been read when ICANN’s Government Advisor Committee (GAC) insisted on having 5 slots in the IANA transition committee to represent the five regions of the world instead of the two positions it had been given. The outcome of the whole process has to appear to have the interest of the world Internet user. All citizens of the world need to feel part of the whole process. I would expect a transition process that does not place any stakeholder in a privileged position. In the IANA transition, I do not see the need for structural changes in relation to the development of global IP addressing policies since that function is working as expected, a position shared by the Address Supporting Organizations. The Internet community will expect a transition with minimum risks on current well established operations.
Many stakeholders have accepted ICANN to be the final manager of the IANA functions. To be more acceptable, ICANN has initiated a number of activities, among them Internationalization of ICANN to make it appear a not so much a “California (US) organization” but a global organization. The folly of this is ICANN is still a US organization no matter how many branches it opens worldwide, the world will still continue to see it as a US organization. As the IANA transition debate rages on, we will see positions change as each stakeholder tries to get an upper hand. France’s call for world Internet Governance Council to be headquartered in Switzerland to replace IGF and oversee ICANN operations is an example of the fear and marginalization other stakeholders feel within the Internet Governance landscape. My fear would only be more government control in Internet Governance matters, which would mean other traditional stakeholders would find it even harder to engage.
I believe the different stakeholders can have equal say in shaping the future of the Internet. In Brazil during NetMundial, we saw all stakeholders coming together in an ad-hoc constituted meeting and trying to reach a consensus on common principles. Although civil society felt shortchanged in the process, it is a move in the right direction because you win some, and lose some.
Although the IGF model as envisioned is not a decision making model, the Kenya IGF has been praised even at UN level where the output has been touted as a model to emulate because some of the decisions have gone ahead to be implemented at the national level. A good example is Article 10 of the Kenyan constitution where Multistakeholderism has been embraced where all stakeholders are consulted in national issues. As an example, we have seen Computer Authority of Kenya call for public consultation in the National Cyber Security Framework. Most government Authorities have representation of all stakeholders and the Kenyan consumer has a say in matters of policy.
To quote the Kenyan constitution “Article 10 National Values and principles of Governance (2.) The national values and principles of governance include: (a) patriotism, national unity, sharing and devolution of power, the rule of law, democracy and participation of the people. (b) human dignity, equity, social inclusiveness, equality, human rights, non-discrimination and protection of the marginalized.”
The question of concrete outcomes produced through the IGF is sometimes tackled diplomatically. At the UK IGF of July 2014, the organizers were not able to clearly indicate how the outcome of previous IGFs were used to influence policy, only stating that multistakeholderism and dialogue was part of the success of the IGF. The UK also stated she was able to adjust policy positions from outcomes of the IGF and have UK positions in bilateral talks with the greater Europe. However, there was no example given on these positions.
Let us not lose hope. The IGF might be a talk shop, but the outcome has a positive bearing to our society. And talking is not necessarily a bad thing because consensus on contemporary issues is reached after engagement. It is my hope that we can have a discussion that is as inclusive as possible where all stakeholders feel they are participating on equal footing. The IGF provides a unique platform for all stakeholders to openly exchange perspectives on key issues that impact the future of the Internet. I also commend the IGFs for the capacity building it develops because participants usually have key lessons they domesticate back home. It is also my hope that the Internet Governance community can find a way to make the IGF more effective, and have a proper way to implement and measure the effectiveness of the outcomes.