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KICTANet Hosts 14th Internet Governance Forum

Has Kenya really attained inclusivity, universal access and meaningful connectivity?

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KICTANet Hosts 14th Internet Governance Forum

The Kenya ICT Action Network (KICTANet) has successfully concluded the 14th edition of the Kenya Internet Governance Forum (KeIGF) 2021. Hosted virtually, the forum was themed; Internet United and was primed to enhance the universal access of the internet thereby reducing digital exclusion.

The one-day event dove into what it takes to achieve a united internet locally as well as globally and what could possibly hinder this. Themed United Internet, the virtual forum was hosted for the 14th time without missing a beat since 2008.

The forum, hosted by KiCTANet, a think tank, covered three main topics; inclusion, universal access and meaningful connectivity.

The opening remarks were made by the Director-General, Communications Authority of Kenya, (CA), Mercy Wanjau, who stated that “To create a united internet, we need to narrow the digital divide.” Something COVID-19 exposed – a non-inclusive digital ecosystem. To achieve a united internet, everyone should have access to reliable, stable, and most importantly, affordable internet access.

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Wanjau added that “The internet has been a critical tool for social change. The Internet has provided a solution to the challenges brought about by the pandemic. It has tremendously improved life in all aspects.” She said that there is no doubt the Internet has evolved to become a critical tool for social change. That it also continues to shape human life. The beauty of the Internet as the world experiences the pandemic has been how it provides solutions to the challenges brought forth by COVID-19.

Joel Karubiu, the CEO of Kenya Network Information Centre (KeNIC), and administrator of .ke domain names explained that their role is to ensure secure, reliable, and accessible internet. He stated that “Internet access is no longer seen as a luxury but as a basic human right. Unstable internet connections caused by unreliable electricity and infrastructure poses a threat to its access.”

The day’s conversations ranged from online safety to data protection and legislation.

KeIGF is an open and inclusive multi-stakeholder forum where public policy issues related to key elements of Internet governance, such as its sustainability, robustness, security, stability, and development are discussed. Established by the UN Secretary-General in July 2006, with the inaugural meeting convened in October 2006, the forum has been held annually to discuss internet-related issues.

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It was held to maximise opportunities for open and inclusive dialogue and the exchange of ideas on Internet Governance (IG) related issues, to identify emerging issues and bring them to the attention of the relevant bodies and the general public and to contribute to capacity building for internet governance.

A panel moderated by Hussein Ali Kassim, Chair at KICTANet agreed that discourse over the emerging regulation of content, data, and consumer rights especially with the proliferation of data, was critical with the growing need to digitise operations in different sectors of life.

Ali’s panellists, Jon Fanzun, Swiss Digital Foreign Policy; Kui Kinyanjui, Head of Regulatory and Public Policy at Safaricom PLC; Immaculate Kassait, Data Protection Commissioner (ODPC); Patricia Muchiri, Assistant Director, Consumer Affairs, CA, and Mercy Ndegwa, Public Policy Director, East & Horn of Africa, Facebook – unanimously agreed that digital has given way for massive data that needs proper regulatory policies to guide the manner in which it is harvested, stored, used and shared.

“The Data Protection Act puts in place a legislation to secure the protection of data and privacy, the collection, use, and sharing of personal information to third parties,” said Kassait. She added that as more social and economic activities continue to get have a place online, the importance of privacy and data protection is increasingly needed.

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Matters Inclusion, Universal Access, and Meaningful Connectivity were also discussed with Josephine Gauld, the British Deputy High Commissioner to Kenya, noting that although over half of the world population is now online, many people still lack the quality of access they need to use the internet’s most powerful features, such as online learning, video streaming, and telehealth.

“It’s time to raise the bar for internet access and aim for meaningful connectivity for everyone globally,” she said. “As our societies grow more digital and the internet is integrated into our daily lives, connecting occasionally is not enough. We need regularly reliable access.”

Speaking at the event was also Grace Githaiga, Convenor at KICTANet, who noted that the forum could not have come at a better time than now when the internet is becoming a fundamental need and right for humans. She said, “I welcome you all to KeIGF2021, purposed to maximize the opportunity for open and inclusive dialogue and the exchange of ideas on Internet Governance and related issues.” She added that the internet creates opportunities to share best practices and experiences.

To add icing on the cake was a 10-year-old Lynn Ouko, a Grade 5 learner at Makini schools in Kisumu who is a Child Online Safety advocate. She noted that the Internet has brought untold benefits to the lives of children, presenting vast opportunities and possibilities that enable them to learn, and play but also presents risks and vulnerabilities. These vulnerabilities usually target juniors netizens due to their unsuspecting nature. She, therefore, made a plea to caregivers, parents, guardians, and all adults, in general, to always ensure that children are properly guided on online safety.

“As children, we are vulnerable online and there have been many cases of unknowingly getting into dangerous situations that sometimes have detrimental effects to them,” she said adding, “Protecting children online should be a globally concerted effort of parents, guardians, the government and organizations that focus on children.”

The annual event brings together stakeholders representing government, the private sector, civil society, the technical and academic community, media, and the public in an informal setting for policy dialogue on Internet governance issues on an equal basis through an open and inclusive process.

The forums are localised and their outcomes feed into each other from country to sub-regional then regional level finally culminating in a report that is presented at the global level. The outcomes of the country level (Kenya IGF) feed into the regional level (East Africa IGF), continental level (Africa IGF), and ultimately at the global level (IGF).

Watch out for the 15th edition of the KeIGF in 2022.

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