East Africa Internet Governance Forum in Kampala

The 7th East Africa Internet Governance Forum has opened in Kampala, Uganda today. It is being convened by ISOC Uganda Chapter in partnership with the country’s Ministry of ICT.

The forum aims at creating a Community of Practice that will build a sustaining foundation for meaningful participation of East African stakeholders in Internet public policy debates at the national, regional and international level.

This year’s edition has attracted about 120 participants drawn from the regional Internet Governance Forums (IGF) and stakeholders in the Information Technology industry. The conference is seeking to advance the Internet Governance debate in East Africa under the theme; ‘Thinking globally; Acting locally.’

While delivering the keynote address – on behalf of Uganda’s State Minister for ICT, Hon. Nyombi Thembo – the Permanent Secretary of the same ministry emphasized the need to create awareness on Internet Governance issues within the East Africa region and to enact enabling laws for Internet growth and cyber security.

“The Internet is a critical resource whose governance needs participation from everybody,” said Patrick Mwesigwa the director for Technology Services at Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) who represented the Executive Director.

He highlighted some of the milestones at UCC regarding its contribution to Internet access in Uganda including the Rural Communication Development Fund (RCDF) program, through which many Ugandans have benefited from various ICT initiatives and facilities that were put in place.

UCC is the country’s communications regulator.

He told the delegates that 105 computer access points have been established countrywide while 20 post-offices have been facilitated and 28,000 Ugandans trained and benefited from the computer training ICT facilities that were established.

Mr. Bob Ochieng, ICANN Africa’s Manager for Stakeholder Engagement, said that there is need to look at lowering Internet prices in East Africa. He thanked ICANN for supporting this year’s EAIGF; an annual conference that meets to talk about issues that have been discussed by individual country IGF chapters. All the East Africa Community (EAC) countries Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Burundi and Rwanda have country chapters.

Some of the key  issues that were discussed at the national levels and were brought out to this regional forum included but were not limited to; IPV6 migration, de-regulation of ccTLD, cyber security, Internet as a tool for development, threats to Internet rights, Africa declaration on Internet rights, online child protection and big data among others.

Ms. Lillian Nalwoga, the ISOC Uganda Chapter president and the convener said that Uganda was hosting the EAIGF for the second time and is privileged to host this year’s event. She said that Uganda has made strides through using Internet in many thematic areas such as; education, health, Agriculture and Governance.

In a session on using Internet as a tool for development, Prof. Isaac Kasana from Research and Education Network for Uganda (RENU) agreed that there is need to develop last mile solutions to access of Internet in Africa. He mentioned that that the principle of role of the academia in the use of Internet is to drive innovation and development research while empowering communities. He emphasized that the Internet is essential in improving coverage and the quality of education while lowering the costs, also noting that that Internet has continued to connect people faster than their Governments have or would have.

Badru Ntege of NFT Consult noted that as people collaborate and do things together, they develop communities of Practice (COPs). He said that the Internet is vital in making the collaboration possible. And while it’s important to extend the reach of the Internet and increase access, many government in the region have a big challenge of regulating it.

It is evident from the various discussions that Africa indeed urgently needs a much greater pool of skilled experts and IT experts to push the continent’s agenda forward.

Tomorrow’s session will be a half-day event, with sessions Seven and Eight about “Connecting the next billion” and “Net Neutrality in East Africa” respectively taking place before the tea break.

You can follow the live stream here or join in the conversations on Twitter using the hashtags #EAIGF or #EAIGF15.

The writer is an independent communications consultant. You can follow her on Twitter @Maureenagena.