Preparing the Ground for the West Africa Internet Governance Forum: A review of Internet public policy interests and processes in selected countries in the region

Wednesday 23 February 2011

Introduction

The recent growth in telecommunication in Africa places pressure on countries for the development of appropriate policies to maximise the gains that it offers. As much as $56 billion in private sector investments have been stimulated by the growth of technology, particularly, mobile, in Africa between 2004 and 2008 (ITU, 2010). Infrastructure growth and the rapid deployment of undersea cables have characterised the technological landscape of the continent in recent times. Where there was only a single undersea cable in the West coast of the continent carrying most of its Internet voice and data traffic only five years ago, there are several strands in various stages of completion (Song, 2010) that will carry most of its traffic and connect countries where communication had previously been via satellite signals.

Thirty eight per cent (World Bank, 2010, ―Connecting Africa‖) of Africa‘s citizens use a mobile phone, and its Internet penetration has continued to increase and is projected to reach 9.6 per cent by 2010 (ITU, 2010). Although a far cry from global averages of 30 per cent, its growth is still
remarkable given recent figures.

This growth in the mobile sector presents interesting opportunities for rapid development and deployment of broadband technology, especially in areas where access is low, thereby potentially making up for lapses in penetration of fixed lines.

Opportunities and challenges to the growth and advancements of technology tools and infrastructure (and their impact on economic and social development) have characterised discussions in local and global Internet policy platforms such as the Internet Governance Forum (IGF). Broad policy discussions at the global level can potentially have a far-reaching impact when their importance is recognized at the local level. A number of African countries have recommenced processes of national Internet policy dialog similar in format to the IGF and different from structures they have previously been used to. The United Nations Economic Commission for Africa‘s (UNECA) National Information Communication Initiative (NICI) strategies have been one significant model that has contributed a great deal to policy formulation in the continent. However, these formats are structured differently. While this document is not a comparison of these formats, it recognises the role that NICIs have played in extending policy dialogue and in establishing ICT policies in African countries.

This document focuses on a survey that was conducted by IISD in seven West African countries to explore whether there is interest in increasing dialogue around the evolution and use of the Internet. These countries include Burkina Faso, Gambia, Ghana, Liberia, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone and Togo. Senegal was dropped because the quantity of data collected was not significant enough for any analysis to be conducted. However, substantial statistical data was collected from Kenya, and used for comparative purposes. The survey methodology, results and discussion is available in Chapter five.

To give context to the study, it is important to provide a background on the evolution of Internet policy in Africa, more broadly and in West Africa specifically. We have focused the discussions on policy around the events, infrastructures and activities during the past decade, exploring issues of teledensities and Internet penetration, examining the institutional frameworks that have guided policy formulation in the continent, and the issues around which policy makers have converged. These are discussed in Chapter three.

Chapter four explores the West African policy space more specifically, focusing on institutional frameworks such as those presented by the West Africa Telecommunications Regulatory Assembly (WATRA). It specifically addressed the policy environment surrounding the countries covered in the survey. While it was presented as a broad discussion, we have made specific efforts to analyse the situations in a few of the countries mentioned in the survey.

In Chapter six, we explore the challenges that the West African policy arena may face and suggest some of the responses that could potentially address these challenges.

For further reading, download the enclosed document below.