Mapping Multistakeholderism in Internet Governance: Implications for Africa

From an African perspective, Internet governance requires not only an understanding of the unevenness in access to and use of the Internet, but also of the disparities between developed and developing countries’ abilities to effectively participate in global Internet governance debates. Few developing countries participate in these debates, and fewer still in agenda-setting for Internet governance. The reasons for these asymmetries in access, participation and decision-making are complex. Besides the more fundamental and perhaps obvious challenges of low income and education levels in most African countries, the asymmetries are at least partially explained by the evolving ICT ecosystem in Africa. This often includes the absence of an enabling institutional environment for sector reform and development, resulting in poor market structuring with limited competition and ineffectual regulation, limited network investment, and high wholesale and retail prices. This discussion paper seeks to understand how these factors transect with the notion of multistakeholderism as a form of deliberative democracy for Internet governance which is often informed by assumptions from more mature markets and Western democracies. It does so by exploring the evolution of multistakeholderism through the mapping of the main international and regional instruments of Internet governance. This discussion paper assesses the ability of current multistakeholder initiatives to provide Africans with a compass to guide them through the miasma of cybercrime, political surveillance, censorship and profiteering that threaten the openness of the Internet. The paper also highlights the participatory and accountability gaps in the current status quo and ultimately asks what solutions can be devised to enhance the participation of African stakeholders. The paper considers how an open and decentralised governance process might be devised in order to facilitate Internet development in ways that respond to African conditions and citizen needs.