Blog by June Okal.
Hybrid Forum held on 23 September 2021
The Internet Governance Forum (IGF) is an open and inclusive multi-stakeholder forum where public policy issues related to key elements of Internet governance, such as the Internet’s sustainability, robustness, security, stability and development are discussed.
Modelled on the IGF structure and principles, the Kenya IGF is a unique platform for all stakeholders to openly share perspectives and concerns on the key issues that may affect the future of Internet users in the country and across the globe in general.
The Kenya ICT Action Network (KICTAnet) in partnership with industry stakeholders, convened and organized the Kenya IGF 2021. KICTAnet worked with partners and sponsors to make the event a success. The willingness of Facebook, the Ford Foundation, the Communications Authority (CA), Safaricom PLC, the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO), Kenya Network Information Centre, the Kenya Human Rights Commission, Internet Governance Forum Support Association (IGFSA), Technology Service Providers of Kenya (TESPOK), CIO East Africa, the Internet Corporation of Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) and ARTICLE 19 Eastern Africa to partner and support the event is an indication of their commitment to the development and growth of the internet in Kenya.
For the second time, due to the ongoing COVID – 19 pandemic, the Kenya IGF was convened as a hybrid event with both physical and online participation. The forum also included a sign interpreter to ensure inclusive engagement by participants who are abled differently. The 2021 Kenya IGF was attended by +300 participants under the theme “Internet United”. The event was free to attend and was streamed online.
From the Opening Remarks made by Steve Chege, Chief Corporate Affairs Officer – Safaricom PLC, Alberto Cerda, Ford Foundation and Josephine Gauld, British Deputy High Commissioner to Kenya, all the speakers were excited for the 2021 KIGF discussion, and high pointed the need for multistakeholder collaboration in dealing with the challenges affecting the internet at a national, regional and global scale. Through the Keynote Address delivered by Acting Director General, Communications Authority of Kenya – the ICT industry regulator -, Ms. Mercy Wanjau identified the top three priorities that will need to be addressed in the coming year, being, the need to narrow the digital divide, enhancing of user trust in terms of freedom on the internet and provision for safeguards on disclosure of information which would need to be a collaborative effort between stakeholders.
At the first session, ‘High-Level Panel – Emerging regulation of content, data and consumer rights’ the Office of the Data Protection Commissioner cited the need for compliance and awareness. In recognition of new and emerging technologies, key industry players called for timely engagement to develop new frameworks that would enhance trust and balance interests between stakeholders, including end-users and business partners. In summary, at the heart of new age regulation is the need to facilitate innovation and multi-stakeholderism.
The subsequent session on Inclusion, Universal Access and Meaningful Connectivity emphasized the need to not only deliver connection and connectivity but meaningful connectivity where there is an impact for the end-user. The session speakers highlighted some programmes that have been implemented across the country towards this effort, challenges faced in content moderation and restriction of Freedom of Expression and Information as well as an illustration of the ongoing work on community networks.
Trust, security, and stability – the third thematic topic of discussion. There was a rallying call for enhanced public awareness in recognition of the shift of the national cybersecurity strategy in Kenya from its enactment seven (7) years ago to date owing to the evolution of technology, increased cybercrime threats as well as the pandemic–led digital transformation.
The imposition of personal values rather than national values, lack of knowledge of the national electoral technology-based system to be used, absence of transparency and accountability and a need for public education were emphasized as key concerns in the penultimate discussion on Elections, Data and Technology. In appreciation of the vital place for telecommunications infrastructure, the need for a legal framework recognizing and protecting critical infrastructure was noted. Compliance to the global standard of personal data protection by the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) was flagged as non-negotiable as the Constitutional right to privacy is non-derogable. Summarily, technology should reinforce the democratic process, not undermine it.
In conclusion, the last session zeroing in on Emerging Issues (e.g. 5G, Artificial Intelligence, Digital Tax, E-learning and FinTech) underscored the importance of Digital Services Tax, its impact on the economy in attempting to extend the tax bracket specifically for non-resident providers, recognized the potential impact of 5G technology and the crucial role of the regulator in spectrum allocation. The use of artificial intelligence particularly in financial technology service delivery was lauded in compliance with the law, with counter-arguments on premature regulation in the field of fintech vis a vis the place for self-regulation. User centricity in the development of e-learning solutions should be based on the key pain points flagged by key stakeholders and the need for a new smart city development rather than the retrofitting of existing cities was cited to leverage technology in an attempt to alleviate existing challenges.
The event also featured an award ceremony for the 40 participants of the Kenya School of Internet Governance (KESIG) and the outcome report of the 2021 Youth IGF conveyed. In delivering the Vote of Thanks, Barrack Otieno chair of the Multi Advisory Group (MAG) thanked all the sponsors, partners, speakers, MAG members, KICTANet team and attendees for their engagement. In her Closing Remarks, Mercy Ndegwa, Public Policy Director, East & Horn of Africa, Facebook opined that ‘Internet United’ was an amazingly apt theme throughout the day, noted that the conversation and content were extremely rich and applauded KICTAnet for hosting such a great event.
Conclusively, the attendees – representing various sectors including government, the private sector, civil society, the technical and academic community, and the general public – shared key session highlights and comments on the active chatbox. There was unquestionable consensus on the great content, good insights, impactful learning and interesting conversations in recognition of how the internet has come to play such an important role in our lives and hence the need for its governance. One attendee lauded the virtual setup, quipping that it, ‘looks like a Kenyan apple event’.
The reports of the Kenya IGF 2021 will be follow shortly on the KICTANet documents portal.