From an African perspective, Internet governance requires not only an understanding of the unevenness in access to and use of the Internet but also the disparities in the ability of developing countries to effectively participate in the global debate that influences these outcomes. Not only are most developing countries not participating in this debate, but they are almost entirely absent from the processes that set the agenda for Internet governance. The reasons for this asymmetry are complex. At least partially they are explained by the evolving ICT ecosystem in Africa: constraining interplays between state and market in reform initiatives often resulting in ineffectual regulation and high prices; limited backhaul and access network provision by fixed line incumbents; dominance of regional mobile operators that have come to characterise the ubiquitous mobile sector across the continent and who also provide the primary means for Internet access, the uptake of which is being driven by social networking. This discussion paper seeks to understand how these factors transect with the notion of multi-stakeholderism as a form of deliberative democracy for Internet governance, but which is institutionally often informed by assumptions derived from more mature markets and Western democracies. It does so by examining the evolution of Internet governance, and by exploring its ability to provide Africans with a compass to navigate through the miasma of cybercrime, surveillance, censorship and profiteering that threaten the openness of the Internet.
This discussion paper attempts to map the main international and regional instruments of Internet governance, highlighting the participatory and accountability gaps and ultimately asking what solutions can be devised for the enhanced participation of African stakeholders.
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