Global Cyber Policy Dialogue for Southern Africa

To provide cyber-security as a global strategic and public good, global governance mechanisms and closer cooperation between countries and between states and non-state actors need to be devised. Protecting users online, preserving stability and peace in cyberspace, and fighting cyber-crime are complex tasks, which require multilateral and multistakeholder dialogues and a global collaborative response. At the same time, the domain of cyberspace cannot be isolated from unique national and regional contexts, which inevitably create a distinct set of challenges, priorities and mechanisms for governing cybersecurity within national jurisdictions. 

In this context, the Department of International Relations and Cooperation of the Republic of South Africa, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands South Africa and the Netherlands in partnership with the EastWest Institute and Research ICT Africa co-hosted a virtual Global Cyber Policy Dialogue for Southern Africa on Tuesday, 27 October 2020. 

The multistakeholder online event, structured around the three pillars of sustainable development, peace and security, and governance, was a way to promote awareness on cyber policy in the Southern Africa region. The dialogue unfolded in a compelling discussion on digital inclusiveness, equity, safety and security and resilience. It was an opportunity to reflect not only on the developmental potential of digitalisation, but also on cyber threats and risks from a Southern African perspective.

The dialogue highlighted the fact that as connectivity increases in the region, digital inequalities are amplified and not reduced. Beyond the ‘digital divide’ policy discourse, a security gap exists between well-resourced entities (individuals, private organisations, and states), who are able to detect threats and ameliorate online risks and harms, and an increasing proportion of the population, SMEs and small and under-resourced States who do not have resources – skills, means and capabilities – to identify cyber risks, reduce vulnerabilities and improve resilience. 

Speakers from all stakeholder groups reflected on the need to build more equitable, safe and inclusive societies post-pandemic. Mechanisms to achieve this should facilitate the development of cyber-security policy which is human-centric. While cybersecurity policy should aim at providing safe and secure access and use of the Internet. The role of governance should also be to protect individual and human rights online. Meaningful collaborative models based on mutuality between countries and across stakeholders, should aim at strengthening institutions and the rule of law in cyberspace. 

In the current landscape of tension and distrust in cyberspace, during the online event, the UN was recognized as a “centre of gravity” to build global consensus on the governance of cyberspace. In order to build trust in cyberspace, the traditionally multilateral mechanisms of the UN should encourage wider participation from African states and a broader dialogue with non-state actors as well, so that processes on defining principles, norms and rules on responsible state behaviour in cyberspace are truly inclusive. 

Watch a short video (via Dropbox) introducing the event.