WALUBENGO: Lessons from the global Internet Governance Forum [Nation (Kenya)]
(Nation (Kenya) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) The global Internet Governance Forum (IGF) came to a close last week in Bali, Indonesia. With almost 3,000 delegates drawn from around the world and across different sectors, the four-day conference discussed so many issues that it is impossible to summarise them on one page.
Of course details can be gathered from the IGF website but the following is what one would call local lessons learnt from the global IGF conference.
Surprisingly, the biggest lesson learnt was not IT! It was instead the highly developed Indonesian tourism sector. What Indonesia has done to their tourism sector is what Safaricom did to our telecommunications sector – which is to simply focus on the bottom of the pyramid, while making lots of money and creating lots of jobs.
Imagine downtown Nairobi River-Road area, with multiple miniaturised "Serena Hotels" competing to offer quality, affordable and reliable services to thousands of "mass-tourists" roaming around well-built and well-lit roads, pavements, pubs and shopping kiosks.
Bali, the smallest island of Indonesia, has about four million inhabitants but receives three million tourists per year! Kenya? Has 40 million inhabitants, is a thousand times bigger, offers a wider variety of tourists attractions and is still struggling to reach and celebrate one million tourists a year?
We have had our tourist market priority wrong and maybe it is time to change. We need to develop places like River-road, Mtwapa and others to cash in on the "average" tourist who does not have the budget to stay at "The Whitesands" or "Stanley Sarova" but wants the same service re-packaged and sold along River Road or Mtwapa.
But then again, if you were a member of the ruling class, owning or having shares in the high-end hotel chains – why would you want to use public money to develop a lower-end tourist sector? Does it make sense to promote a sub-sector that may potentially cannibalise your own high-end tourist market? Nationally yes, personally – maybe not.
And so River Road, Mtwapa and others shall retain their desolate status over the next foreseeable future. As our economy continues to target the few high-end tourists because it does make business sense to the chosen few - who coincidentally just happen to be and will continue being in charge of our tourism policies and strategies.
Now, back to ICT. There are a number of lessons to learn but we shall consider only one for now: Cyber-security.
The recent report that the US may be spying on its allies made governments feel that the US was abusing its advantage arising from the fact that most global web-based services such as emails, social media networks, search engines and other internet services are US-centric and hence quite vulnerable to US government engineered access.
Discussions centred on how this could be addressed with the technical community saying that whereas the solutions exist, they may not be approved by the very same complaining governments. For example, the simplest answer to email spying is for the technical community to enable by default, some high-end encryption for all email communications.
However, governments would find this uncomfortable since quite frequently – through legal and more often illegal means – they do want to retain the right to spy on their enemies, friends and citizens under the framework of national security.
Obviously, such technical solutions do not look good from a government's perspective; but they do look good from a civil society perspective who continue to push for greater online freedoms and privacy.
Whereas options like having each economy build its own email, social media and other web-based systems may provide national pride and a debatable sense of national security, it unfortunately goes towards balkanising the Internet along existing national geographic boundaries.
The final effect being a diminished value for online services such that search engines will end up having only a "localised/national" view of data searched as opposed to the "international" view currently enjoyed by keeping the Internet open and global.
There is never a prescriptive answer to Internet Governance problems – but the discussions uncover different angles to different stakeholders. Usually, this collaborative discussions do ignite and crystallise small components of the full solutions.
The complete solution may not necessarily be seen today, but will often come into full perspective several years down the line.
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