29th June 2012 indeed marked a critical and historic time to the entire universe and more especially to the internet community. I dare say that it also puts to the forefront the fact that Africa has introduced a first critical facet in human rights; freedom, an issue that was so courageously demonstrated by last year’s historic toppling of several despotic leaderships, a feat that was achieved at the touch of a button.
It’s these heroic and courageous acts among many others that led United Nations to declare the internet freedom as a human right. This comes amidst several attempts by organizations to introduce several acts that were intended to control the freedoms and rights gained by the internet as a tool and as a platform.
The UN statement said as a matter of fact that Noting that the exercise of human rights, in particular the right to freedom of expression, on the Internet is an issue of increasing interest and importance as the rapid pace of technological development enables individuals all over the world to use new information and communications technologies.
It continued to categorically affirm that the same rights that people have offline must also be protected online. ,Recognized the global and open nature of the Internet as a driving force accelerating progress towards development in its various forms; Called upon all States to promote and facilitate access to the Internet and international cooperation aimed at the development of media and information and ecommunications facilities in all countries.
The declarations also Encourages special procedures to take these issues into account within their existing mandates, as applicable; Decides to continue its consideration of the promotion, protection and enjoyment of human rights, including the right to freedom of expression, on the Internet in other technologies, as well as of how the Internet can be an important tool for development and for exercising human rights, in accordance with its programme of work.
Our President of DotConnectAfrica, Sophia Bekele is among the persons who openly campaigned in the US for freedom of Information as a human right, against the background that she has witnessed the closing of the internet portals during the tumultuous Arabic uprising while traveling in North Africa during that time and highlighted the criticality of information freedom and people to be aware of the freedom that existed in the internet to promote peace and put an end to regimes that were dictatorial.
Alternatively, in her recent commentary the “Empire Fights Back” on internet freedom and governance, Bekele stated, The battles lines are already drawn. “An open, inclusive, participatory, multi-stakeholder Internet goes beyond ordinary 'Internet governance', and is really about whether people should be free in a global society. It is all about the Universal Right to Freedom, and the UN, the main guarantor of Human and People's Rights, should not be unwittingly used as a tool to rein in that sacrosanct freedom bestowed on people everywhere by a Free Internet in the name of an ITU-led and controlled Internet governance architecture. Is it not ironic that a multi-lateral UN-ITU led Internet governance process is not aimed at guaranteeing a multi-stakeholder Internet?
When the SOPA, PIPA and ACTA followed soon, we also voiced our concerns, that internet must remain as a free factor given the model that internet has evolved through was an open , free and non restrictive. The Model that DCA openly support is the Multistakeholder format where everybody has a voice and stake in the governance of the internet, as fact reinforced by Bekele’s open letter to the US Senate, stating “The Internet itself has proved to be a very useful platform for bringing Africa into the mainstream of global information and communication technology usage, and its gradual and increasing availability is helping Africa to bridge the so-called 'Digital Divide”..
The above voices of internet freedom also reinforces DCA’s believe that Africa has the right to obtain its own top level domain that is free from governmental bureaucratic grips, a format whose business model encourages the sustenance of progressive agenda that will promote youth and Women in the ICT sector. Having said this, it is not only a vindication for the gains achieved in educating Africa singlehandedly on New Top Level Domains, but also an affirmation that no sovereign body or inter-governmental body like the African Union or any other has a mandate to own or in any way otherwise attempt to control the Internet resource. In a recent CIO interview, Bekele warned “this power to endorse by governmental bodies should not be interpreted and extended to include overall sovereignty over the new gTLD. “We believe this should not be the case since it is monopolistic and anti-competitive coupled with problems of lack of transparency and accountability. “ She said, "Everyone should have a role in the process, and the boundaries that have been setup should be respected by everybody, with no exceptions or preferential treatment for governments and intergovernmental bodies.
The effects of internet freedom cannot be underestimated a fact reiterated by Tunisia's ambassador Moncef Baati who said "The most important result of the Tunisian revolution is this right to freedom of expression...(that) is very important at the moment and it is for this reason that there is a strong commitment in Tunisia to consolidate Internet rights," and therefore Any attempts by governments and other bodies that will attempt to arm twist the netizens by gagging these freedoms will only be shooting itself in the foot, especially at this momentous time when the internet namespace is set to be expanded coupled by the full adoption of the IPv6 Technology.
All the above ideas resonate with DCA’s principle on internet freedom and internet governance, which will be the next global fight expected.
By Gideon Rop, DotConnectAfrica