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Poor participation of African leaders in ICT Forums worries stakeholders

By on July 24, 2015

Stakeholders in the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) sector have expressed concerns over what they described as weak participation of African leaders in international technology forums.
According to them, while other developed countries are actively participating in the internet governance forum, which has become a global issue, business and government leaders from Nigeria and the rest of the African continent, are not showing enough interest, describing the situation as worrisome.
This development, according to them, if allowed to continue, could affect African continent from reaping the benefits of the digital economy.
The Internet Governance Forum (IGF) is a community that facilitates a common understanding of how to maximise Internet opportunities and address risks and challenges that arise.
Despite equal opportunities given to every country, there has been little or no voice by African business leaders in internet governance, stakeholders observed.
Recently, African business leaders including thirty chief executive officers from Nigeria had gathered in Abuja at the Chief Executive Officers’ round table organised by the African ICT Alliance, (AfICTA) in partnership with the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) with the theme “Mobilising African Business Leaders for the future of the Internet”. The forum which focused in the future of the internet, had in attendance, full representatives from countries outside the African continent, but those within the African continent, especially those from West Africa, had very few representatives.
Speaking on domain name registration from various countries, the former Deputy Executive Secretary, ECOWAS Secretariat, Dr. M.O. Afolabi, who chaired the forum said domain name registration is still a virgin market in Nigeria and the rest of the African countries.
“This is the time for Nigeria to tap into the opportunity. This is a wake up call for the government. We cannot continue to be consumers of information Technology (IT) services but also producers”, he said.
Outlining proposed strategic plan for the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) from 2015 to 2018, the Director General of the agency, Dr. Peter Jack told the gathering that absence of a national IT master plan, connected government framework, e -government strategy and interoperability framework were part of the challenges facing the agency, but assured the forum that NITDA would build an inclusive digital society by 2020.
Supporting the call for hosting IGF by Nigeria in 2018, he said that NITDA was committed to positioning Nigeria into leading center in Africa.
Chairman of AfICTA, Dr. Jimson Olufuye, told the gathering that while mechanisms for funding exist to bring in NGOs, civil society, and even the technical community and academia to participate in events and relationships, no similar opportunity exists for small businesses, due to existing UN rules and other barriers.
According to Olufuye, “We believe that the active engagement of business, alongside other stakeholders, and with governments will contribute to an outcome at the high level event that recognizes that we can, in the years ahead, achieve the vision of an information society for all, and bring forward those from all developing countries to benefit from the promise of ICTs.
ICT Strategies at mCADE LLC, Marilyn Cade, while speaking on the state of the internet, said access remained a core challenge for not only the three billion connected, but the next four billion.
According to her, capacity building, affordable devices and resiliency must be solved for digital economy.
Sustainable development goals, she said must be integrated into post 2015 WSIS agenda to advance Information Society and affect role of business as leaders from developing countries.
Former President of Nigeria Internet Registration Association (NIRA), Mrs. Mary Uduma, said it was time Nigeria host IGF, and get more involved in the internet governance forum.
“We need to get involved in the internet governance otherwise other developed economies will continue to spy us. There is new business in the internet economy,” she said.
President of the Association of Telecommunications Companies of Nigeria (ATCON), Lanre Ajayi, said the market for top-level domains (ngTLD) is still poor, insisting that the technical handicap in the domain name registration should be addressed, since there is huge opportunities in the internet that should be tapped, by Nigeria and other African countries.