Did Zimbabwe just have its third national Internet Governance Forum?

Dr-Gilford-Hapanyengwi

The Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (POTRAZ) on 19 October, held what they described as the country’s first and ‘official’ national Internet governance forum (IGF).

The IGF is a multi-stakeholder platform that facilitates important discussion of public policy issues pertaining to the Internet and how it is controlled.

Anyone that has been observing the Zimbabwe Internet governance space can be forgiven for being confused about this latest ZIGF, because two other ZIGFs took place earlier in the year! At least that is what it seemed like.

The first one was held in June under the auspices of POTRAZ in partnership with the Government of Zimbabwe and the Ministry of ICT, Postal and Courier Services, while the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) facilitated the second one in August.

For those who were as confused as myself about all these events; what they were about and where things are now: here is hopefully a simplified explanation that will especially help those trying to keep track of the Internet governance conversation in Zimbabwe.

So it turns out that there are quite some useful explanations:

According to the Ministry of ICTs, Postal and Courier services Deputy Director Mr James Madya, the ZIGF held by POTRAZ on 17th June was apparently just a ‘launch’ of the concept after an inaugural ‘multi-stakeholder’ workshop and relevant public consultative meetings facilitated by POTRAZ on 15 June to deliberate on its establishment.

The main outcome of that meeting was a communiqué on the establishment of a ZIGF and the setting up of a multi-stakeholder committee with interim membership to operationalize the ZIGF as well as finalize the founding documents.

It was noted in this meeting that POTRAZ would serve as secretariat and enabler of the ZIGF.

Because there was a notable absence of key stakeholders from civil society, the private sector and development partners (due to the short time frame given for the workshop and in part, limited publicizing of the event), it was decided that there was need for further consultations.

Taking into consideration the fact that many interests and stakeholders had not been represented at the initial POTRAZ ZIGF launch meeting, MISA proceeded to hold what they described as an Internet Governance Conference on 21 August.

While the title of MISA’s event sounded politically correct, the main subjects under discussion sounded a lot like what a standard IGF would be with discussion of issues such as what the future of Zimbabwe’s internet ecosystem looked like, laws affecting internet use in Zimbabwe and the country’s internet governance plans, among other things.

Many people did think that the MISA event was indeed a ZIGF as evidenced here and here.

The twitterati also stopped short of also branding it as such, using the hashtag #ZIG (Zimbabwe Internet Governance).

Wikipedia describes forum: as an open public space for discussion, a meeting or medium where ideas and views on a particular issue can be exchanged.

Conference: is a meeting of people who “confer” about a topic or topics in a meeting.

Conference, forum, what’s in a title, those two words can be treated like synonyms.

Nevertheless, the last ‘official’ ZIGF held in October was all about engaging the public in identifying issues around selected thematic areas that ought to be addressed in the country’s Internet governance forum spaces.

Participants were split and worked in groups to come up with a shopping list of issues to consider around the following themes: Internet economy; Internet and human rights, Internet governance standards; openness; inclusivity and diversity and cybersecurity. The different inputs would ideally be taken into the regional and international forums by the advisory taskforce that was set up to facilitate future ZIGF spaces.

It was heartening to note that the meeting sought to incorporate input from the MISA meeting as the resolutions from the latter were distributed among the participant groups so that areas of convergence could be identified.

Ideally, if there is a convergence of inputs from the different conversations taking place around Internet governance in Zimbabwe, that means we will ultimately have a common list of issues that we all prioritize in this area. That is a good thing.

Image by TechZim