Where do we locate Zimbabwe in the global Internet governance dialogue?

Last month I attempted to explain some of the confusion surrounding the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) situation in Zimbabwe. Few weeks ago I had the privilege to participate in the 10th annual global IGF that took place in Brazil, whose overarching theme was: ‘Evolution of Internet Governance: Empowering Sustainable Development’.

The opening ceremony at the global IGF was, as expected, replete with endless speechifying, which was surprisingly not boring. Among the 20 or so individuals that delivered speeches was South Africa’s Deputy Minister for Telecommunications and Postal Services, Professor Hlengiwe Mkhize. She spoke at length about something I have heard about before: the ambitious ‘South Africa Connect’ project to roll out fibre across the entire country as well as her government’s concerns about the void being created by the lack of an international instrument that deals with cyber security.

I momentarily had the bleak and depressing realisation that I seemed to have a better appreciation of South Africa’s plans for Internet governance versus my own country.

I have honestly heard Ms Mkhize and others in her ministry take advantage of whatever opportunity they get to speak, to elaborate their country’s priorities in different spaces, and the messages are consistent.

I cannot say the same for our Zimbabwean comrades.

No representative from Zimbabwe gave a speech at the global IGF.

It seemed that there were no high-ranking officials representing our country at this important event, which I thought was a little strange because earlier in September this year, ICT Minister Supa Mandiwanzira had attended the Africa IGF in Addis.

But I had the whole week to find out.

By the end of day one of the IGF week, I had established that a couple of influential individuals in the Zimbabwe Internet governance space were present.

There was the Principal Director in the Ministry of ICTs in Zimbabwe, Mr Simon Cosmas Chigwamba. Dr Gilford Hapanyengwi, Chairperson of the ZIGF advisory group was also there together with Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (POTRAZ) representative, Bonnie Mtengwa. I also spotted Mr Marufu Chigaazira, who currently works with the Communication Regulators Association, CRASA.

With Dr Hapanyengwi at UN IGF

With Dr Hapanyengwi at UN IGF

With Koliwe Nyoni of Misa Zimbabwe and Mr S. Chigwamba

With Koliwe Majama of Misa Zimbabwe, Mr S. Chigwamba and Mr Chengetai Masango (IGF Programme & Technology Manager)

Since none of these individuals were scheduled to make speeches or to speak on any panel throughout the entire IGF, I used a few tea breaks to seek clarity on a few burning questions.

First, I asked both Mr Chigwamba and Mr Hapanyengwi separately, what Zimbabwe’s Internet governance priority issues were.

This is something I had been trying to establish well before the global IGF, because I imagined that such would inform most of the conversations I would be interested to participate in at the IGF.

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On 19 October this year, POTRAZ held what they described as the country’s first and ‘official’ national Internet governance forum.

Because the various stakeholders in attendance worked to identify key Internet governance issues around themes such as internet and human rights, governance standards; openness; inclusivity and diversity and cybersecurity; it made sense that the main outcome of that meeting would be a curated communiqué on among other things, the national priorities that would ideally be used as points for discussion in regional and international internet governance forums.

To date, no such communiqué exists.

The little updated Zimbabwe Internet Governance Forum (ZIGF) website still only has just the one communiqué from the June meeting that established the mandate of the ZIGF. So unless one attended the ‘official’ ZIGF, it is difficult to get a sense of where we are going as a nation, where Internet governance issues are concerned.

I am keeping fingers crossed that the communiqué will be posted and shared publicly at least before the Southern Africa regional Internet governance forum (SAIGF), because the issues that will be discussed there include some of the themes discussed at the official ZIGF. It would be good to know where we stand on what issues in the regional discussion.

Needless to say I did not get any straight answers from both Messrs Chigwamba and Hapanyengwi, and frankly I do not entirely blame them. The October ZIGF though noble, was a little rushed and did not seem well coordinated or thought out. It also took place well after the Africa IGF, and it was hard to see what process was leading where and for what.

What makes things even more interesting is the fact that the SAIGF is only taking place this December.

I would have thunk that the correct or perhaps logical order of things would be: national IGF first, followed by the SAIGF, then the Africa IGF and lastly the Global IGF. The Africa IGF took place before both our national IGF and the SAIGF, and the global IGF took place before the SAIGF.

Clearly there are some planning and/or coordination issues here. But then I also heard about funding challenges affecting the timely implementation of the SAIGF.

Nevertheless, I also asked if there was any update on the status of the revised Zimbabwe ICT policy, and was informed that it is still under final review by the Cabinet before tabling in Parliament. I kept to myself the concern that this policy has been a long time coming, and at this rate, might be overtaken by events to the point of being obsolete by the time it is finalised.

Some of my main observations from the global IGF experience were that representation of ‘African’ positions in the various platforms was very limited, even though there were a lot of African participants present.

The limited representation of African positions in my view is reflective of poor strategy at regional level, especially when considering that the SAIGF failed to take place before the global IGF.

This is not however to say that a joint Africa position on Internet governance is possible, although this would be worth exploring.

Whatever the case, I think that coordinated approaches are necessary in the future, perhaps with aggregated topics to give participation in different spaces some meaningful direction.

The Africa IGF produced a fantastic sounding outcome document that I am not sure how widely disseminated it was. It probably has some good fodder for reference in the SAIGF.

Hopefully it is not gathering some digital dust somewhere as in the case of our ICT policy and the official ZIGF communiqué…