By official statistics, more than 2,000 delegates are in Nairobi for the 6th Internet Governance Forum at the UN Office in Nairobi. The delagates are drawn from more than 100 countries — representing a community of Governments, the private sector, civil society, the Internet community, international organizations and the media  The forum runs until 30 September.

This is the first Internet Governance Forum to be held in sub-Saharan Africa. It seeks to examine cross-border Internet governance challenges under the theme “The Internet as a catalyst for change:  access, development, freedoms and innovation”. The meeting seeks to address issues like;

  • Human Rights Online,
  • Privacy and Cyber Security,
  • Enhanced Cooperation,
  • Governments in Internet Governance,
  • Access and Diversity,
  • Critical Internet Resources i.e IPV4/IPV6 and IDNs for Development

The growth of social media and its effect on freedoms and rights are also being discussed at the meeting with strong focus being pointed on the Arab Spring and the unprecedented exposure by WikiLeaks of confidential United States diplomatic cables across the globe.

The internet has brought about new development opportunities, freedoms and innovations with increased access.  Countries and communities have unique challenges in their quests to utilise the internet as a resource. Some have rights which looks like they have no boundaries while others suffer at the slightest attempt to utilise the internet as a resource. This is now fuelling a global debate on the nature of freedoms which people should enjoy online and the boundaries which much be put in the same.

“To achieve internet’s potential, public authorities must support and protect internet, but not kill it. ” Neelie Kroes, EU Vice President responsible for the digital agenda for Europe said. “The Internet is changing the world. It is not just a trillion-dollar marketplace. It is a forum where people connect, a platform for astounding innovation, and a powerful vehicle for human rights and fundamental freedoms” She added.

This years forum seeks to build on the momentum of previous years and will help set the agenda for a way forward on Internet governance.

There are many challenges and achievement in trying to give internet access to communities. For example, more than 80 per cent of households in some countries have Internet access, almost all of them through a broadband connection, and many of them through mobile networks; the developing world increased its share of mobile subscriptions from 53 per cent in 2005 to 73 per cent in 2010; access to mobile networks is now available to 90 per cent of the world’s population and 80 per cent of its rural population; the number of people with Internet access at home has increased from an estimated 1.4 billion in 2009 to almost 1.6 billion in 2010; more than 60 per cent of Kenya’s population uses a mobile phone, and the country has 4.7 million Internet subscribers, with the vast majority gaining access via mobile devices; and Kenya is known for advanced mobile banking services that have brought financial services to much of the population for the first time.

Issues like the adoption and diffusion of Internet Protocol version 6  (IPv6) will also lead delegates to think in terms of ensuring the Internet as a meaningful tool for development, freedom and innovations. The forum will generate discussion on the relationship between Internet governance and development, and how the Internet can foster economic growth, freedoms and innovation, for example, through improved education and knowledge while empowering citizens.

The Internet Governance Forum is not a decision-making body, but rather a space for dialogue where all participants are equal in discussions public policy issues relating to the Internet.  While there will be no negotiated outcome, the Forum informs and inspires those with policy-making power in both the public and private sectors.  It is also a space that gives developing countries the same opportunity as wealthier nations to engage in the debate on Internet governance and to facilitate their participation in existing institutions and arrangements.  Ultimately, the involvement of all stakeholders, from developed, as well as developing, countries, is necessary for the future advancement of the Internet.

Previous forums were hosted in Athens, Greece, in 2006; Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 2007; Hyderabad, India, in 2008; Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, in 2009; and Vilnius, Lithuania, in 2010.