The role of parliamentarians in shaping our common digital future: An African perspective
The Internet Governance Forum (IGF), convened annually by the UN Secretary-General, is a global multistakeholder platform that facilitates discussions on Internet and digital policy issues. The African IGF (AfIGF), supported by the African Union (AU) Commission and the UN Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), is a regional IGF initiative dedicated to fostering pan-African exchanges on relevant digital policy topics.
The two initiatives share the goal of strengthening the engagement of parliamentarians in their activities and fostering inter-parliamentary dialogue and cooperation on digital policy issues. In line with this goal, a symposium dedicated to parliamentarians from across the African continent is to be held in the context of the 2022 AfIGF meeting, under the overarching title ‘The role of parliaments in shaping our digital future. An African perspective’. The event will also mark the launch of the African Parliamentary Network on Internet Governance (APNIG), an initiative dedicated to strengthening regional interparliamentary cooperation on digital policy issues.
The initiative is focused on facilitating dialogue and exchanges on key digital policy issues among parliamentarians, and between parliamentarians (MPs) and other stakeholders from within and beyond the African continent.
The symposium is dedicated to members of national parliaments from African countries, including members of the Pan-African Parliament. Focus will be given to the Parliamentarians in the information and communication technology (ICT) related committees at the national or regional parliaments.
- Familiarise MPs with the IGF space and the broader international ecosystem for Internet governance and digital policy. Encourage them to actively contribute to relevant regional and international processes.
- Prepare MPs for participation in the IGF 2022 meeting and the dedicated parliamentary track, as well as future IGF meetings and activities.
- Update MPs on a predetermined set of Internet governance and digital policy issues of relevance for African countries. Facilitate dialogue on these issues with other parliamentarians from around the world, as well as with relevant international and regional organisations from different stakeholder groups (intergovernmental organisations, the technical community, private sector, civil society).
- Discuss the relevance of legislative work in shaping Africa’s digital future. Highlight issues that need to be considered when legislation for the digital space is developed (e.g. avoiding unintended consequences for the open and global nature of the Internet).
- Facilitate cooperation and exchanges of good practices with MPs from national and regional parliaments which have advanced legislative work on digital policy issues.
- Expose the MPs to the various digital-related UN and AU frameworks: Agenda 2030, the Roadmap for Digital Cooperation, the Our Common Agenda Report, the AU Convention on Cyber Security and Personal Data Protection (Malabo Convention), and AU’s Digital Transformation Strategy and Data Policy Framework.
The symposium is co-organised by the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA), the IGF Secretariat, the AU Commission, the Policy and Regulation Initiative for Digital Africa (PRIDA), the AfIGF Secretariat, and the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit GmbH (GIZ).
FORMAT AND PROGRAMME
The initiative will include:
- A two-day digital policy symposium for parliamentarians, on 18-19 July. This will include dialogue among MPs and between MPs and other stakeholders.
- A parliamentary roundtable during the AfIGF meeting, on 21 July.
- The participation of MPs in other sessions of the AfIGF.
18 July: Day 1
09:00 – 09:30
Welcome and introductions
Moderator: Neema Lugangira, MP
09:30 – 10:30
Digital (and) geopolitics: Navigating the era of digital interdependence
Rapid technological advancements affect every aspect of our lives, from war and peace, lifestyle and work, to our very survival. The COVID-19 crisis has vividly demonstrated the critical relevance of digital infrastructure for modern society. Consequently, this inflicts tectonic changes to national governance and international relations. Parliaments face difficult times to address new challenges of the digital world which cuts across jurisdictions. Digital challenges penetrate every element of the national and international political agendas: from protecting citizens and the economy from cybercrime to ensuring financial inclusion, from enabling affordable internet access to preventing foreign influence through digital and cyber means. To meet the needs of the national constituencies and win their trust and support, parliamentarians are required to understand the emerging challenges of the digitalised world, adapt policy and legal approaches, and create partnerships with actors within their countries and across borders. Through an interactive dialogue, the session will outline key digital geopolitical challenges that African countries face, and address parliaments’ role in developing sustainable regulations on complex and, often, controversial issues including privacy and data protection, cybersecurity and artificial intelligence. The session will also map the most relevant international processes related to internet governance and digital policy, which – if utilised well – can help shape policies to address national and regional digital challenges.
10:15 – 10:30
10:30 – 11:30
Legislation for an open and unfragmented Internet
The key feature of the Internet’s core functions is maintaining the ‘uniqueness’ of identifiers – the numbers (e.g. Internet protocol addresses) and domain names – which ensures global interoperability and connectivity. A large part of the Internet’s success is due to it being a ‘network of networks’ with no central command. Trust in these identifiers being unique and in the governance system that coordinates these functions is vital for the Internet to function and for it to remain a globally connected unfragmented network. Regulatory and legislative frameworks aimed to tackle risks that come with the use of the Internet can sometimes – intentionally or unintentionally – threaten this open and unfragmented nature of the Internet. How do we avoid this? What are the key principles and considerations for an open and unfragmented Internet and how can legislators embed them into their work?
Moderator: Sorina Teleanu, IGF Secretariat
11:30 – 11:45
11:45 – 13:15
Achieving sustainable digital development: continental and global perspectives
The AUs Digital Transformation Strategy for Africa calls for an ‘integrated and inclusive digital society and economy in Africa that improves the quality of life of Africa’s citizens, strengthens the existing economic sector, enables its diversification and development, and ensures continental ownership with Africa as a producer and not only a consumer in the global economy’. To what extent is this strategy – and related initiatives and programmes – implemented across the continent? What progress has been made and what can still be done? How does Africa’s digital transformation priorities link with key UN-led initiatives such as Agenda 2030 and the Secretary-General’s Roadmap for Digital Cooperation? What roles do parliaments play in Africa’s digital transformation processes and how can they contribute to ensuring that these processes are ‘led and owned by Africa’s institutions’ and ‘embedded in Africa’s realities’? And how can African voices contribute to global processes aiming at fostering an inclusive, safe, secure and sustainable digital future?
Moderator: Margaret Nyambura Ndung’u, PRIDA
13:15 – 14:30
14:30 – 16:00
Data governance frameworks: maximising the benefits of data-driven societies
Empowering countries to maximise the benefits of data-driven societies, while addressing associated risks, is one of the goals behind the Digital Transformation Strategy for Africa. Two of the recommendations outlined in the strategy relate to the development and implementation of data protection and privacy policies, and the development of regulatory frameworks aimed at enabling trusted flows of non-personal data across borders (to support innovation and the growth of the digital economy). How are these recommendations being taken up across the continent? What has been done and what is missing in terms of national data governance frameworks? What are the expectations behind the Continental Data Policy Framework and what role can parliaments play in its implementation? Last, but not least, are there any lessons to be learnt from other regions’ and countries’ policy and regulatory frameworks on data governance?
19 July: Day 2
09:00 – 10:30
Legislative approaches for a safe and secure digital space
In 2020, Africa ranked as the region with the highest exposure to cyberattacks per country in the Cybersecurity Exposure Index. African countries also rank relatively low in the Global Cybersecurity Index – maintained by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU)– which maps countries’ cybersecurity commitments across five pillars: legal measures, technical measures, organisational measures, capacity development measures, and cooperation measures. Against this backdrop, countries and continental and regional institutions are devising various policies, frameworks, and programmes aimed at enhancing cybersecurity capabilities. But what does the cyber threat landscape look like across Africa and what are the main challenges to maintaining a safe and secure digital space? How can legislation help address such challenges? Is there a toolkit of principles that legislators need to keep in mind to ensure that the laws they define achieve their objectives without creating unintended consequences (e.g. rule of law, human rights and fundamental freedoms)?
10:30 – 11:00
11:00 – 12:30
Strengthening Africa’s digital economy
In 2012, Africa’s digital economy was estimated at roughly 1.1% of its gross domestic product (GDP). By 2025, the contribution of the digital economy to the continent’s GDP is expected to grow to 5.2%. Elements that speak in favour of such estimates include better quality iInternet connectivity and improved access, vibrant startup ecosystems, growing tech talent pools, and improvements in policy and regulatory frameworks. The African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCTFA), for instance, is expected to facilitate the growth of e-commerce and digital trade across the continent. But there are also challenges that Africa needs to address, from unequal levels of digital development, to little harmonisation among relevant national policy frameworks (e-commerce, consumer protection, digital financial services, etc.). Who is doing what to address such challenges? What roles do parliaments play – or should play – in creating the enabling environments needed to foster a sustainable growth of the digital economy to the benefit of communities and individuals across the continent?
12:30 – 12:45
12:45 – 13:45
Outcomes and wrap-up | Launch of the African Parliamentary Network on Internet Governance (APNIG)
20–21 July: African IGF
15:00 – 16:30
[Parliamentary roundtable] Meaningful Internet access: challenges and solutions
Parliamentarians participate in other sessions at the African IGF