By Rebecca Wanjiku
Africa’s participation in Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) meetings is set to improve following a decision by the organizers to provide scholarships.
“In the 2006/2007 budget, ICANN has factored in provision for scholarships for Africa’s participation,” said Paul Twomey, ICANN president.
Twomey says there has been an increase in Africa’s participation but is quick to note there is need for an increase in numbers of participants.
There has been intense lobbying by Africans participating in the meeting for improvement of the number of participants from Africa. It has been argued that most Africans lack the financial capacity to travel to these meetings.
“It is true that some of our governments have no capacity to finance their officers to these meetings,” said Mouhamet Diop, a former ICANN board member.
Whilst finance may be the case, the continent suffers from its obsession with bureaucracy and red tape. Most governments release their officials if the meeting is by another government and on an official letterhead.
Maimouna Diagne from Senegal adds that some governments wonder what participation in the meetings is likely to yield for the governments.
“A government official is expected to demonstrate the importance of these meetings and at times it’s not easy. The invite is through email and it may not be as official as some governments want,” adds Maimouna.
Apart from the financial support, she says there is need for workshops and trainings to raise awareness about ICANN and its operations in Africa. She feels there is need for Africa to understand the role of the Government Advisory Committee (GAC) in ICANN and how they can participate.
In GAC, governments have a chance to discuss issues affecting them and how they can work together with the private sector. According to Mohamed Tarmizi, GAC chairman, it started being active in 1999 and was seen as a process of moving ICANN to another level.
Tarmizi says that in the meetings, members are encouraged to address pressing issues relating to internet and internet governance within the 110 member countries.
“How do we start discuss who does or does not govern the internet while a country has no broadband connection, has no undersea cable and satellite uplink is not working well. Within our informal networks, we try to encourage governments to work on their priorities,” Tarmizi adds.