Reflections for the 2014 Milton Wolf Seminar

This post by Alison Gillwald is part of a series related to the 2014 Milton Wolf Seminar on Media and Diplomacy: The Third Man Theme Revisited: Foreign Policies of the Internet in a Time Of Surveillance and Disclosure, which takes place in Vienna, Austria from March 30 – April 1, 2014. 

The work of Research ICT Africa (RIA) in relation to internet governance has sought to understand why few African countries participate actively in internet governance debates, despite the significant resources of multilateral and donor agencies thrown at such endeavours and opportunities created for participation through multistakeholder initiatives – with a few notable exceptions such as Kenya. Fewer still are involved in agenda setting and decision-making, or seek to engineer internet governance outcomes to serve their interests, whatever those might be perceived to be. This is despite the rhetoric of dissatisfaction with current internet governance systems.

From an African perspective, internet governance requires not only an understanding of the unevenness in access to and use of the internet, but also of the disparities between developed and developing countries’ abilities to effectively participate in global internet governance debates. My own intermittent work in this area has sought to identify the political and economic assumptions underpinning the governance of the internet, specifically behind efforts to make it more democratic, both representative and participatory, through multistakeholderism from an institutional perspective.

African countries appear to be far more comfortable in national sovereign state membership based organizations, where – despite limited institutional reforms over the last decade which have seen parts of civil society and…

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