Dear AfriSIG Class of 2018,
My name is Chenai Chair and I work for Research ICT Africa. Three years ago, I caught a flight for the first time to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, excited and nervous to be joining the AfriSIG/gigX class of 2015. The Gender and Internet eXchange (gigX) was the inaugural meeting that invited those who worked on gender to chart the course of internet governance from a feminist perspective.
I knew no other student in the programme, but at the end of it I walked out with friends, mentors and a recurring appearance three years later supporting the future leaders of internet governance in Africa and learning from them. Consider this my take away from the last three years that I hope you will keep at the back of your mind as you get ready for this year’s AfriSIG.
AfriSIG is a necessary learning curve. Internet governance is designed on the premise of multistakeholder involvement. There is no other active multistakeholder model in a protected environment like AfriSIG. The lessons I have learnt here when it comes to the concept is the necessity to engage with people from the ecosystem.
As a researcher/academic, when I attend a meeting that is strictly academic, I often wonder how we get this necessary evidence to those who may communicate it in a more exciting way than I do with my technical language. Trust me, this did not emerge from me always being in academia, it emerged as a need having participated in AfriSIG. My learning curve was to move away from preaching to those already in the know to those who might further use my research to influence policy.
You will refine or find your point of contribution to internet governance post-AfriSIG. At every internet governance meeting I have attended, you often find an “AfriSIGer”. I must admit, I ran away or missed the group photo. However, I have seen those who have graduated from the school take on the internet governance policy space by storm and those who were from previous classes acknowledge that they have been through the system. Research ICT Africa continues to produce public knowledge influential in shaping internet policy in Africa. My attendance every year has seen me share this knowledge and see how others make use of it or challenge it. I am fortunate to return to AfriSIG and gain new insights from faculty members or refine my understanding of a particular topic. You will find the faculty chipping in with questions because what we thought we knew is always refined. If you return next year in some way to AfriSIG, trust me, you will contribute to the greater good of the school.
Finally, this is one of the best networks you will find yourself in. Like I mentioned earlier, I walked out with some of the greatest friends in my life from participating in AfriSIG. These are peers and countrywomen and men whom otherwise I might have never met. Apart from catching up for a drink when in each others’ cities, these are the individuals I turn to when seeking information on country-specific topical issues. One can never claim to be an expert of a country they do not understand the social and cultural nuances of. Thus I often call on my colleagues in DRC, Ghana, Rwanda, Nigeria, Zambia, Lesotho and Egypt (to name only a few) when my work requires. You might not walk out with friends if you don’t like new friends, but you will walk out with a community you can call upon to assist you, because there is always someone ready to help.
So on that note, Class of 2018, I look forward to meeting you and will treasure your grilling of the issues I raise and enjoy the fireside chats on your role in internet governance in Africa. It will be an intense week, but one that once you are done you will be fulfilled.
Remember to catch the sunrise or the sunset in Zanzibar, the country is beautiful!