How did I make it to the AfriSIG 2021 fellow if I am not deserving (African child suffering from impostor syndrome)?
From a networking engineering arena to internet governance, I had no idea I was about to go on an out-of-body experience. Throughout my AfriSIG experience, I felt as if I didn’t belong, as if I didn’t know enough to weigh in on the debates, and as if I lacked the essential expertise to offer. I felt inadequate in comparison to my fellows. I also felt I was precisely where I was supposed to be at that moment in time; I believed this was where I was supposed to be for the following two weeks, and this is what kept me going and where I got my motivation to engage and contribute.
The ninth African School on Internet Governance (AfriSIG 2019) was held from 4 to 15 September 2021, however, owing to the realities of COVID-19, the school was held online.
I would have liked to attend this AfriSIG in person; my passport was ready, and I was looking forward to packing my luggage, boarding a plane and exploring new cuisines, but until then, we must make do with what we have.
I was scrolling through my contacts’ WhatsApp statuses when I came across Nashilongo Gervasius’ (an Alumini of AfriSIG 2019) update calling for applications for the AfriSIG 2021 fellowship. It immediately piqued my interest, and I requested her to send me additional information. I had never heard of AfriSIG before, but I thought it would be a fantastic chance for my career because I work in the internet arena.
When I applied for the AfriSIG program, I was desperate to be accepted because I needed to be a part of a fellowship that spoke on current internet governance issues. I also wanted to be a part of the programme for selfish reasons; for one, I wanted something to put on my CV, LinkedIn profile, and just to feel like I had done something worthwhile [Don’t judge me!].
When I got a WhatsApp message from a friend with a snapshot of his selection to the AfriSIG class of 2021 email on a Friday evening, I paused for a second before anxiously browsing to my Gmail app to see whether I had received the same email. To my amazement, I did. I couldn’t contain my excitement.
We received a lot of information over the weekend, including the class schedule for the next two weeks. As the emails continued to arrive, I became overcome with enthusiasm; I couldn’t wait to be a part of this knowledge-packed community.
Day one arrived, and I recall entering the first Zoom session, which was an introduction session, when emotions of intimidation overwhelmed me, and I began doubting all I knew and where I was in my career. I sat silently as several of my fellows voiced their thoughts, suggestions and objections to the talks. I continued taking notes on phrases that were mentioned that I had no clue what they were, and I read what my fellows had to say every time I was on the chat window. The sense of impending doom became stronger with each passing day. It was only from day four that I felt at ease and capable of actively engaging.
I loved interacting with fellows from a wide range of backgrounds, including attorneys, engineers, consultants, researchers and activists. The faculty members have considerable expertise, insight and experience in the field of internet governance; they have done extensive work and study, and their teaching is unique. I can’t even think how many hours they have devoted to this course to guarantee that the fellows receive valuable information. The school was well-organised, and the sessions began and concluded on schedule. The tech support crew was ready to help the fellows. Both fellows and faculty where able to respectfully debate and share their views openly without feeling judged or overlooked.
I have asked a lot of questions, some of which I felt where probably too basic for others and I would hesitate to ask but I ended up asking them anyway. What I loved about this is that the faculty took each question and gave it equal weight and they were all answered without making one feel like they have asked a stupid question or a question that everyone is expected to know.
What made this whole experience intimidating was the practicum, which was on the perspectives and recommendations from a diversity of stakeholders and actors on internet governance and digital inequality challenges/opportunities related to COVID-19 in Africa.
I had no idea what was expected of me. It needed critical and strategic thinking; it forced me to delve deeper and think like a capacity development coordinator for the IGF youth caucus Africa. This was my duty as a civil society stakeholder. We acquired immediate experience negotiating, defending and deliberating with stakeholders on the issue of internet regulation through the practicum. I found reading the DTS document empowering. It helped me to gain my footing in the practicum and discussion sessions, and it helped put a lot of ideas into perspective.
AfriSIG is an excellent platform for both novices and specialists in the field of internet governance. It is where my enthusiasm for internet governance grew. All session topics were relevant and engaging. Conversations and lectures piqued my interest and elicited thought-provoking questions. After each session, I would remind myself that I needed to improve my skills and conduct more study so that in a few years I could actively and provocatively engage in internet governance discussions.
This is an experience I will always treasure and remember; I would not swap it for anything in the world. I am grateful for the experience, knowledge, network and friendship I have received because of this journey. In this fellowship, I’ve met some incredible folks who share my interests. I am looking forward to long-term and successful connections. Thank you Avri, Anriette, Koliwe and Gaya, go women power. Thank you AfriSIG for this life changing opportunity. I will always remember to pay it forward.
Albertine Shipena, a participant in the 2021 African School on Internet Governance, is a believer (Christian), wife, a mother to one beautiful baby girl and a registered Incorporated Engineer (Electronics) with the Engineering Council of Namibia and a certified Professional in Routing and Switching for Service Providers. She has over nine years of hands-on experience in the telecommunications and networking industry, networking design and engineering, deployment and optimisation. She is a Senior Core Network Engineer and the current Acting Key Account Manager for International Business at Telecom Namibia, where she is tasked with growing international business and dealing with customers (international telecommunication companies) from all over the world. Albertine enjoys travelling, trying out new cuisines and fitness. She has five dogs and enjoys harvesting fresh produce in her backyard garden. She is an introvert, and enjoys watching sitcoms, listening to worship music and spending time with her family.