By Risper Arose

It was a great privilege to attend the 11th edition of the African School on Internet Governance (AfriSIG) 2023 convened by the Association for Progressive Communications (APC), the African Union Commission (AUC) and Research ICT Africa, in collaboration with Paradigm Initiative, the United Nations Internet Governance Forum (IGF) Parliamentary Track, the hosts and organisers of the 2023 African Internet Governance Forum (AfIGF), the Federal Government of Nigeria, represented by the Nigerian Communications Commission, and the AfIGF secretariat and Multistakeholder Advisory Group. AfriSIG 2023 took place at Abuja, Nigeria from the 13 to 18 September, immediately prior to the African Internet Governance Forum.

I had the privilege of serving as a member of the secretariat for AfriSIG 2023, which was an immensely rewarding experience. This year’s School brought together 42 fellows from 17 countries across the African continent. What made this gathering truly exceptional was the diverse representation of stakeholder groups, including civil society, the private sector, academia/researchers, media, government officials and parliamentarians.

As a member of the secretariat, my role involved supporting the planning and execution of this intense five-day workshop. One of the highlights of this event was the opportunity to work closely with the dynamic and visionary Anriette Esterhuysen, the coordinator of AfriSIG. Her wealth of knowledge and tireless dedication to internet governance issues were truly inspiring. AfriSIG 2023 was a collaborative effort that aimed to foster a deeper understanding of internet governance and its implications for Africa’s digital future.

The workshop had an impressive line-up including speakers from renowned institutions such as the African Union Commission, GIZ, ICANN, the UN IGF Secretariat, ISOC, UNESCO, ECOWAS, APC, Nigeria Internet Registration Association, Paradigm Initiative and Media Rights Agenda. Some of the issues that were unapacked included open internet, internet governance history and principles, internet architecture and core protocols, internet names and numbers and the institutions that look after them, the digital economy in Africa, the state of data policy in Africa, media freedom and diversity and the safety of journalists in Africa, data localisation and sovereignty, current processes in global and regional cybersecurity and cybercrime, the UNESCO Internet Universality Indicators, and the state of access in Africa and the power of community-centred connectivity.

The theme of this year’s AfriSIG was the African Union’s Data Policy Framework, which is a new framework that the member states agreed to in 2022 in Addis Ababa, looking into how AU member states can best exploit the data revolution for development. However, the framework needs to be implemented at the national and sub-regional levels. This year, the AfriSIG fellows looked at the practicality of the framework and developed guidelines and a policy brief on how it can be implemented at the national level, but inclusively, in a way that looks at multistakeholder engagement, gender issues, human rights issues, and the inclusion of the marginalised who don’t have access. After the five days, one of the key outcomes that was presented at the IGF parliamentarian session was the draft of the AfriSIG 2023 Practicum Outcome Document, dated 17 September 2023. This document provides comprehensive guidelines for the inclusive and multistakeholder implementation of the African Union Data Policy Framework.

Through this experience, I gained valuable insights into the intricacies of developing a policy brief and the pivotal role of a secretariat in ensuring that the document is precise, clear and capable of encompassing the diverse opinions and thoughts presented by various stakeholders. Here are some of my key takeaways on drafting a policy brief:

  • Ensure that you have the voices representing different stakeholders. Recognising and fostering synergies among different stakeholders is critical. Policies often require collaboration among various parties, and understanding how these stakeholders can work together is essential for successful implementation.
  • It is important to thoroughly understand the subject matter at hand. This involves delving into the intricacies of the policy topic to ensure that the document is well-informed and accurate.
  • The document should be factually accurate and presented in clear, concise language. Using concrete and unambiguous terminology is vital to convey the intended message effectively.
  • It is important to be cautious about singling out specific organisations or entities. Instead, the focus should be on the broader objectives and collective efforts needed to implement the policy.
  • Clearly defining specific and actionable steps makes it easier to follow up on the policy’s implementation progress. This ensures that goals are attainable and measurable.
  • When relevant, consider the domestication of international instruments or agreements. Adapting global standards to fit the local context can enhance the effectiveness of the policy.
  • Careful review and consolidation of points that are similar or related can help streamline the document. Redundancies should be avoided, and related ideas should be merged to maintain clarity and conciseness.

It was truly inspiring to witness the overwhelmingly positive feedback from the fellows following the rigorous and demanding five-day programme. Despite the long hours and intense work, these days were marked by the creation of a nurturing and safe environment. This safe space was carefully fostered by the organisers, who upheld the principles of Chatham House Rules, and by the fellows themselves, who demonstrated a remarkable level of respect and grace in their collaborative efforts.

During this immersive experience, many fellows encountered new horizons of learning. For instance, they delved into negotiation skills, some for the very first time. Similarly, the intricacies of the Data Policy Framework were introduced to those unfamiliar with it, and by the end of the programme, they emerged not only as champions of this framework but also as advocates for its effective implementation.

The experience also had a profound impact on work ethics and time management. A significant number of participants expressed their inspiration drawn from Anriette, underscoring the vital role of teamwork in achieving exceptional results. Moreover, this experience reinforced the importance of active engagement in leadership initiatives. Perhaps most significantly, this journey exposed some of our inherent biases and shed light on how these biases can sometimes cloud our perception, causing us to focus solely on problems rather than exploring innovative solutions.

It has been absolutely amazing and eye opening being part of AfriSIG 2023. I look forward to the implementation of African Union Data Policy Framework using the guidelines developed in advancing and strengthening the data flow of information in the region and enhancing trust, safety and a reliable data environment for sustainable development.

I am happy to be a part of this fulfilling journey from the beginning, and seeing the guidelines and policy brief adopted and implemented will be a big win for the implementation of the Framework in the region.

Risper Arose is a gender and community engagement expert with an ardent conviction about community development through socioeconomic empowerment. She is involved in digital outreach, amplifying meaningful usage of connectivity, especially by women, and conducting impact assessment studies of connectivity in the community. She is a seasoned trainer and facilitator, passionate about experiential learning and training methodologies that actively engage the community toward behaviour and attitude change as a result of enhanced skills and competencies. She has handled tech-centred advisories and training on digital rights, digital inclusion, digital advocacy, and digital protection and privacy.

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