By Sani Suleiman Sani
In September, I embarked on an extraordinary adventure alongside other delegates at the 2023 African School on Internet Governance (AfriSIG), or as we jokingly called it, “Anriette’s boot camp”. This thrilling experience unfolded in the vibrant Nigerian capital, Abuja, uniting over 40 delegates from diverse backgrounds, including media, civil society organisations (CSOs), academia, parliaments and research groups. It felt a bit like assembling the Avengers of Internet Governance – each of us with our unique superpowers!
At the heart of this year’s practicum was the task of crafting a multistakeholder national implementation and follow-up strategy for the African Union Data Policy Framework. This initiative aimed to build upon ongoing efforts at the level of regional economic commissions and member states, with a profound emphasis on including parliamentarians, civil society, businesses, the media and other non-state actors. It was a collaborative endeavour that engaged the technical community and academic and research institutions to ensure a holistic approach.
My most significant takeaway from AfriSIG was witnessing how individuals from diverse backgrounds seamlessly assumed new roles to advocate for the best interests based on these roles, ultimately reaching a consensus report. In the practicum, I was assigned to a business group tasked with providing strategic recommendations on how businesses could actively contribute to successfully implementing the framework. My prior experience in business and human rights engagements has really helped me despite my CSO background. This fusion of expertise allowed me to contribute substantially, bridging the gap between sectors and ensuring a comprehensive approach. Our collaborative efforts aimed to transform the framework from a theoretical construct into a practical guide for the future.
AfriSIG provided an intellectually stimulating platform for engaging in profound discussions with thought leaders in the continent, such as Guy Berger. Our conversations delved into the ever-changing landscape of internet policy and regulations, especially regarding content, platforms and artificial intelligence. These discussions held particular significance in the African context, where we often navigate within and around platform terms of service deeply rooted in the legal structures of the global North, as highlighted in one of my policy briefs.
Beyond the academic and professional aspects, what truly left an indelible mark on me during AfriSIG was the unparalleled depth of knowledge possessed by this year’s esteemed faculty members. The sense of camaraderie and connection I forged with fellow delegates was equally profound. We emerged from AfriSIG not only as individuals but as a community dedicated to safeguarding the core principles of the internet as enshrined in the internet governance model. This enduring network of like-minded individuals will be a cornerstone of support and collaboration in our collective mission. Together, we are committed to shaping the future of internet governance in Africa, ensuring that the principles of openness, inclusivity and accessibility remain at its heart.
The knowledge and insights gained from my participation in AfriSIG are undoubtedly transformative. They will not only deepen my comprehension of the AU Data Policy Framework, but also enrich my ability to engage in meaningful discussions regarding the African Declaration on Internet Rights and Freedoms, data, and platform regulations. With this newfound expertise and experience, I am poised to advance my advocacy efforts with renewed vigour and purpose.
Participating in AfriSIG not only broadened my horizons but also imbued me with a sense of purpose and community. I am deeply grateful for the opportunity to have participated in this year’s AfriSIG. It was a truly transformative experience that has equipped me with the knowledge, skills and network to make a more meaningful contribution to the fight for an open, equitable and inclusive internet in Africa.
Sani Suleiman Sani is an early-career advocate for digital rights and inclusion, working as a programme officer at Paradigm Initiative. With a diverse range of research and advocacy endeavours, Sani focuses on special niches such as business and human rights in the tech sector, data protection and privacy, emerging technologies and meaningful connectivity. Sani actively contributes as an author and co-author of various publications, addressing various digital rights and inclusion challenges across Africa. Currently pursuing a master’s degree in Remote Sensing and GIS at Ahmadu Bello University, he also possesses a certificate in Data Protection and Privacy from the University of Lagos.