The Media Institute of Southern Africa-Zimbabwe (MISA Zimbabwe) recently convened Zimbabwe’s first civil society-led forum on internet governance to enable discussion of public policy issues pertaining to the Internet.
The forum attended by approximately 200 participants aimed at bringing people together from various stakeholder groups as equals, in discussions on public policy issues relating to the Internet.
According to Nhlanhla Ngwenya, Director of MISA-Zimbabwe, the purpose of the meeting was to increase awareness about internet governance and domesticate international internet governance best practice.
“We want to influence Zimbabwe’s efforts to live up to its own international obligations with regards promoting civil liberties on the internet,” he said.
Zimbabwe has witnessed an upsurge in internet usage in recent years spurred by a high penetration of mobile phones. According to POTRAZ, mobile penetration in Zimbabwe is estimated at over 100 per cent.
“These developments make the Internet in this country undoubtedly one of the indispensable public spheres that have an enormous impact on matters that have a bearing on Zimbabweans’ livelihoods. These include education, health, human rights, development, entertainment, among a host of other issues of public interest,” said Ngwenya.
Despite the growth of internet usage in Zimbabwe, there has been a dearth of conversation on how to manage the medium for the common good.
“The World Summit on Information Society’s Tunis Agenda of 2005 recognised multi-stakeholder involvement as a model for internet governance. It noted the need for shared principles, norms, rules, decision-making procedures and programmes that shape the evolution and use of the internet,” said Ngwenya.
The closest issues of internet governance have been brought under spotlight is either in the context of government threats to formulate policies that will control the use the Internet or when civil society reacts to such plans.
According to Ngwenya, leaving issues to do with internet governance as a sole responsibility of government will make the internet susceptible to restrictive government measures.
Hivos Southern Africa Hub provided support to MISA-Zimbabwe to convene the forum that also featured speakers from Malawi and Zambia who shared their experiences of raising the profile of internet governance in their countries.
Hivos believes it is crucial that civil society join discussions between governments and the private sector on the long-term future of internet freedom. Hivos and its partners advocate for proper and inclusive internet governance regulation, and support “Internet Governance round tables” to assist in this effort.