In July, I joined a team of Americans an official trip to South Africa for ICANN47. It happened to fall on the same week that the nation was celebrating Nelson Mandela’s birthday. We saw children on the street singing to praise to a living legend. Last week, I was in Africa again at the time of Mandela’s passing. What I know from my time there is that his spirit lives in the aspirations and work of a continent on the move.
Last week, I led the U.S. delegation to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, for the African Union’s ICT Week. This event, part of the 50th anniversary of the Organization of African Unity, was an inspiring week of learning and dialogue. While the world’s economy is still struggling to recover from a global financial crisis, most of the African economy is in the midst of a boom. Information and communications technologies (ICTs) are supporting that growth and helping Africa to overcome challenges in key areas. For instance, ICTs support health and human development by making vital information available to reduce transmission of communicable diseases and improve sanitation. With a penetration rate of only 16 percent, broadband connectivity in Africa remains low. The potential of these technologies to have a more profound, cross-cutting impact is evident.
African stakeholders identified immediate next steps: completing the analog to digital transition, harmonizing regulation across borders, increasing connections and securing networks in neighboring countries. In response, I announced that my office, together with the U.S. Telecommunications Training Institute and the Office of the Coordinator for Cyber Issues, will provide technical training to the AU and Regional Economic Community officials.
I was one of four contributors on an Internet governance panel. Together, we concluded that Internet governance institutions, from ICANN to Internet Society to the World Wide Web, should be more inclusive and evolve to better address the needs and perspectives of the developing world. The answer: to reinvigorate and reinvest in the multistakeholder system, not replace it with regulatory rule and regulation that will stifle the networks deployment and innovation. In the end, it is incumbent upon African governments, entrepreneurs, and Internet activists to participate in the multistakeholder system for the advancement of Africa’s future and the preservation of the global Internet. I will work to assist Africa in its efforts to connect its people and promote a fully inclusive multistakeholder Internet governance system.
I appreciate the region’s work, its leadership, and the hospitality the AU showed me and my colleagues during our time in Ethiopia. We look forward to continued cooperation and a visit of AU officials in the near future to the U.S. to build on the momentum we generated in Addis Ababa.
About the Author: Daniel Sepulveda serves as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State and U.S. Coordinator for International Communications and Information Policy in the Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs.