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See how Africa Internet Governance Forum Parliamentary session evolved – Hon Samuel George reveals

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In this interview with Sundiata Post correspondent, member of Parliament from Ghana, a ranking member on the parliamentary select Committee on Communications which has oversight over ICT and cybersecurity and information as well as the Secretary General of Africa Parliamentary Network on Internet Governance, Hon Samuel Nartey George, narrated the history of Africa Internet Governance Forum Parliamentary session and involvement of the parliamentarians in finding the confluence between digital rights and digital protection among others.

Qstn: What is the history behind the Africa Internet Governance Forum parliamentary session?

Africa Internet Forum is the framework under the office of U.N Secretary General that have been running now at global level for about fourteen years. About five to six years ago, it was realised that there was a need to have stakeholders and tech players have direct conversation with members of parliaments because when you are talking about the issue of Internet governance, you are talking about legislation and creating safe spaces and making sure that governments have the right framework for Internet governance and safety and digital rights of citizens.

You can’t continue to have the animosity and acrimony that exist between civil society, technical communities and government. But you can then leverage on the power of parliaments because the parliamentarians are the ones that pass legislations anyway. And the executive answers to parliaments as well because parliaments exercises oversight. So it was important to bring parliaments into the conversation and at the policy level for them to understand what the challenges are from the technical communities, what the demands, needs and aspirations of civil society are, then to be able to reflect that in the legislations that we pass and then in the oversight that we give to the executive.

The parliamentary track was borne out of that and I think it has been an eye opening experience for many parliamentarians. This is about my third or fourth of my Parliamentarian track that I am running. I think that every year, we bring in more members of parliaments from more African countries. We are beginning to see them go back and become Ambassadors for Internet governance in their countries. Typical example is the Malabu Convention on cybersecurity which is Africa’s cybersecurity framework which was signed eight years ago but couldn’t come into force because we needed fifteen countries to sign up and ratify the Convention.

However, for seven and half years, we didn’t have even fifteen African countries out of the fifty-four to ratify it. But from the parliamentary track last year, we were able to identify four more countries that needed to ratify because we had only eleven countries and six months after the last parliamentary track in Malawi, we had four more countries that ratified and now the Malabu Convention has kicked off, so that is a success story that you can attribute to the parliamentary track and the work that the African parliamentary network on Internet Governance does.

Qstn: On this Convention today, what are the cards on the table; what are we expecting?

Ans: Well we are looking at emerging technologies and the threats that they pose and the benefits and opportunities that they also hold. So we are looking at issues of misinformation and disinformation. Nigeria just came out of general elections; you had your election early this year, for us, as parliamentarians and watchers of the space, we followed the conversations online; the amount of misinformation and disinformation that were employed by political players themselves and non-political actors.
A country like Ghana is going into elections next year. Between 2023 to 2024 we have 73 elections globally and so the issue of Information and disinformation is a critical thing that we are looking at and how to make sure that societies are protected and the kind of news that they get.

I can bet you that most people get their news from social media than traditional media. In fact, traditional media keep up with social media. So we need to see that there are safe spaces on the internet for the citizens.
Apart from that, we also need to look at the issues of internet governance, internet shutdowns, internet manipulation by governments, data privacy and data laws as well as the issue of surveillance. We met Civil Society and media groups in the past few days and they raised issue of surveillance by African governments on journalists who are critical of governments. What kind of policies are we going to put in place and what kind of conversation can we have with government players, parliaments, Civil Society and media to ensure that people are allowed to practice their craft in responsible manner and in a safe way. No journalist wants to be surveilled by the government but the government also have the responsibility to ensure the safety of both the journalists and the recipients of your news.

So, how do we find that thin line and define the boundaries between digital rights and digital protection. Those are the kind of confluence we want to arrive at, at the end of the summit.

Qstn:: What will you say about the level of internet governance in Africa and involvement of government in digitalisation?

Ans: I think we have seen a good uptake, governments on the African continent are doing a fantastic job when it comes to the processes of digitalisation. We have had a lot more government digital services becoming digital in nature. There is a lot more digitalisation going on on the African continent – social services, government services, health care, education; all of these are becoming digital platforms on the African continent. In West African sub-region, Nigeria is a big leader in that space, Ghana is also doing fantastic in that space, countries like Senegal as well are doing quite well.

Cybersecurity is a big concern and with Artificial Intelligence (AI), and deep phase and deep deep phase that are coming up.So for us, we believe that governments are doing well but that doesn’t mean that there are not much more to be done. Governments have put a lot more resources, as a politician myself, I know that we have a challenge and that is one of the things we raised to the media. The media need to help us let our populace understand the value of the internet governance space and digital infrastructure because if a politician comes to campaign in his constituency and said that he passed digital rights Act or digital rights law, most people will say he hasn’t done anything, they rather want to hear that he has built a road or hospital. So, those are the things that influence the decisions the politicians make. So instead of putting in more resources on digital rights which affects everything you do online right now, they rather focus on physical infrastructure because that is what the populace is asking for. So you help us to raise the issue of digital rights and digital frameworks and then as we do that, then it opens more rooms for government to begin to put more resources in cybersecurity, digital rights protection to ensure the safety of citizens online.