The Africa Internet Summit 2017 (AIS 2017) happened during the weeks of 21st May 2017 to 2nd June 2017. On the 31st May 2017 Public Policy Discussions were on the agenda. I attended remotely thanks to the live stream and live chat provisions made by AFRINIC.
Among the various policy proposals set on the agenda I was particularly interested with the Anti-shutdown policy proposal. At the time of the discussion the policy proposal was at version two. The proposal provides a definition for “internet shutdown” and proposes sanctions against governments that order internet shutdowns in the Africa and Indian Ocean regions.
The cheering in the room almost every time there was a negative comment on the proposal indicated that there is a strong opposition to the Anti-shutdown proposal. Most of those comments summed-up being that AFRINIC is not mandated for such a policy. While a few people voiced out their concerns against internet shutdowns, they at the same time opposed the Anti-shutdown policy. It was suggested that addressing the issue of government sanctioned internet shutdowns should be left to organizations such as the Internet Governance Forum. Other comments hinted that there is a strong lobby not to stand against governments. They should rather be respected & supported, not opposed.
A lot of people were lengthy in their comments. The moderators had to remind them to respect the one minute time slot allotted for comment and refrain from repeating examples, failing which the microphone will be cut off.
There was a comment by Dr. Nii Quaynor, that “the internet is good, there is no such thing as bad internet”. However, he opposed the policy stating that it is based on beliefs and that the Anti-shutdown proposal should not have been on the discussion agenda at all. He says, “perhaps we need to fix the PDP process”. (Watch as from 1:04min on YouTube)
Comments by co-authors
Andrew Alston, commented that they acknowledge the policy isn’t right at the moment. The aim is to bring people into the room, have a debate and come out with a solution to internet shutdowns. They want to hear the ideas and modify the policy proposal accordingly. That is why version two of the Anti-shutdown proposal contains much from the comments that were on the Resource Policy Discussion list. Andrew says he has considered taking the discussion to the Internet Governance Forum (in Kenya & Geneva). He reminded that the AFRINIC RPD was the forum available to them to start the debate. (Watch as from 1:18min on YouTube)
Ben Roberts, one of the authors, while replying to some of the comments, gave an example of one naughty child in the classroom causing the whole class to be punished. If the government has a problem with a few individuals that are using the internet in a wrong way it shouldn’t turn off the internet for the rest of the country.
The Anti-shutdown policy proposal did not pass and it was returned for further discussions on the RPD list.
Recent internet shutdowns in Africa
On the 1st June 2017, as the Africa Internet Summit was still on, BBC reported that Ethiopia blocked the internet to prevent national exam papers from leaking online.
In March 2017, CNN reported about the internet being shut in Cameroon following a government crackdown after demonstrations and violent clashes in the country.