The African Internet community is gathering today, Friday 06 july in Cotonou, Republic of Benin. They will celebrate twenty years of Internet governance in Africa and ponder on best ways in encroaching Africa to the digital economy on the one hand, and gaining from the so called fourth industrial revolution. It is with great emotion that I welcome you all, and most specifically, those pioneers and early adopters who were present in Cotonou in 1998 to reflect on ways in planning the development of Internet in Africa.
We should note that in December 1998, the participants were mostly technicians and professionals of the (now dead?) information and communication technologies. That historic forum, entitled ‘’African regional conference on Internet governance : Administering Internet protocols and addresses, domain names and supporting emerging African Internet related institutions’’was organized by the African Internet group, (AIG), an emerging entity, regrouping those Africans who, for the most part, attended the series of workshops and symposiums for developing countries which were initiated by Internet Society in the late nineties.
The Cotonou Conference was facilitated by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Organisation International de la Francophonie (OIF), Internet Society and the government of the Republic of Benin. The meeting had an overall positive impact as it provided grounds for earnest collaboration between African professionals from different countries and linguistic areas; for instance the founding steering committee of the AFRINIC, the African Internet regional registry was appointed in Cotonou to supervise the setting up that fifth ICANN Internet registry, which has been operating from Mauritius since its accreditation in 2005.
The Cotonou conference had also indicated a few paths for building capacities in Africa, and had also prepared the Africans to understand challenges and opportunities of the then nascent debates on Internet governance on global foras. Proceedings of the African regional conference are available here : Proceedings of African Regional Conference on Internet Governance ’98.pdf – Google Drive[docs.google.com]
This 2018 meeting in Cotonou will see participation from various quarters including political decision makers (Ministers and Authorities in charge of digital economy), development partners, researchers and studients, private sector entities and civil society representatives.
The one day celebration will be an opportunity to acknowledge those pioneers and early adopters, but also to look towards the future. And the future is about artificial intelligence, blockchain, IoTs, nanotechnologies, etc. It is about so many other technologies and applications that will continue to transform our lives. It is also about new services that will impact our life mode and models, our mindset and our actions.
For indeed, the digital transformation will induce other problems including security and personal data handling and protection which humanity will have to solve.The Cotonou conference – AIG 2018 – will introduce these issues and seek to pause those landmarks for an effective harnessing for Africa’s development. But before indulging into that exercise, participants to Cotonou 2018 would have gone to a cultural tour in Ouidah, fourty kilometres from Cotonou, to visit the historical heritage composed of vaudou temples and the slave route which leads to ‘’the door of non return’’. This, we expect, should have equipped participants for their chores of 6 july.
Thanks for your participation and again, welcome to Benin, a land of tourism and opportunities !