By Innocent Gore recently in TUNIS, Tunisia.
A COMPROMISE agreement on Internet governance has been
reached between the United States and developing countries.
This development will see United Nations Secretary-General Mr
Kofi Annan setting up an Internet Governance Forum, which
will look at how other countries can also be involved in the
management of the worldwide web.
The governance of the Internet was a bone of contention at
the just ended World Summit on the Information Society in
Tunis, with developing countries wanting a say in how the
Internet — a worldwide computer network which facilitates
data transmission and exchange — is run and regulated.
President Mugabe questioned why the whole world should be
beholden to a US company, which developed the Internet, over
such a powerful tool which transcends national borders and
impinges on sensitive State issues.
President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa and Mozambican Prime
Minister Luisa Diogo also expressed concern at the governance
of the Internet by the Americans alone.
The Internet is managed by an American company called
Internet Corporation on Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN)
which carries out this task in consultation with the US
Developing countries were proposing that this function be
managed by a body comprising representatives of countries
from both the developed and developing world.
Africa’s position was that the body governing the Internet
should be a fully representative authority afforded the
opportunity to actively participate in international
organisations dealing with the Internet.
It also wanted the establishment of a fully participatory
global consultation framework to carry out in-depth reviews
of general policies on Internet governance to ensure
efficiency, transparency, democracy and equitable
distribution of Internet services and resources to all actors
But the US opposed these proposals and observers view this as
Washington’s reluctance to lose control of the information
superhighway and the revenue associated with it.
The Minister of Transport and Communications, Cde Christopher
Mushohwe, who attended pre-summit ministerial meetings as
well the summit proper and ministerial meetings on the
sidelines of the summit, expressed disappointment at the
failure by the summit to fully address the issue of Internet
"From Zimbabwe’s and Sadc (Southern African Development
Community)’s point of view, there is need for involvement of
other governments in the management and governance of the
Internet. But, of course, Americans would not move, so what
has been agreed to is a compromise which the developing
world, Zimbabwe included, very reluctantly agreed on.
"The Secretary-General of the UN Mr Kofi Annan has been
tasked with setting up an Internet Governance Forum. He will
be helped by a team and once the forum is put in place, it
will look at how other governments can be involved.
"Zimbabwe is concerned, and I think most developing countries
are concerned, about this deferment of this issue," said Cde
Mushohwe, adding that most countries believed the
postponement was a ploy to allow the US to remain in control
of the Internet.
The minister said Zimbabwe was consulting other Sadc
countries with a view to meeting and coming up with a common
He said he had spoken to communications ministers from
Botswana and Zambia, who also attended the summit, and they
were agreeable to a meeting to map the way forward.
Cde Mushohwe said several French-speaking African countries
had formed what they termed the Afrique (French for "Africa")
Group, for the purpose of speaking on their behalf on the
issue of Internet governance and that the bloc would be
convening soon in Egypt.
"Sadc has not taken much interest, but Francophone Africa has
taken the initiative and this is why we should meet as Sadc
and come up with our own position.
"If we do not do that, Afrique’s position may be adopted by
the African Union and our position may not be taken," he
Despite the issue of Internet governance, the Minister of
Science and Technology Cde Olivia Muchena said the summit
came at a highly opportune time in that the Government had
just approved the information and technology policy framework
which envisages Zimbabwe being fully integrated into the
information society by 2020.
She said the policy framework also envisions electrification
and the installation of fibre optic cables to be followed by
The policy would also broaden the affordability of
information communication technology tools such as computers
and accessories by making the devices tax exempt.
"We need a programme to signpost where we have reached in
terms of accessibility and software development and tap on
the worldwide experience. There is a lot that the global
village has done that Zimbabwe can tap into.
"We are not starting afresh; the summit has provided a window
of opportunity to fast-track information communication
technology (ICT) development," she said.
On computer education, Dr Muchena said the Nziramasanga
Report on education made several recommendations geared
towards ICT development, one of them being the incorporation
of computer education from primary school to university
She said the Ministry of Education, Sport and Culture had
detailed plans on how that should be achieved and was working
out the groundwork for implementation.
Cde Muchena also spoke of the need to have information kiosks
at growth points where farmers could access information on
what type of crops to grow through programmes such as e-
"One way of fast-tracking development in the ICT sector is
through private-public sector partnerships. We have been
exposed to quite a number of models and are keen to involve
the private sector through a smart partnership arrangement,"
The issue of what goes on on the Internet also came up for
discussion during the summit. Developing countries are in
favour of clauses which would highlight the need to exercise
freedom of the media within the context of national laws, but
developed countries were in favour of unfettered freedom.
Deputy Minister of Information and Publicity Cde Bright
Matonga believes there should be regulations controlling what
is published on the web although these may vary from one
society to the other.
"In our case, we have rules and regulations and so do most
African countries, and those in the Middle East and so on.
Would we allow child pornography? In some Western countries
it’s okay. So the issue of whatever is going onto the
Internet has to be confined to that particular country," he
Cde Matonga said the Internet is a security tool which should
not be left in the hands of one country — the US — alone.
"If they do not like you — like in our case they do not like
our policies — they can easily switch you off. So it’s a
security issue which is open to abuse if people do not like
you. It (Internet governance and control) has got to be
global," said Cde Matonga.
So as the heads of delegations go back to their countries,
governance and control of the now very vital information
superhighway should not be the only issue to ponder.
Accessibility and affordability of information technology
tools such as computers and accessories should equally be
important, particularly for Third World countries like
President Mugabe and his delegation returned home from the
World Summit on the Information Society yesterday and were
received at the Harare International Airport by Vice
President Joice Mujuru.