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African Chapters and Their Role in Internet Development in African Countries

By Tarek Kamel TKamel@idsc.gov.eg and Terry Weigler tweigler@isoc.org

As the Internet continues to gain momentum throughout Africa, people in many countries on that continent are becoming more knowledgeable about connectivity, content development, training, and Internet-related public policy issues. African chapters of the Internet Society (ISOC) are taking a leading role in those areas, as evidenced by the ISOC members from more than 30 African countries who meet regularly to share information and experiences about the Internet in their countries.

The agendas of African chapters meetings are often full and heterogeneous, ranging from basic connectivity to high-level technical and policy discussions. Common problems, such as difficulties in getting e-mail addresses, have frequently appeared on meeting agendas--situations that seem distant to most Internet users but are all too common in Africa. The objective of all meetings is to raise the average level of Internet penetration in Africa to higher than 1 percent.

Many ISOC members in Africa are Internet pioneers. This was clearly demonstrated by the fact that the meeting planned for the African chapters in Yokohama, Japan, which was originally expected to seat 30 people, had to be changed to seat the 80 Africans who attended the Network Training Workshops, INET, and ICANN events held concurrently in Yokohama.

The African chapters meeting was held on 20 July in Yokohama and was attended by representatives from nearly 35 African countries. During the meeting, reports were presented on Internet development and growth in African countries, African chaptersâ involvement and roles, and efforts by African Internauts. The reports were impressive, demonstrating the progress that has been achieved on many fronts. This group of ISOC members comes together primarily as a result of the successful Developing Countries Workshops that have taken place with ISOC support in conjunction with INET since 1993.

At the meeting, various countries presented efforts that have been accomplished on the connectivity level aimed at getting 50 African countries online with various speeds ranging from 64k or lower up to hundreds of Mb/sec in some cases. Achieving those results was the result of enormous efforts. The next phase included the local training and human resources development of support staff in Africa. Again, lots of progress has been achieved in this direction.

African chapters are now facing new challenges to shift from development of the infrastructure only to development of infostructure as well. Several hot issues are being explored, such as local languages, content update, intellectual property, and security. Indeed, the challenge here is more difficult. Regarding Internet governance and policy issues, Africa is shaping its efforts as well. The establishment of an African Network Information Center for the management of the IP addresses is under development.

More regular meetings for African chapters are taking place, and an African Network Operation Group Meeting and Training Workshop was held in Cape Town last May. Previously, during last March, Cairo also hosted the first ICANN round of meetings held in Africa with a large African participation. Africa is also being represented in several ICANN constituencies by a number of active African Internauts.

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