Thursday, February 03, 2005

Report on ICANN African At-Large Workshop

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The little people aren’t so little anymore
By Haru Mutasa of the Highway Africa News Agency (HANA)

The auditorium packed to capacity with delegates spilling onto the floor is all the proof one needs to understand why the ICANN exhibition booth at the conference had over 100 delegates wanting information on the first day.

Seventeen-year-old Jude Akwei from Accra Academy, a secondary school in the greater Accra region was still scribbling in his notebook as he walked out of the At-Large workshop yesterday. “The session was a great idea to bring us all together like this. If we all work hand in hand a lot can be achieved in a much shorter time,” he said excitedly, “I even got a great idea from the workshop which I still want to keep to myself until I have thought it out more. Let’s just say I am very excited about it.”

The four-hour workshop covered an array of topics from the basics of how the Internet works to what sparked the most debate – civil society’s role in the non-profit organisation of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN).

“We want to increase participation in the ICANN process; especially from developing countries,” said ICANN’s communications officer Kieran Baker, “The overall objective is to get people connected to the ICT issues in the region and partnering with different organisations here in Africa.”

At-Large groups were set up to facilitate this participatory process and give Africa's internet users the opportunity to actively participate in matters and decisions made about the internet and how they are affected as users.

A host of groups participate in the At-Large structures on the continent and around the world. These include civil society groups, academic and research organisations, consumer advocacy groups and computer user organisations where they all play a role in community development in their respective countries and regions.

“ICANN is the only organisation where individual users can participate at all levels- anytime - anywhere- via email,” said Baker, “This gives individual users the voice and ability to make an impact on decision making processes within the ICANN structure on all internet issues. Participation is on a regional level.
Here in Africa this means joining a Regional at-Large Structure like the African Youth Foundation for young people.”

The vibrant workshop also highlighted issues still needing attention such as involving the disabled and women in participatory processes – another way Africans can eventually bridge the digital divide.

“Communication is the beginning of a community,” said workshop leader professor Francis Allotey, “We as Africans have to do to it ourselves (bridge the digital divide) because nobody else will do it for us.”

ICANN has already started encouraging community participation by creating a separate ICANN website www.afralo.org and translating all materials and hosting conferences in French and Portuguese.

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