Ethiopia successfully hosts the 17th edition of Internet Governance Forum (IGF) under the overarching theme, ‘Resilient Internet for a Shared Sustainable and Common Future’, from November 28 to December 2, 2022. The forum called for more investment in building resilient internet infrastructure to tap digital opportunities and accelerate social and economic transformation to connect the unconnected community in order to benefit more from the internet.
The forum brought together various stakeholders including representatives from the United Nations, both local and International organizations, startups from across the world, private companies, representatives of countries and youth interested in tech.
“The internet should be for everyone and it should be a safer and more reliable space for everyone to use. Thus we have both large and small opportunities to achieve these objectives,” said Vint Cerf, vice president and Chief Internet Evangelist for Google, indicating that the IGF and its constituents have been shedding light on these opportunities for 17 years and counting.
“Technologies are transforming lives and livelihoods and are also outpacing regulations and exacerbating inequalities. We often hear that the future will be digital but a digital future must be human centered. That ambition is as reflected on this year’s theme,” said UN-Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, addressing participants through a video message for the official opening of the forum on Tuesday, adding, “ It’s also the motivation behind my proposal for the Global Digital Compact, on an open, free, inclusive and secure digital future for all.”
“The internet’s contribution to social development is immense. The democratization of knowledge and communication, access to entrepreneurship skills and new employment opportunities, health care access and education are a few noteworthy ones,” said Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed in his opening remarks.
Delegates called for more capacity-building, greater multi-stakeholder engagement and the coherent development of policies that effectively harness the use of advanced technologies. The private sector was cited as a crucial partner as they are at the forefront of innovative technological advances.
Similarly, with Africa having a large number of unconnected populations to the internet, the forum underscored the importance of digital technologies as tools for enhancing development across Africa.
Acting Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), Antonio Pedro highlighted that reducing the digital divide is essential to building new pathways for rapid economic growth, innovation, job creation and access to services in Africa.
“Harmonizing regulations to remove barriers to connectivity both within African nations and across the continent is crucial,” said Pedro, whilst explaining that harmonized regulations will facilitate the operationalization of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA).
The AfCFTA is key to Africa’s food and energy security and fosters competitiveness through economies of scale and improved market access.
Statistics show that an estimated 871 million people are not connected to the internet in Africa and access was even limited in rural areas. Though 70% of Africa’s population technically has access to mobile internet, less than 25% are making use of the internet due to the high cost of mobile internet across the region.
“The lack of digital and literacy skills is another key barrier to achieving digital inclusion,” said Pedro, adding that, “These skills gaps have been further exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, where the expansion of online education, e-healthcare, e-commerce and remote work, have left a large portion of the population, without internet access, even further behind.” He said the need for meaningful digital connectivity to boost sustainable development, particularly for the Least Developing Countries, has never been more urgent. Despite this, Africa has made some progress in promoting digital access.
Addressing the participants, Li Junhua, UN Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA), said the internet is a springboard to rescue the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) through digital empowerment.
“Digital technologies and the internet are serving as engines of growth and providers of essential services including the support to e-government and growing economies,” said Junhua, adding, “The digital frontier is where the truly transformational power will be realized and the important space for accelerating projects towards the SDGs.”
According to the Ministry of Innovation and Technology more than 3000 participants have participated on the forum. The IGF is the first international forum with a large number of participants that Ethiopia has hosted after the outbreak of Covid-19.
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