Letter from Nairobi

Posted by Chris Disspain on 4 November 2011

Over the past few months, there’s been a sense that the IGF has been running out of steam, and that the whole concept of multi-stakeholder governance has had its day.

What a difference a week makes.

Late September saw the 6th Annual Internet Governance Forum meeting in Nairobi.  With more than 2000 participants, it was the best attended IGF ever.  It was also the most vibrant, energetic and interesting.

Yes Minister

Once again the UK put forward a strong contingent in Nairobi, led by their IT Minister, Ed Vaisey – whose pithy support of multi-stakeholderism and the IGF was the highlight of the opening ceremony.

Because the Brits have an established national process, they come to the international meetings with a sense of cohesiveness. They’ve also always had a strong parliamentary contingent, and the Minister paid tribute to how his colleagues who’ve been following this issue for years had helped him get up to speed.

Despite having an active Internet industry, and being thought leaders in many aspects of Internet governance, the Australians are not nearly as prominent in the international dialogue as we should be.  I can’t help feeling we’re missing an opportunity there.

Putting the Critical into Internet Resources

The session on Critical Internet Resources (CIR) is always of key interest to me, as CEO of auDA and also having moderated it two years running. The temperature had risen on this always spikey topic because just days before the meeting, three radical proposals for strengthening the role of governments were put forward by the European Commission, the Chinese and Russians and IBSA (India, Brazil, South African governments).

What happened in the Nairobi CIR session was incredibly important for anyone who cares about the IGF, multi-stakeholder governance, or ICANN.  Normally in those sessions you get civil society people and ICANN being quizzed about and justifying their position. In Nairobi, in a clear demonstration that the multi-stakeholder model does work, it was government representatives (from India, Brazil, and the US) putting forward their positions on how the Internet should be governed and then responding to questions and comments from everyone else in the room.

It helped tht the calibre of people in the room was high.  Rhetoric and hyperbole from the panel were answered with evidence, facts and figures from the audience.  When the Indian government representative complained that her country was effectively excluded from the Internet Engineering Task Force, it was pointed out that India has 54 authors working in 18 IETF working groups!

The IBSA representatives said there paper was “just a very basic primary draft” and that they were looking for feedback – I hope they were listening.

One Planet – One Tribe

I stayed in a very pleasant hotel (The Tribe) near the UN compound in Nairobi. It has a central outdoor area built around a large ornamental pool. Looks great but means that to move from one area to another one must cross the pool utilising the thoughtfully provided stepping stones. This task, accomplished with ease each morning, would become more difficult at the end of a hard day’s conferencing due partly to the diminishing amount of light and partly to the increasing amount of alcohol. On one glorious evening, during a cocktail party for around 60 people, the constant power cuts left party-goers stranded mid-pool in the darkness for up to 5 minutes at a time!

Amazingly the only casualty occurred during day-light when a certain Ambassador, determined to assist a lady to cross the pool, stepped gallantly forward to take her hand and placed his left leg directly into the water. Fortunately it was a hot day so he wasn’t damp for long!