ICANN has always tried to embrace Africa. Imagine, then, our delight that Africa has embraced us in return – with great ardor.
I had the privilege of speaking Wednesday morning with the men and women attending the AFRALO capacity building program. AFRALO is the African expression of At-Large, the group within ICANN representing the voice of individual Internet users.
AFRALO Vice Chair Tijani Ben Jemaa and Chair Fatimata Seye Sylla have built a five-day training program to give African civil society the tools and knowledge to participate effectively in the ICANN policy development process.
What struck me was the enormous vigor with which the Africans have seized upon this opportunity. All 24 AFRALO At-Large Structures, from all over the continent, sent representation to this meeting. That is no small thing.
Some non-African delegates to ICANN 42 have moaned about unsteady, intermittent, or slow Internet connections. Imagine living in Africa, where it is not unusual for someone to ride a bike to the next village in order to use the one connected computer in the area.
Some non-African delegates felt their travel to Dakar was long and tiring. If you flew here, imagine having to drive across a continent to get here.
Even some of us on the ICANN staff have to brace ourselves to function during the long hours and multiple demands of facilitating the meeting. Imagine the members of the African delegation volunteering a week (or more) of their own time, to learn about policy-making, about a technology many of them can access only sporadically.
In short, our African participants have shown a breathtaking amount of vision and dedication toward the technological future of Africa. Each of us who has spent time with them has come away impressed with their generous attention, insightful questions, and obvious desire to lead their neighbors on line as full-fledged members of the digital world.
Over the last two years, Internet access has risen from 5% of the African population to 11.5% of the population. That number needs to be higher, and many challenges still lie ahead. But that astonishing growth, and the diligence of our African participants, convinces me there is now no holding this continent back from its future on line.
Every corner of ICANN supports them. The Joint Applicant Support Working Group has recommended ways to help developing economies afford their own gTLDs. Our ongoing overhaul of ICANN.ORG will offer robust support for people accessing our site by mobile phone. Our Language Services department is providing an unprecedented amount of French translations.
This is how ICANN says, “Welcome, Africa!” We’re thrilled that through AFRALO, Africa has answered, “Welcome, ICANN!” Vive les Africains!