I love talking with newcomers at ICANN meetings, particularly when they are as fresh, excited and eager to learn as the South African students and lifelong learners invited to join us in Durban. They brought unique perspectives about the realities of Internet access and use on the continent. Instead of evangelizing about all of the benefits of the Internet, I was reminded that building its infrastructure has to happen first.
Mercy Moyo, James Njenga and Kudzani Tenga are three of the 16 local Internet users who attended their first ICANN meeting through the combined efforts of ICANN’s African Regional At-Large Organization (AFRALO), African civil society and AfriNIC, and with the financial support of Google. Fifteen were from South Africa and one was from Liberia.
Each has overcome language and access barriers, low bandwidth speeds and inflexible data caps to become regular Internet users, and this week they looked to find their place within the ICANN community. Their interests vary from increasing local content online to providing training and education in basic ICT skills.
“Internet has vast amounts of information in foreign languages,” said Kudzani Tenga, a student at the University of South Africa. “As Africans we need to create our own content reflecting our experiences and culture. Local subject matter experts…are not easily found on the Internet.”
James Njenga is a senior lecturer at the University of the Western Cape. “When evangelists come to preach to us about the good things about the
Internet – they give us these expectations that the Internet is a money
tree you plant outside your house, that once you have that one MBPS
[Megabits per second] or ten MBPS line, the following morning you get
outside your house and you start seeing dollars.”
James agrees that the Internet could evolve into this money tree over the long term, but more work needs to be done, more technologies and probably more financial help to get there.
Mercy Moyo, assistant program officer at Information Training and Outreach Centre for Africa, said, “We go all over sub-Saharan Africa to train the end-users on best way to use the Internet and its resources. I notice a lack of basic ICT skills. We had a participant who didn’t know how to use the mouse and lifted it in the air.”
We sat down with each for a few moments to discuss their impressions of ICANN so far, and what drew them to attend ICANN 47 in Durban. I hope you enjoy getting to know Mercy, James and Kudzani as much as I did!