Elon University

An interview transcript from the first Internet Governance Forum, Athens, Greece Oct/Nov 2006: Gbenga Sesan

IGF 2006 LogoThis is a transcript from a series of video interviews designed to assess major issues tied to the diffusion of the internet. It is the record of one of many interviews conducted in 2006 with international internet stakeholders from 18 different nations at the world’s first Internet Governance Forum in Athens, Greece. The Athens IGF was the first of five annual global events administrated by the UN to focus on discussion of the overarching issues tied to the future of information and communications technologies. More than 1,200 participants shared information, experiences and best practices.

Sesan Headshot ‘Gbenga Sesan – Vice Chairman of the African Technical Advisory Committee; Program Manager for Lagos Digital Village; was selected to be Nigeria’s first Information Technology Youth Ambassador. Based in Lagos, Nigeria.

The Transcript:

Q: Who are you with and what purpose do you have at this forum?

A: I’m with Lagos Digital Village. It’s a non-profit IT project based in Nigeria and I’m speaking here on behalf of the IT youth leaders and ICT’s network. It’s a network of young people from different regions of the world who have attended international teleconference union youth forums between 2001 and now.

Q: Are you the only representative here?

A: There are about two or three of us here.

Q: What is your stance? Do you want the Internet to be governed?

A: Well, I don’t think it’s my stance. I think it’s reality, actually. I mean, there’s a theory that says there is order and chaos and all that, but I believe that considering the plusses and minuses of the Internet, definitely there’s already some form of governance. But I think that there’s a need for some more collaborative form of governance, which is why I would say I am for governance – in the sense that, for God’s sake, for some sort of resource that has become of so much value to every day life – I mean we sleep, dream, and everything we practically do now, go to school, take care of families and all that has to do with the Internet. So somehow, everybody should have some form of say in the way things are being done.

So definitely if you say ‘for or against?’ I say I’m for governance. When you look at governance, you also look at the other extreme. I’m one who would stay on the center right. By that I mean you should definitely be governed – yes. But not governed to the extent that you’re controlling the Internet. I mean, that’s what I just wanted to quickly say because I don’t want to be misunderstood.

Q: Who do you think should be in charge of governing the Internet?

A: Not talking about preference now, in the WSIS, which is World Summit for the Information Society, it was very glaring that one of the things that everybody agreed with was the fact that the more reciprocal partnerships was the way to go. And speaking of that, you’re talking of an international organization … you’re talking of government. So what might take is that everybody should have a say. And not at every level. The technical issues we can take care of, the legal issues that can be taken care of, in terms of management and structures, and who has a say at the end of the day. I think everyone should have a share in the pot.

Q: You say there is some governance in place now. Who do you think is in charge of the Internet now?

A: I think the structure that may work best, I mean, you would have to also understand that the contextual interpretations would come in here. For example, in Nigeria, when you say “Internet governance” in Nigeria, what comes to mind is access. People want to have access. They really don’t care who’s in charge of what first, so definitely there’ll be some step-down levels where you say that each country should be able to say what exactly goes on, but when it comes to global issues, when it comes to the country-level domain, because the country has a say, when it comes to global issues like, you know, talking of access or multilingualism, then I think that every country should have equal representation, should have equal say. Nothing like the [UN] Security Council, where somebody has veteran power over that. I mean, those are things that are gone with the past, definitely, I mean, not with the age of the Internet.

Q: Do you think it should be uniform or should each country control the structure of the Internet they receive?

A: Well, first of all, I’ll say there’s a language monopoly at the moment. I mean, you’ve heard people say informally that English is the language of the Internet. And I think that is very unfair. Because in that sense, it means my grandmother is cut off from the Internet. And I think that is stupid, to be blunt about it, because the truth is everybody – if we say we have access to human rights, I mean all of us, then it means that everybody should have a right to express themselves in whatever language they want to and in whatever way. We have to give credit to organizations like ICANN like the U.S. for making things come to be. But it’s like giving birth to a child. You can thank the parents, but in the growth of the child, you need to get, you know, the grade one to 12 or whatever, the primary school, secondary school, and all that to just take care of that child. So the same thing, maybe the parents are being … involved in the beginning and maybe some countries are involved, but now the child is growing up and the child will need more than attention they get from the parents. We’ll need it from the teachers, we’ll need it from, you know, organizations and all.

Q: If you had one minute on CNN to get this issue out what would you say?

A: Before the one minute, I‘ll first say this. At times, when we say that things are complex, it’s because we’ve stayed away from them. The things that we call most complex in life are the things that when you started them happened to be quite simple, a lot simpler than we always assumed. If I had one minute on CNN or any other news network – I understand what you’re saying with CNN, anyway, it’s wide coverage – if I had a minute, what I would say is at the end of the day the focus of all this should not be in the technology itself or in profit that can be made, but it should be about people and about development.

I work with the civil society, in this … I come from a continent where people are not exactly empowered. Of course, the fault can be given in many dimensions, but the truth is people need access. What I pay every month for Internet access for bandwidth, which is not even half of what you get, for example, may be seven times or 18 times what you pay … the full cost should be on people of development. Yes, there are technology, technical issues and all that. The full cost should be at the end of the day, how can we ensure that the gap that already exists, this economic divide, digital divide, social and all that. How can we ensure that the Internet as a tool is able to bridge this divide and bring people to terms with the opportunities they can also get. So that the student in Peru, the student in Nigeria, the student in Ghana, the student in the United States, in Canada can all have access to the same opportunities. And in 25 years and 20 years down the line, when we say OK, let’s have a conversation with the whole world, it won’t be unfair that a student from Nigeria and a student from Peru are minus 30 and a student from Canada is plus 36. That would be uneven. So we need to work for people in development, not exactly technology and profit.

Q: What is your greatest fear for the Internet?

A: As things are at the moment, my fear comes from a couple of movies I’ve seen. Also, I do a lot of writing – fiction stuff – and one of the things I’ve written was about how a terrorist network was able to hijack control of the Internet. And for a moment, everybody had to sort of speak, had to consent. So the terrorist network was taking charge of the things. It sounds fictitious, but at the end of the day, I would say that the way the Internet is, it’s all about balance and freedom and maybe not control. Instead of control, freedom of governance. People on one side of the divide are saying we want to have access, we want to have freedom to do whatever we want to do. But the other side is saying, “hey, watch it – freedom can be abused.” So, my fear is in the abuse of that freedom, where it isn’t child molestation – and that’s, of course, a big topic in the U.S. now – various issues in how people can hijack freedom in the name of freedom in itself and misuse that freedom. That’s my biggest fear….

Q: What one key thing would you ask policy makers to do to ensure a positive future for network technology?

A: I would say it again. Access number one, access number two, access number three. At the moment, it’s unfair the way things are. For example, for the African continent, there’s this issue with an average service provider paying both for the traffic originating from its network and traffic terminating in its network. And that, I think, is very unfair. … Fine, if I’m transmitting between myself and you, we should share the cost. So I would say that one strong area that people need to focus on is in the cost of access, which of course moves on to the reach of access. One of the things I intend to talk about during the panel here [at IGF] is to say that very clearly maybe the MDGs [Millennium Development Goals] are being a very strong reference point for us in the war.

Every country in a way is under pressure to, say by 2015, you know, reduce poverty by half and all that. Maybe we really need to find MDGs and have point number nine and say that we have universal access for every child, maybe by 2025 or something. So that sounds quite radical, like “what is he talking about,” but as a truth, I mean, it’s unfair for a child who grows up, for example, in Lagos, and the other child who grows up in another country, and for them to have even access. Because at the end of the day, they’re going to compete for the same jobs. Nobody competes for jobs in country anymore. It’s the best guy [in the world] who can get the job, so should he have a disadvantage because he grew up somewhere else. He didn’t choose where he was going to born, so why deprive him of the opportunity of being a global player?

Q: Describe the future impact of the Internet in one word.

A: Can I use a hyphen between two words? Equal-opportunity.

This transcript and the accompanying video are offered for use under a Creative Commons Noncommercial License allowing no derivative works. Executive producers, Erin Barnett and Janna Quitney Anderson; chief engineer, Bryan Baker; videographers, Barnett and Baker; editor, Barnett.