Elon University

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

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.

Atnafu HeadshotSolomon Atnafu – Assistant Professor, Computer Science, Addis Ababa University; expert on core issues of internet governance from Africans’ perspective; participant in IGF preparatory conferences and the IGF in Athens. Based in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

The Transcript:

Q: Why are you here at IGF? What stakes do you hold in this forum?

A: IGF is a big concept, and there are a lot of ideas to be discussed. One of the issues is the issue of language – the making of a multi-lingual internet. If internet would speak the language of the whole population of the Earth and reflect the cultures of different groups it would be richer and more useful. It can be made much more diversified in a way in which it serves the entire population of the Earth without the restrictions of language and culture. I am here because I am involved in the language aspect of electronic content. We have the Native Language Internet Consortium that promotes this concept. I am one who represents my country, not academics, a government representative, and I will talk about what we should do in the future to make this objective attainable.

Q: How do you propose to get more languages represented on the internet?

A: We have to respect what has been done so far. A lot of technological advances have been made, and a lot of people have benefited from the internet. Now we can make this internet – a big invention of humankind – much more useful for a broader population. That’s the idea. There are dominating languages, well that’s good as far as they go to serve a certain humanity group, but there are more to serve. There are many language groups which are not considered for service. Let’s do something to get the most out of the internet. That’s the issue. Let’s do more. Let’s make this electronic content whatever the language is, whatever the script is – the internet is capable of doing it. Let’s communicate.

A friend of mine has been telling us today that in Korea, for example, 95 percent of the population communicates or uses the internet in Korean language. If a person doesn’t know the English language or any other language that is now currently being used on the internet should they be condemned not to use the internet? No. So, let’s do something so that others who do not get the chance to use their own language can get the most out of the internet – diversity the internet.

Q: Who should be in charge of doing this?

A: All who care about this. Governments have their role. Academics have their role. Organizations such as the UN and other interest groups and organizations can do their best to attain this objective.

Q: Are you saying that the internet is not a free flow of information because of the language barrier?

A: I can say that there is a language barrier, and this is avoidable with some work. Imagine what percentage of the population on Earth speaks or writes, understands, the English language. I have read that it is not more than 10 percent. What about the rest of the world? Particularly if you consider Africa, there are more concerns – not only the language. Access is another wanting. Affordability is another issue. While these issues are issues to be considered, language should not be a barrier as well. Let’s do something. Well why not? We’re happy that English advances and shows the way and shows the possibilities and becomes a medium. But if you don’t speak English you shouldn’t be condemned and not be a part of this technology.

Q: What is your greatest hope for the future of the internet? 

A: In the future, my wish is that everybody without any restrictions … that everyone in humankind be part of this technology, benefits from this technology. And that, I think, is possible. In the current state, the coverage of the internet is not as broad as it can be. I think that it can be made better.

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

A: Communication. Access to knowledge. Access to information. We are all in the same world, which nowadays is being influenced by globalization. We share the same resources of this Earth. The same knowledge applies everywhere. So communication is a very important component. Now we say the economy is being dominated – the knowledge economy, information everywhere – so every human being should be part of this technology. I wish to see that everybody, without restriction, be part of sharing something from all of this technology if there is goodwill of the different parties, different individuals.

This video transcript is 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.