Improving the region’s participation in international ICT discussions

Continuing our review of Day 1 of the 10th Ministerial Strategic Seminar, this post summarises some of the  discussions geared towards increasing the region’s participation in international fora on ICT and the Internet.

Our previous post, CTU Ministerial: key messages and takeaways (Day 1), highlighted some of the messages and takeaways from the discussions on the international ICT agenda and what should be the regional imperative. However, the first day of the 10th Ministerial Strategic Seminar, organised by the Caribbean Telecommunications Union (CTU), also continued with a spirited discussion of the where the region is headed and what can be done to change the status quo.

Amplification of the Caribbean voice

Bevil Wooding, Outreach Manager at Packet Clearing House, provided a pointed discourse on the implications of the Caribbean’s current position, as it relates to Internet Governance (IG). Firstly, he noted that although Internet-related technology is playing an increasingly critical role in the economic and social development of our countries, the Caribbean is woefully underrepresented in international IG fora. Hence there is a real risk that countries might be unwittingly ceding control of elements of their technological, intellectual and economic security to others.

Bevil Wooding, Outreach Manager, Packet Clearing House

While there was a recognition that countries might be of the view that there are more pressing national and regional priorities, there might also be a failure to appreciate the gravity of the implications of non-participation as suggested above. However, Mr. Wooding was adamant that the Caribbean must be heard, as we have a stake in the evolution of the Internet and the construct of the global technology landscape. Moreover, we have the human resource to overcome the challenges that exist, along with the technology and capacity to implement the requisite measures. However, what must we be prepared to do?

Mr. Wooding was of the view that we must articulate a clear set if actionable priorities. These priorities should be based in our native strengths and should be shaped to match a defined vision for development. Thereafter, the following actions were considered critical to begin to develop our individual and collective voice, and to facilitate our involvement in international discussions:

  • intensive regional collaboration strategies
  • precise strategic initiatives impelled by a powerful will to act
  • increased high-level leadership competence
  • streamlined activation of the human resource potential.

How can we move forward?

In the last section of the day, while the Ministers retreated into caucus, there was an open discussion among the remaining attendees, which consisted of technocrats from the public and private sectors, sponsors and other invited guests. The session was chaired by Rodney Taylor, the CTU’s Business Development Manager, who first was keen for thoughts on what more the CTU could be doing to facilitate greater regional involvement?

Most attendees are aware of the limited resources available to the CTU secretariat, bit it was widely recognised that the CTU itself is the 20 member countries that it comprises. Hence, the organisation should focus on the areas for which it has responsibility, and could assist countries to determine what areas on the international ICT agenda should be interest to the region.

There was also an appreciation for the need for support at the highest political levels. Ministers and other senior government officials must understand the issues; hence training is essential, for those personnel.

However a follow up question was: how much does the Minister need to know? This question may also have ben prompted by a views shared by Hon. Jerrol Thompson from Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, who was concerned that he did not fully understand the longer term implications of the majority of the issues on which he was being asked to make a decision.

After some discussion, it there was consensus that Ministers are not technocrats. Instead their focus should be providing leadership and building relationships. Hence the more pertinent question might be “what guidance or information do Ministers need to lead the ICT agenda?”

The remaining discussion was focussed on advancing a regional agenda. Key thoughts that were noted and will inform other discussions, are as follows:

  • There are structure impediments that are currently hindering regional support and coordination of an ICT agenda. However, they can be overcome by a reprioritisation of resources within the CTU Member Countries.
  • The impetus for resources to be reprioritised may be driven to a large degree by a fuller awareness among Member Countries of the gravity and implications of their non-participation in the global ICT conversation and decision-making process. (Currently there is still a sense that the countries still “do not get it”, since they might be overwhelmed by what they perceive as other national and political imperatives.)
  • Finally, to get the most out of our involvement in IG, and in order to prepare a regional agenda, strategic coordination will be critical.

The final day of this seminar, 30 May, will be streamed live at http://www.ustream.tv/channel/ctu-seminar. Should you have an opportunity, please join the discussion, which will focus on cybersecurity.

Images courtesy of the CTU and Bevil Wooding.

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2 Comments

  • I’m encouraged by this conversation. I fully agree that there is a real deficit in regional involvement with the global IG agenda, bet it in the IGF, IETF, or ICANN. Yes, we are undoubtedly resource-constrained. But it isn’t just about funds. While I fully endorse that money helps us to be ‘in the room’ and that is critical to our notice and acceptance as stakeholder, we should also collectively make more effort to inform ourselves across the board on the pertinent issues. And we must stay current with the conversation. This takes individual time, commitment and ‘sticktuitiveness’, uncompensated. And for a wider pool of human resources, much of this will be uncompensated.

    It would also be important to note that inter-regional collaboration is itself dependent on people actually talking with people. One example I can point to is the At-Large constituency of ICANN. There is a dedicated group of us – notably from T&T, Barbados, Guyana and Jamaica – who have only survived and made our mark because we commit to collaborate and regularly exchange views. We have made many recruitment forays. But the results to date have been spotty, at best.

    It takes hard work and a lot of volunteer time to be engaged.

    Carlton Samuels
    Vice Chair, At-Large Advisory Committee [ICANN]

  • Good points Carlton. Often the reality in the Caribbean is that governments represent us, particularly in international fora. At the IGF you will notice a different paradigm. You may have ‘official’ representation from the government but there are so many other stakeholders from NGOs and civil society who seem to have their own funding mechanisms to do this. So if our leaders are not engaged on these ‘nebulous’ issues then issues such as climate change, tourism, agriculture etc will take precedence. Part of the challenge is for us to show the linkages between ICT and all of the other ‘important’ issues. To demonstrate that ICT has an impact across all economic sectors in a knowledge based economy. This is one of the reasons the CTU hosts 2 Ministerial Strategic Seminars per year and try to bring these issues to the attention of the Telecomms/ICT ministers so they can see the linkages, the relevance/importance and be empowered to speak in clear terms to their respective heads of governments and to the electorate and to set clear policy at the national level.

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