Monday, November 16, 2009

IGF 2009: Confusion trails Egypt’s $3000 caveat on visa

As the world is expected to gather at the city of Sharm El Sheikh in Egypt, for the global Internet Governance Forum (IGF), stakeholders are facing as hard times in not only getting Egyptian visa, but for meeting up with the caveat that participants must have, at least, $3000 cash, about N450,000, in their custody before they could be allowed entry into Egypt.

ITRealms Online also gathered that in some instances, the caveat was between $3000 and $5000, depending on whether the applicants are business delegates or mere stakeholders.

IGF was initiative in 2005 as the aftermath of the two-phased World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) which held in Tunisia in 2005 after the first phase in Geneva was held in 2003, with regard to convening a new forum for multi-stakeholder policy dialogue on the Internet Governance Forum (IGF), thus becoming a platform for interactive, and collaborative space where all stakeholders could air their views and exchange ideas, on the premise that promote the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) so as to enthrone the highest standards set by the W3C.

This is coming as the Egypt’s Prime Minister, Dr. Ahmed Nazif today, Monday, inaugurated the fourth meeting of the Internet Governance Forum taking place in Sharm El Sheikh from 15 to 18 November, amidst low turnout of stakeholders except a few from government agencies.

Dr. Tarek Kamel, Minister of Communications and Information Technology and Ministers of Education, Higher Education, Social Solidarity and Administrative Development equally participated in the opening ceremony, which has as its theme “Internet Governance – Creating Opportunities for All.”

However, our investigations showed that many stakeholders from Nigeria’s Internet community and the world over, especially those from the developing countries are complaining bitterly due to the stipulation by the Egyptian government attached to its visa.

Just as the $3000 condition cash is separate from the visa fee, which cost N9000, about $62.

Additionally, ITRealms Online gathered that preference was being given to government representatives or delegates, while other stakeholders from the private sector were made to face this challenge of having this amount of cash before the immigration could allow them into Egypt.

The Lagos Consulate of the Egyptian Embassy at the Club Road, Ikoyi-Lagos, confirmed this condition to our correspondent at the weekend, saying it is the position of the government.

According to him, that is why it has become necessary for him to table it before potential IGF participants and other applicants prior to offering them visa, of which this caveat would be included in their visa to be observed strictly by Egyptian immigration at the point of entry.

“It is not necessary whether you would spend it or not, but you must have it. I mean, show it to the immigration officials before they can stamp your passport at the entry point, otherwise you will be deported,” he told correspondent during the chat.

At the time of filing this report, over five other IGF participants could not continue with their visa processes due to the $3000 condition, including some Nigerian ICT-media practitioners.

Reacting to this development, the Executive Director, Paradigm Initiative Nigeria (PIN) and the first Nigeria’s Information Technology (IT) Youth Ambassador, Mr. Gbenga Sesan, described it as unhelpful to the drive by African community to actively participate at the Egyptian IGF meeting.

As such, he said, it is uncalled for, noting that IGF has been held in the past four years at various parts of the world and none made this kind of demand or condition, admitting that definitely it would affect the number of participation from developing countries globally, and mostly in the African continent.

Wondering who actually advised the Egyptian government on using this platform to ‘make money rather than encouraging participation.’

Hence this would spell doom for the continent as well as her input into the African hosted IGF forum.

International participation at the event has been billed to include Sha Zukang, UN Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, and key personalities from the Internet technical world such as Bob Khan, one of the pioneers who invented the Internet, Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web, and Jerry Yang, co-founder of Yahoo! Inc.
The forum was billed to be an assembly of key figures such as Secretary General of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), Secretary General of the International Chamber of Commerce, European Commissioner of ICT & Media and Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) chief executive, Mr. Beckstrom.

Over the four days, the few forum participants will discuss issues related to the future of the Internet and its impact globally and locally. Topics under discussion will include means of increasing accessibility to the Network, the development of local content and the encouragement of cultural and language diversity; the promotion of safe use of the Internet, means of combating cybercrime; and managing critical Internet resources.

The meeting aims also to explore the impact of social networks on the daily life of many people; allowing experts to look at emerging governance issues placing importance on the need to develop new approaches, policies, and regulations for privacy and data protection, user-generated content, copyrighted material, and illegal content.

A number of panel discussions and workshops will be held during the Forum on related issues such as, promoting freedom of information and freedom of expression on the Internet; principles in Internet governance; legal issues related to social media; privacy and social networking; the challenges of cybercrime; Internet governance and climatic change; child online safety; open standards; and managing Internet addresses.

The theme, expects said, reflected the basic purpose of the IGF to develop a common understanding of how to maximize the opportunities the Internet offers for all nations and peoples, and how to address the risks and challenges, while also raising awareness of the development dimension of Internet governance.

Unfortunately, the forum comprising about 10 main sessions in addition to the opening ceremony, and 105 workshops over four days, would be marred by low participation, although it was scheduled as a venue for multi-stakeholder dialogue on public policy related to internet governance issues, such as the Internet’s sustainability, robustness, security, stability and development.

The Internet Governance Forum was a recommendation of World Summit on Information Society of Tunis 2005. The first meeting was in Athens in 2006, second in Rio de Janeiro in 2007 and the third in Hyderabad in 2008.

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