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I Had a Dream: ICANN Has 2 Billion Reasons to Support Developing Countries

Last week, the 50th anniversary of Rev. Martin Luther King’s famous “I have a dream” speech was marked with much fanfare. Well, I too had a dream the other day, almost two weeks ago. I dreamt I was in a conference. Which is no news. The conference was an ICANN-sponsored conference. No news there either; I’ve been to many ICANN meetings. And it was on food security!

An ICANN-sponsored conference on food security? Yes, it takes a fertile mind to link food security to DNSSEC, but as I recall my dream, everyone at the conference was happy to be there, and thanked ICANN for it. Following my dream, I thought I might as well write this article on why ICANN should support developing countries, something I’ve always advocated for, and an issue I’ve been thinking about and turning in my head for a long time now.

Who are developing countries?

The term “developing country” refers to countries whose gross national incomes per capita is below a certain amount, which was $11,905 in 2010. By this definition, 144 countries were classified as developing countries in 2013. Most developing countries (53) are in Africa, while the rest are in Asia (47), Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC - 28). Europe and North America have the least number of developing countries.

Developing countries are a varied lot, ranging from an Island state like St. Lucia (population 0.2 million in 2012) to China (population of 1.4 billion in 2012). All the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, Indication, China, and South Africa) are developing countries. A special subset of developing countries are the least developed countries (LDCs), of which there are 49 as of 2013, and 34 are in Africa. Most developing countries are often collectively termed the Global South or the South, while some are often referred to as emerging economies.

Developing countries are a significant part of the global economy, not to mention international politics. Developing countries have been said to be the main drivers of economic growth over the last decade, and their gross domestic product (GDP) growth estimated at 5.1 percent in 2013, was greater than those for (the wealthy) OECD countries (1.1 percent), and the world (2.2 percent).

ICANN and developing countries

Although ICANN’s by laws do not mention developing countries (as they do not mention any economic group of nations), the 2012-2015 Strategic Plan mentions developing countries in two of its four Focus Areas (DNS stability and security, and a healthy Internet governance eco-system). The strategic plan states that as part of its enhanced international cooperation program, ICANN staff will work to cooperatively build unique identifier SSR capability in developing countries. In the same vein, ICANN will partner with other organizations to DNS training in developing countries, as part of its strategy to enhance trust in its stewardship.

ICANN’s relationship with developing countries is also manifested in their participation (or lack thereof) in the much-vaunted “bottom-up, consensus-driven, multi-stakeholder model” (MSM). As I have argued earlier, the participation of developing countries (especially LDCs), in the MSM leaves a lot to be desired. The inadequate participation of developing countries in ICANN’s ecosystem is reflected right across the board from its constituencies to the clutch of services that have sprouted around the DNS industry, as well as its flagship new gTLD program.

Why support developing countries?

There are many reasons why ICANN should support developing countries, but the following are important starting points.

1. It’s a moral imperative

The first reason for supporting developing countries is the moral imperative (however much morals there are these days) for developed countries to take responsibility for the ravaging effects of colonialism, especially on Africa. Although all African countries (except for the disputed case of Western Sahara) now have independence, their former masters, along with Bretton Woods institutions (the World Bank, and IMF), maintain vice-like grips on their economies. For example, the West and Central African CFA francs which used to be pegged to the French Franc, and are now pegged to the Euro, are guaranteed by the French treasury. As such, the 14 countries that use them are subject to fiscal policies made in Europe, and in which they have no say.

Following Haiti’s winning its war of independence, France forcibly demanded Haiti to compensate it for lost slaves and property, and for its recognition of Haiti’s independence. Haiti was forced to raise a loan (valued at $12.7 billion in 2009 terms) from a French bank, and took 122 years to pay it off. France continues to balk at any suggestion for reparations to Haiti, which is languishing in penury.

Many developing countries have suffered the devastating effects of wars, blockades and sanctions imposed on them by developed countries. Among these are the British Opium Wars on China, the Mau Mau uprising against the British in Kenya, and US involvement in the Vietnam war. After US Secretary of State James Baker threatened in 1991 to bomb Iraq back to the stone age, the country suffered devastating sanctions, and was invaded in 2003. Iraq continues to bleed and wallow in poverty as a result.

Developing countries continue to suffer the devastating effects of corruption and grand theft of their resources. An estimated $859 billion was lost by developing countries through illicit outflows in 2010 (11 percent more than in 2009). Furthermore, most of these illicit outflows end in developed countries, whose banks were reported to hold 46 to 67 percent of total deposits of illicit financial outflows from developing countries between 2002 and 2006.

2. Economic realities are changing

Developing countries are also becoming increasingly important economic powers, and will continue be so, as the center of gravity of the global economy pivots. Thus, US exports to China and LAC have, since 2007, grown two and a half times faster than US exports to its traditional markets, the OECD countries. Developing countries, between 1980 and 2010, increased their share of world merchandise trade from 25 percent to 47 percent, and their share of world output from 33 percent to 45 percent. By 2025 (in just over 10 years), three fifths of the 1 billion households earning more than $20,000 a year will be in the South.

3. The future of the Internet is in developing countries

Developing countries are the future of the Internet, mainly because of the relatively low Internet penetration rates, the high rate of growth in the number of Internet users, and the large populations in these countries. Although, Africa and Asia have Internet penetration rates of 15.6 percent, and 27.5 percent, respectively, they achieved growth rates of 3,600 percent, and 842 percent, respectively, between 2000 and 2012. In contrast, the Internet penetration growth rates in North America and Europe were 153 percent, and 393 percent, respectively. Given the estimated combined population of 5.8 billion in 2012 for Africa, Asia (including the Middle East), and LAC, compared to 1.2 billion for Europe and North America, it is clear that the future of the Internet is the developing world.

4. It is in ICANN’s interest

Finally, it is in ICANN’s best interest to support developing countries because it will increase its credibility in these countries, and strengthen the MSM. And let’s face it, support for developing countries will also be very good for ICANN’s image and public relations efforts. Such efforts will also help ICANN ride the huge wave of the emergence of developing countries as significant economic powers, and Internet growth centers. All developing countries (except for South Sudan) have ccTLDs, an important part of the global Internet infrastructure, and supporting them will help strengthen this resource.

It is worth mentioning that ICANN is now putting its money where its future is by establishing hubs in Turkey, and Singapore, as well as Engagement Centers in Beijing, and Uruguay. ICANN has started implementing its Africa and Middle East strategies, and is developing a LAC strategy.

Dreams do come true

All dreams have twists and turns, and some do come true. I have no doubt that mine will, when it comes true, have its own twists. While I do not expect ICANN to support conferences on food security anytime soon, there are many morality, economic, self-interest reasons, as well as the global public interest for it to support developing countries. If anything, the almost 2 billion (and increasing) Internet users in developing countries should be enough reason to support them.

By Katim Seringe Touray, International Development Consultant, and writer on science, technology, and global affairs

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Hello Katim, thank you for this thoughtful Jean-Jacques Subrenat  –  Sep 3, 2013 1:12 AM

Hello Katim, thank you for this thoughtful piece. Yes it’s more than time for this category of nations to be an integral part of multilateral economics and policy. The figures you quote are eloquent.
One thing you did not mention: national governance. Yes, colonialism had a devastating effect, and it came to an end, for the most part, in the early 1960s, half a century, or four generations ago. Yes, the international organizations in charge of meta-economics need to undergo a serious review of their criteria and tools.
It’s been several decades now that there have been calls, from within these countries themselves, for improved internal governance, fairness, the curtailment of corruption, true gender equality, a clearer separation between religious persuasions and the act of governing. Most of these features, which still affect many former colonies, cannot be attributed solely to colonialism, four generations later. Saying this can in no way be construed as an excuse for colonialism or imperialism, nor can it justify the plight of what you rightly designate as the majority of the world’s population today.
What do you see as the priority areas for the enhancement of governance, and what part can the Internet play in this?

sorry for the typo in line 9: Jean-Jacques Subrenat  –  Sep 3, 2013 1:15 AM

sorry for the typo in line 9: I meant two, not four generations ago.

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