Mugabe attacks US at WSIS opening

The President of Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe, on Wednesday attacked the United States at the opening of the World Summit on Information Society (WSIS) in Tunis, Tunisia, for monopolising the governance of the internet.

Addressing delegates at the second phase of the WSIS, Mugabe said the summit is supposed to empower all countries in their development endeavours and engender confidence in internet users outside Europe and North America.

He said this can be done by allowing for a more transparent and multilateral approach to internet governance.

“We challenge the still undemocratic issue of internet governance, where one or two countries insist on being world policemen on the management and administration of the internet,” said Mugabe.

He added: “Indeed, why should our diversified world be beholden to an American company for such a sensitive undertaking?”

He also said that developed nations continue to frustrate measures such as technology transfer and preferential trade terms that would advance the information society.

“These negative subterfuges have the capacity of weakening the WSIS process and stripping it of the action-oriented approach it had taken.”

At present, the internet is controversially managed and administered by a US company called the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (Icann).

Icann is responsible for coordinating the management of the technical elements of the domain name system to ensure that all users of the internet can find all valid addresses. This is done by overseeing the distribution of unique technical identifiers used in the internet’s operations and the delegation of top-level domain names such as “.com” and “.info”.

A heated debate concerning internet governance has been going on between negotiators since Sunday ahead of the WSIS opening on Wednesday.

However, negotiators from 100 countries have agreed to leave the US company in charge of the internet system, averting a possible showdown at this year’s summit.

World heads of states are expected to ratify a declaration incorporating the deal during the WSIS, but a group of countries, including China, Cuba and Iran, has proposed replacing Icann with a multicountry group under United Nations auspices.

Meanwhile, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan said the UN will not police or take over the internet in his official opening speech at the summit.

He said: “The UN doesn’t want to control the internet and the US deserves a thank-you for creating the internet and managing it honorably.”

He went on to say that countries need to acknowledge the need for more international involvement in governance discussion.

“Let these discussions continue; the UN will support this process in every way it can,” he said.

In other news reports, businesses at the summit were in support of the stance taken by the UN.

The Coordinating Committee of Business Interlocutors (CCBI) said proposed models of internet governance would only serve to tarnish the efficiency of the internet.

Speaking on behalf of the CCBI in an official preparatory process leading up to the summit on Wednesday, Ayesha Hassan said: “We do not support an intergovernmental oversight mechanism. It is not responsive to the day-to-day needs of the internet and its users.”

She added that this would slow decision making and create uncertainty, which can only hinder innovation and investment.

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