Jua Kali – short explanation of Internet and its governance

Posted on September 27, 2011 by


Jua Kali is one of the first phrases I learnt in Kenya. Literally, it means ‘under the sun’, but is used in Kenya and East Africa to describe the informal economy. By what I understand from my Kenyan friends, jua kali describes common sense and the innovative ways in which ordinary, very often poor people, find solutions for problems. If you see an old vintage car on the roads of Nairobi, it is probably moving thanks to the creativity of  the jua kali economy.

Earlier this morning I was asked to chair an introductory session on the IGF. We were supposed to explain to complete novices what Internet governance is about. Quite a big task! I used the metaphor of jou kali. The Internet was developed through  jou kali or unintentional creativity. Initially, it was created to connect computers not people. But people started communicating … e-mail was discovered later on … people at CERN, trying to find a solution for document management ended with HTML and WWW …. the owner of E-bay trying to exchange his wife’s PEZ dispensers on the Internet discovered a new business. The list of such jou kali solutions is a long one.

The “problem” started, step by step, when jua kali solutions created the Internet we have today, a critical information infrastructure of modern society. It is as if the  jua kali economy driving on the roads of Nairobi became the basis of the Kenyan economy and society. Internet governance was faced with one of the most critical challenges of modern society: how to preserve its  jua kali creative energy, while making sure that the Internet is secure and run in public interest. This is the underlying question of all Internet governance debates. Ultimately, it is what the IGF is about.

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