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Jua Kali – short explanation of Internet and its governance

Published on 27 September 2011
Updated on 19 March 2024
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Jua Kali is one of the first phrases I learned 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 to 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 jua kali.

The Internet was developed in the style of jua kali approach of 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 jua 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 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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