Safety concerns now cast doubt on Nairobi internet conference

Veiled protestors hold the flag of Somali rebel group al Shabaab during a demonstration outside the Jamia Mosque in Kenya's capital Nairobi. Reuters
Veiled protestors hold the flag of Somali rebel group al Shabaab during a demonstration outside the Jamia Mosque in Kenya's capital Nairobi. Reuters 

Unease following the arrest of radical Islamic preacher Abdullah al-Faisal threatens to jeopardise Kenya’s chances of hosting a key global meeting to discuss the future of the internet.

Organisers of the March conference, initially planned for the Kenyatta International Conference Centre (KICC), are currently evaluating their options following recommendations made by consultants sent to the country last week to assess the suitability of the city to hold the meeting.

A logistics nightmare could be on the cards for organisers for the upcoming Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) conference after stakeholders maintained that the fallout following violent protests were not indicative of the true security situation in the country.“

Going by trends from other meets, we are expecting a total 1,500 delegates. We have had just 340 registrations online, but we expect the bulk of delegates to register onsite,” said Joseph Kiragu, administrative manager at KENIC, the local organization that is hosting the event.

Despite witnessing the fracas first-hand, the ICANN security delegation initially gave the green light for the event to take place at KICC.

Since then, however, a growing number of appeals by delegates asking that the venue of the meeting be moved outside Nairobi have surfaced, with the UN complex in Gigiri and Safari Park being put forward as alternatives. Officials at KICC and Kenya Network Information Centre (KENIC) - which is hosting the event - Thursday said they were in consultations with the government on the issue, but were tight lipped on the way forward.

Meanwhile, ICANN put up a security update on the website for the Nairobi event that indicated the organisation was taking a firm hand in ensuring security issues were being addressed.

“Assessing risks at meeting sites, and instituting appropriate mitigation measures remains an ongoing issue. ICANN has conducted a review of the risks associated with the Nairobi Meeting and staff are following up with implementation of a variety of security measures,” said the statement.

The internet body said in addition to outside reviews, staff had conducted inspections on the ground, coordinating efforts with security staff at the Kenyatta International Conference Centre (KICC), downtown hotels, Kenyan government officials, embassy security staffs and private security firms.

Third largest

The UN, which maintains its third largest office worldwide in Nairobi, currently designates the city as Phase One within their five level security plan – a level equivalent to several of the cities that have hosted recent ICANN meetings such as Mexico City, Cairo and New Delhi.

While no risk assessment can anticipate all the possible contingencies and threats, the security measures being taken in Nairobi will be considered in the same thorough manner as with previous ICANN meetings.