The New Partnership for Africa's Development (Nepad) has teamed up with the Southern African Development Community (SADC) to launch the Southern African Internet Governance Forum.
The forum will advocate for the development and implementation of universal access policies by member countries to improve Internet connectivity in rural areas. Internet governance issues also include access and diversity, cybersecurity, cross-border Internet security, mobile Internet, domain names and cloud computing.
Nepad is a regional economic bloc chartered to accelerate Africa's economic development. The forum was launched in South Africa last week.
Over the past years, the SADC region has not participated in Internet governance at the global level due to a lack of a multinational regional body. This has had a negative impact on the region's economic and social development, analysts say.
"The voice of SADC at the international level of Internet governance was never heard because countries went there with a divided position," said Amos Kalunga, a telecom analyst from the Computer Society of Zambia.
"But what will be happening now is that countries will be going there with one position through the body and that is going to have a positive impact," he added.
The African region is currently facing growing cybersecurity threats, but government leaders are hoping that the launch of the Southern African Internet Governance Forum will help address cybercrimes targeted especially at the financial sector, identity theft and fraud.
As more Africans use the Internet for their banking needs, the number of fraudsters eyeing people's bank accounts and online financial transactions has multiplied.
Internet penetration in the region has been moving faster than expected in the past two years due to mobile-phone operators providing Internet access, following improved communication infrastructure in the region.
Mobile data, driven by mobile email and broadband services, is anticipated to generate US$2.2 billion in revenue in the region by 2014, boosted by the number of undersea and land-sea cable projects that are providing much-needed extra capacity for operators. At the same time, operators are supplying cheap data-enabled handsets as they compete for the region's data market following a slump in revenue from the voice market.
Mobile data and broadband technologies are increasingly being used by operators as a substitute for poor or non-existent fixed-line infrastructure in the region.
Tackling cybercrime has always been a challenge in the region as many African governments have not yet formulated legal frameworks for cybercrime prevention in order to protect financial institutions.
Through the forum however, all SADC countries are expected to formulate the legal frameworks in order to fight cybercrime, fraud and terrorism. In addition, SADC countries will be compelled by the forum to initiate vigorous campaigns to educate consumers about cybercrime. The SADC region has 14 countries include Zambia, South Africa, Malawi, Botswana and Namibia.
With Internet penetration growing faster than expected, governments in the SADC region now fear that if Internet governance is not quickly addressed, cybercrime will get out of hand.