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Africa: Digital Solidarity Gap, 1

AfricaFocus Bulletin
Dec 15, 2003 (031215)
(Reposted from sources cited below)

Editor's Note

Delegates from 176 countries and as many as 10,000 representatives of civil society and the private sector attended the World Summit on the Information Society in Geneva last week. They dispersed having filled dozens of web sites with documentation of the vast digital divide between rich and poor, declarations of good intentions, examples of promising initiatives, and decisions to postpone controversial decisions on internet governance and a proposed Digital Solidarity Fund.

This issue of AfricaFocus Bulletin contains a selection of news stories on the Summit from the Highway Africa News Agency. Among the many sites with additional coverage are:
http://www.choike.org/nuevo_eng/about/wsis.htm
http://www.worldsummit2003.org
and the official conference website:
http://www.itu.int/wsis/

Another issue of AfricaFocus Bulletin today contains the new Digital Access Index ratings from the International Telecommunications Union, and reports on an initiative by Lyon, Geneva, and Senegal to move ahead with launching the Digital Solidarity Fund themselves.

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Visit http://www.africafocus.org for news, analysis, advocacy
Find recent book recommendations at Powell's, a unionized on-line bookstore: http://www.solidarityresearch.org/powells

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All the way to Timbuktu, online

By Haru Mutasa (Highway Africa News Agency)

[This and articles below from http://www.highwayafrica.org.za/hana, a joint initiative of the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) and Rhodes University]

December 12, 2003

Timbuktu, Mali, has launched its first official website at the Geneva World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), thanks to two African United Nations volunteers.

"I was concerned about the development of my country and that is why I got involved with the United Nations project in Mali," said 30-year-old IT technician Haidara Fatoumata.

Setting up the site was difficult because of the open source software she was using. "There were many technical problems," she said, "we were not used to working on the open software programmes we were using. We came across problems registering and hosting the website in Mali, because no one had this software. The Internet is not used a lot in a country like Mali, and we still have to figure out ways to fix the many problems we are facing."

Fatoumata said she stumbled into the IT world by accident. "Ever since I was a little girl I always liked to open stuff and play with connections and points," she said, "At home I was the only one in the family who could fix the radio when it was broken." She was meant to study architecture at university, but quickly changed to IT.

She worked with colleague Merault Ahoijangansi from Benin on designing and setting up the website. "I am very happy and excited that this project has been accomplished," said Ahoijangansi. "I joined the volunteer programme to be able to help other people. I did volunteer work in my country for some time before coming to Mali."

Timbuktu mayor Mohammed Cisse officially launched the site http://www.tombouctou.net on Thursday, saying it will connect the people of Timbuktu to the outside world. The mayor also hopes the site will provide the town with basic information on how to find information on jobs and health issues.

The town is 1000 km from the capital Bamako and takes about two days by road. Most of the residents live in poverty and have little or no contact with the outside world.

"Already we are in communication with a hospital in Geneva," said Cisse, "and our hospital in Timbuktu exchanges ideas and information with Geneva regularly. It is a new project, which seems to be working."

All this was made possible through the United Nations Volunteers Programmme, which is administered by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). The organisation hopes that volunteer initiatives like this one can connect communities quickly and efficiently to the rest of the world to exchange knowledge, which will in turn contribute to development.

"The site will keep evolving for some time," said Fatoumata. "Merault and I will be working on it up until 2005 at least. I keep looking at the site and thinking that there is still so much more we can still do with it and I hope to get more training soon to make a real splash of the site."


Taskforce to build Digital Solidarity Fund

By Emrakeb Assefa (Highway Africa News Agency)

December 12, 2003

World leaders have agreed to set up a workforce early next year to come up with a framework to build the Digital Solidarity Fund (DSF), to be created to finance projects to bridge the digital divide between South and North.

The group, working under the auspices of the UN Secretary-General, is to submit its final study document in December 2004.

President of the WSIS (World Summit on the Information Society) Preparatory Committee (PrepCom) Adama Samassekou said today that the working group, comprising African nations and other developing countries supporting Senegal's proposal, has the mandate now to make a report that is "convincing", so that an increasing number of countries will start contributing to it. The Swiss and Indian governments have already contributed money to the Fund.

"We have been given one year to come up with the review, and it is up to us to convince those who don't see the necessity of building the fund, mainly the developed countries, so that we can reach consensus in Tunis in 2005," Samassekou said.

This task force review will be submitted for consideration to the second phase of WSIS in Tunis. Based on the conclusion of the review, improvements in the financing mechanisms will be considered, including the effectiveness, feasibility and creation of a voluntary DSF, as mentioned in the WSIS Declaration of Principles.

The creation of the taskforce has been a direct result of the efforts of African nations who saw existing financial mechanisms as not being sufficient to bridge the digital divide. Hence, even though governments in WSIS noted that the mechanisms should be fully exploited, they have agreed to review their adequacy in meeting the challenges of ICT for development.

Asked if the Summit has been a disappointment in the sense that no specific measures are taken to immediately set up the Fund, Samassekou said, "When we started the WSIS process, it was even difficult to speak about the Fund. Now it is there and it is not going anywhere."

"We had very frank and heated discussions that put the emphasis on the need of the countries in the South which do not have the ICTs opportunity yet."

He said the current debate was not about whether the Fund should exist or not, but how it should be built and what mechanisms should be used to make it an effective body. He added that because the Fund is not for Africa alone but for the whole world, countries should reach consensus more easily.

The PrepCom president, who is also the minister of education in Mali, saw the main success of the Summit as being the creation of "new spirit of co-operation based on solidarity", adding that "Africa and its interest has been honoured for first time" in the form of an election of an African to lead the WSIS process.

As it currently stands, the plan of action looks at the Fund from the perspective of the Digital Solidarity Agenda, which calls on developed countries to make concrete efforts to fulfil their international commitments to financing development, including the Monterrey Consensus.

The Consensus urges rich countries to achieve the target of 0.7 per cent of gross national product (GNP) as Official Development Assistance (ODA) to developing countries and 0.15 to 0.20 per cent of GNP of developed countries to least developed countries.


African project gets one million Euros at Summit

By Haru Mutasa (Highway Africa News Agency)

December 12, 2003

The African-driven Digital Solidarity Fund (DSF) received a boost today after the city of Lyon in France injected 300 000 Euros for the development of Information Communication Technologies (ICTs) in developing countries.

This brings the total sum raised to one million Euros. The contribution will be added to the 500 000 dollars donated by the Senegalese government and the 500 000 Swiss francs from the city of Geneva. It is hoped the United Nations will put money into the fund.

Speaking at a meeting at the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) in Geneva, Senegalese Minister of Communications Mamadou Diop Decroix said: "We wanted to put our money where our mouth is. The fund is new and original. We felt the Summit should not be allowed to finish with the usual declarations and felt it important to come up with concrete plans of action."

The minister said the money will enable billions of men and women who are excluded from ICT activities to be included. This will create cultural diversity and help them engage actively in a globalised world as well as give them access to information.

The fund, proposed by President Abdoulaye Wade of Senegal, relies on voluntary contributions of members in the government, business and private sector and Diop Decroix called it a fund like no other. "No country will be forced to contribute and there will be no restrictions placed on countries that benefit from the fund," he said.

"It is wonderful that this initiative came from the South and not the North," said Diop Decroix. "We cannot wait for state leaders to agree on things before action starts happening. This project encourages cities and local governments to do more than just talk, but to work together and come up with workable solutions."

"This will facilitate a democratic process with all stakeholders from all corners of the world playing an active role in decision making processes," he said, adding that the management of this initiative will be different from anything seen before.


Summit agrees on critical issues

Wairagala Wakabi (Highway Africa News Agency)

December 12, 2003

World leaders have endorsed a plan under which modern communication technologies will be extended to the poor, and other efforts undertaken to bridge the digital divide between poor and rich countries.

A Plan of Action (POA) and Declaration from the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) tasks governments and donors with injecting more funds in making Information and Communication Technologies more accessible and affordable to the poor people particularly in developing countries.

The summit, which was hosted by the International Telecommunications Union and opened by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, was called to review the challenges posed by the information society and draw up mechanisms to make ICTs aid the development of world economies.

Organisers said the summit was the first UN event ever at which civil society organisations played an active role in drafting and debating the documents which were presented to heads of state for endorsement.

Business Interests

Business was also represented at the summit and the preparatory events leading up to the WSIS. The International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) led the formation of the Coordinating Committee of Business Interlocutors (CCBI), which was voice of the business at WSIS.

Richard McCormick, the Honorary Chair of ICC, said at the end of the summit that business was ready to make investments in creativity and innovation to enhance the information society. But to do so governments had to create the necessary conditions for investment.

"Among those conditions are intellectual property rights protection, stable and predictable legal systems, trade liberalisation, technology neutrality, and a regulatory framework which promotes competition and fosters entrepreneurship," he said.

Business also agreed that cables had to be laid, satellites used and computers distributed in order to raise access to ICTs. "As technologies spread and become more widely available, we are seeing the emergence of a younger generation who have ICTs and the Internet in their DNA," said McCormick. "It is our responsibility to ensure that this genetic streak becomes common to young people no matter where they are born in the world."

Internet Governance

McCormick said they were happy with the way the Internet is loosely governed through a loose collaboration of various technical bodies. They therefore opposed proposals by civil society organisations (CSOs) that its governance be made more democratic by involving government bodies, service providers and users around the world.

Opinion remained strongly divided on the issue. In the end the UN Secretary General was asked by the summit declaration committee to set up a working group on Internet governance, "in an open and inclusive process" that ensures a mechanism for the full and active participation of governments, the private sector and civil society from both developing and developed countries.

The group should include relevant intergovernmental and international organisations and forums, to investigate and make proposals for action on the governance of Internet by 2005.

The group should develop a working definition of Internet governance, identify the public policy issues that are relevant to Internet governance, and develop a common understanding of the respective roles and responsibilities of governments.

Consensus

The ITU said in a statement that through long and fraught negotiations involving governments, civil society and the private sector, consensus had been reached on several issues including Internet governance, intellectual property rights, the media, security, traditional knowledge, labour standards, and political issues.

It added that resolution of some issues remained sticky until the very end though. Such issues involved Internet governance and financing the final Draft Plan of Action. Work on those issues will continue next year and it is expected that they will be resolved at the second of WSIS in Tunisia in 2005.

Digital Solidarity Fund

Bates Namuyamba, Zambia's Communications Minister, said Africa was particularly affected by the digital divide, and called for a Digital Solidarity Fund to fund ICT development on the continent. Senegalese president Abdoulaye Wade was also an ardent supporter of the fund, but developed nations did not endorse it.

Open software

No consensus was reached on the issue of open software as an alternative to proprietary software. Civil society had wanted the summit to encourage adoption of open software but business representatives strongly rooted for proprietary software. Civil society argued that open software is cheap and can boost ICT use in developing countries.

Ultimately, the summit said access to information and knowledge can be promoted by increasing awareness among all stakeholders of the possibilities offered by different software models, including proprietary, open-source and free software, in order to increase competition, access by users, diversity of choice, and to enable all users to develop solutions which best meet their requirements. It added that affordable access to software should be considered as an important component of a truly inclusive Information Society.

Media

The declaration affirms the leaders' commitment to "the principles of freedom of the press and freedom of information, as well as those of the independence, pluralism and diversity of media, which are essential to the Information Society".

It adds: "Freedom to seek, receive, impart and use information for the creation, accumulation and dissemination of knowledge are important to the Information Society. We call for the responsible use and treatment of information by the media in accordance with the highest ethical and professional standards".

The declaration also says, "Nothing in this declaration shall be construed as impairing, contradicting, restricting or derogating from the provisions of the Charter of the United Nations and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, any other international instrument or national laws adopted in furtherance of these instruments".

The Plan encourages the media to continue to play an important role in the Information Society; and the development of domestic legislation that guarantees the independence and plurality of the media. It says, however, that appropriate steps consistent with freedom of expression should be taken to combat illegal and harmful content in the media.


Ghana calls for collective subscription to digital fund

By Angella Nabwowe (Highway Africa News Agency)

Ghanaian President John A. Kufuor has called on all nations to subscribe collectively to the Digital Solidarity Fund (DSF).

December 11, 2003

The DSF, proposed to finance Information Communication Technologies (ICTs) in Africa, was put on ice after government, industry and civil society leaders participating in the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) process failed to reach a consensus.

Addressing the second plenary meeting of the WSIS on Thursday morning, Kufuor said that the principle underlying such a fund should be that countries should contribute each according to its ability. He added that an administrative set up to regulate the proper functioning of the fund should be established. "I am of the view that this will be the indispensable social service for the efficient and sustainable evolution of the global village. I therefore support the call for a committee to work on the feasibility of the fund and its regulation," said Kufuor.

He noted that Ghana endorses the call for the establishment of the DSF to assist Least Developed Countries (LDCs) to harness the powerful potential of the latest technologies. The principle is that when the global village is a reality, this technology will be "the indispensable infrastructure for social, economic, security and other aspects of proper development", said Kufuor.

Addressing the same plenary session, Senegalese president Abdoulaye Wade, who has been championing the DSF idea through the WSIS process, said that several European proposals to finance ICT projects have already been received.

He said they have made considerable headway with regards to financing ICTs in the least developed countries. "Let's make no mistake about the operations we are proposing that would make Africa a partner to more than 800 million consumers. This can make it possible to reinforce the productive capacity of Africa and see to it that Africa will play a true role in international trade."

He added that with the advent of the information society, the fight against poverty and unemployment will be enormous.

He hailed African ministers responsible for ICTs in their respective countries who recently met in Dakar, Senegal, for rising up to the challenge of drafting a paper reflecting the African position, and for tabling it at the WSIS.


AfricaFocus Bulletin is a free independent electronic publication providing reposted commentary and analysis on African issues, with a particular focus on U.S. and international policies. AfricaFocus Bulletin is edited by William Minter.

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