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Africa: Digital Solidarity Gap, 1
Dec 15, 2003 (031215)
(Reposted from sources cited below)
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:
and the official conference website:
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.
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
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
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
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
"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
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
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
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
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
"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
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
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
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
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
"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."
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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