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Note: This document is from the archive of the Africa Policy E-Journal, published by the Africa Policy Information Center (APIC) from 1995 to 2001 and by Africa Action from 2001 to 2003. APIC was merged into Africa Action in 2001. Please note that many outdated links in this archived document may not work.

Africa: Development Forum

Africa: Development Forum
Date distributed (ymd): 991026
Document reposted by APIC

+++++++++++++++++++++Document Profile+++++++++++++++++++++

Region: Continent-Wide
Issue Areas: +economy/development+
Summary Contents:
This posting contains several press releases from the first African Development Forum taking place in Addis Ababa from October 24 through October 28, under the auspices of the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA).

The full text of all the speeches and statements delivered at the Forum are being made available on the ADF Home Page ( They will be supported by video and audio clips of keynote addresses and other major moments. This site also includes the programme, list of participants, theme papers and other relevant background documents. Press releases and summaries of key ADF goings-on will be sent out daily during the Forum, and will also be available on the Web.

+++++++++++++++++end profile++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

African Development Forum

For more information on the Forum, to interview participants, or to be added to the list for future ECA press releases, please contact:

Peter da Costa, Senior Communication Adviser
Economic Commission for Africa
P.O. Box 3001 Addis Ababa Ethiopia
Tel: +251-1-51 58 26 Fax: +251-1-51 03 65
Cell: +251-9-20 17 94
E-mail: or

Note: for those having e-mail but not having access to the web, web-to-email servers give the possibility to retrieve most web pages by e-mail. When a page is retrieved, it contains the web addresses (URLs) of links on that page. You can then send another message to retrieve additional pages, thus "surfing the web" without a direct web connection.

For example, to retrieve the ADF home page listed above, address an e-mail message to Leave the subject blank and in the message put only the one-line message:


For a list of other web-to-email servers, retrieve the Bellanet Web-to-Email page by sending the following message to


ECA Press Release No. 89/1999

Africa Needs a New Paradigm for
Development in the 21st Century

Speakers set the scene for the first African Development Forum by highlighting domestic private sector, science and technology, good governance and key requirements for a progressing Africa

Addis Ababa, 24 October 1999 (ECA) Speakers at the opening of the first African Development Forum (ADF) have emphasized the need for a new paradigm for the continent's development based on a vibrant domestic private sector, a strong state, cutting edge policy analysis, and good governance.

Delivering the opening statement at the Forum, Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi noted that the ongoing process of globalization would be a major determinant of the destinies of African countries. In that context, he warned: "If present conditions remain unaltered and the trend we see were to continue, then being more enmeshed within the globalized economy would only mean that by force of circumstances, Africa would be made to stay on the margins of the global economy." Adding that such an eventuality would lead to the growth of such extra-legal business activities as drug trafficking, he said the challenge of Africa should also be viewed as the challenge of members of the global village in general.

More than 600 experts from governments, the private sector, civil society, bilateral and multilateral organizations from both within and outside the continent are meeting here from 24 -- 28 October under the theme "The Challenge to Africa of Globalization and the Information Age".

The ADF marks the beginning of a process-oriented initiative led by the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) to position an African-driven development agenda that reflects a consensus among major partners and that leads to specific programmes for implementation at the country level. ADF is born out of the conviction that Africa cannot achieve sustainable development unless the policies, strategies and actions are designed, managed and owned by Africans themselves.

Prime Minister Meles offered two proposals that would enable Africa to benefit from the globalized economy. First, it had to develop a vibrant domestic private sector as a practical necessity. It appeared obvious, he stated, that "unless the domestic private sector leads the way with enthusiasm and confidence, it is unlikely for foreign investment to take part in our economies with any degree of effectiveness." Second, political stability and the rule of law could not be fostered without a clear role for a strong, robust state -- a role which is not incompatible with the need for states to be legitimate and democratic.

The Ethiopian leader then criticized the orthodoxy of the economic prescriptions of the international financial institutions, whose economic models had the effect of "weakening the state and of ensuring its emasculation". A radical change in Africa's development paradigm was needed as a condition for meaningful growth and development in the continent. This would necessitate "an overhaul of relations between the international financial institutions and the donor community on the one hand and Africa on the other".

In his opening remarks, UN Under-Secretary-General and ECA Executive Secretary K.Y, Amoako stressed that the most important issues facing Africa required a more ambitious approach to the policy process. Stressing the need for enhanced policy analysis and application in Africa, Mr. Amoako called for alliances and networking, as "no policy centre is big enough to know the whole picture" Policy experience must be shared, across sectors and across the boundaries of academia and policy circles. Successful experience must be marketed. And Africa must have "its own answers, its own policy dynamics -- just as is the case of every other region".

Policy analysis, noted Mr. Amoako, was a "growing business", involving leaders in all sectors. As such, the ADF represented "the diverse, rapidly growing policy community of Africa". The ADF, a mechanism with distinct style and operations, was " [ambitious] attempt to organize the African policy community, working in alliance, starting with the national experience and ending with national actions, and, over time, covering some of the most fundamental challenges facing Africa's policy makers."

Dr. Salim Ahmed Salim, Secretary-General of the Organization for African Unity (OAU), emphasized the linkage between governance and sustainable economic development. "Good governance and democracy or the respect for human rights cannot thrive on empty stomachs," he stressed. "Democracy must deliver on bread and butter issues, otherwise democratic transitions will be reversed and the continent will slide back into situations where the politics of poverty gives rise to the poverty of politics". While linkages between good governance and sustainable economic development might not necessarily be perfect guarantees for sustaining democracy and a culture of political tolerance, they were nevertheless "important thresholds in creating acceptable African norms and behaviour".

Ahmed Bahgat, Vice President (Finance and Planning) of the African Development Bank (ADB) delivered a statement on behalf of ADB President Omar Kabbaj, which focused on the prospects that information technology afforded African development, and the role of the Bank in enabling Africa's entry into the global information society.

Also attending the Forum was Ms. Louise Frechette, Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations. In her brief remarks, and speaking on the last UN Day of the 20th century, Ms. Frechette noted that at a time when the world's population was about to reach 6 billion, nearly half of that number would enter the new millennium in abject poverty. Violence, brutality and discrimination as well as negative climactic change were also threats to survival. In this context, the challenge was to make the next century "more secure, more equitable and more human". Towards this end, the process of strengthening the United Nations needed to continue.

Ms. Frechette is due to deliver a keynote address on the theme of the conference at the first plenary of the Forum tomorrow morning (Monday 24 October). Also scheduled to speak at the plenary are Mr. Amoako, Noah Samara, CEO of WorldSpace Corporation, Leonard Robinson, President of the National Summit on Africa.

The issue of globalization and the information age has been chosen for the inaugural ADF because of the importance of defining African-owned and African-led strategies to engage with the global information economy. ECA has long advocated a development-serving information superhighway in the context of the African Information Society Initiative (AISI), which it is implementing along with a wide range of partners.

The Forum will address four substantive themes:

  • Strengthening Africa's information infrastructure
  • Africa and the information economy
  • Information and communication technologies for improved governance
  • Democratizing access to the information society

Expected concrete outcomes from the Forum include:

  • Up-to-date National Information and Communication Infrastructure (NICI) plans
  • Enhanced synergy among the stakeholders who design and/or implement country work programmes;
  • Development of concrete follow-up action plans for the Post-Forum Summit Dialogue, NICI and regional levels, for ICT partners, and for ECA;
  • Preparation of the African position for major global decision-making forums, including the GK II conference (Malaysia, March 2000) and the ITU World conference on the Information Society.

ADF Panel Summary No. 1 --
"Progress towards the African Information Age"

11:00 -- 13:00 hrs, Monday 25 October 1999

Chair: Zephirin Diabre, Associate Administrator, UNDP

Presenter: Karima Bounemra Ben Soltane,
Director, Development Information Services Division, ECA

H.E. Justin Malewezi, Vice President of Malawi; Ingo Fehrmann, Vice President, Middle East and Africa, Siemens AG; Robert Valantin, Senior Advisor, International Development Research Centre, Canada; M. Yaovi Hounkponou, Director, Benin Press Agency;


This presentation aimed to set the scene for the rest of the work of the conference by:

  • briefing participants on the African Information Society Initiative (AISI);
  • stressing the importance of national information and communication policy processes;
  • introducing the four themes


Panel chair Zephirin Diabre of UNDP, endorsed the goals of the Forum and affirmed that UNDP was committed and ready to participate actively in bringing about an African Information Age. In her presentation, Karima Bounemra Ben Soltane of ECA summarized the activities of the African Information Society Initiative (AISI) over the past three years and detailed plans and strategies for the future. She underscored the need to move from the global vision and universal model to designing and implementing flexible and workable plans at the national level. National Information and Communications Infrastructure plans (NICIs) would vary from country to country but faced similar variables in terms of lead organizations, the participatory involvement of all stakeholders, compatibility with national development agendas and needs and clear sector applications. She also urged sensitivity to the gender dimension, full participation of the youth, a strong role for the media and the academic community, involvement of the African Diaspora and of African "think-tank" intellectual elites, as well as public/private sector partnerships.

H.E. Justin Malewezi of Malawi agreed that Government had an important, enabling role to play in building a national IT policy framework and infrastructure, and in extending popular access, especially in public and academic institutions. He acknowledged the role that ICTs were playing in Southern Africa in fostering regional integration, public policy development and public interaction, and he supported the establishment of telecentres and other types of shared computer and expertise pools. He urged that tariffs on telecommunications equipment be removed, as in the case of Ghana, and noted that, since levels of Internet access in Africa were as low as 2 per cent, traditional communications such as radio, television, telephone, print media in local languages and even all-weather roads should not be neglected.

Ingo Fehrmann of Siemens pointed out that Internet access in Africa cost 7 times more than in the U.S. Despite this, and in light of the fact that costs were coming down, access offered unlimited opportunities to public and private sectors for revenues and profits, besides such sectoral benefits as distance learning and telemedicine. As a starting point, customer groups and centres of competence needed to be identified and expanded.

IDRC's Robert Valentin noted that technology capability was even more unequally distributed globally than capital. Africa needed reduced transmission costs but much capital could come from the private sector, given incentives and a positive regulatory environment. He said that ICT access and use was not just a matter of efficiency gains but of an information technology revolution that was demanding attitudinal and technological transformation to face the new millennium.

Yaovi Hounkponou of Benin said Africa's information gap could be utilized positively in terms of utilizing research findings, appropriate content development and accessing resources. The late arrival on the scene should carry a positive force to create new attitudes and perspectives, overcome obstacles and create new markets and employment opportunities.

In the floor discussion that followed, the need to train and retain human resources was noted, given the shortage of trained personnel and the brain drain problem in Africa. It was suggested that the brain drain could become a "brain gain" if the expertise and other resources among Africans abroad, including Diaspora Africans, could be tapped. Government/private sector/civil society partnerships were advanced as a means to solve the financial constraints. Another key recommendation was that the World Bank and other aid institutions should change existing policies and help Africa to gain ICT infrastructural capacity. The monopolistic control of many African Governments over IT policy, infrastructure and services was seen as a virtual stranglehold on the industry. Tariffs in Africa were some of the highest in the world and liberalization and privatization were urged.

ADF Panel Summary No. 5 -
Democratizing Access to the Information Society (Theme 4)

16:30 - 18:00, Monday 25 October 1999

Chair: Shuller Habeenzu, Director, Zamnet, Zambia;
Presenter: Aida Opoku-Mensah, Ford Foundation, Nigeria;

Panel: H.E. Arnaldo Valenti Nhavato, Minister of Education, Mozambique; Anriette Esterhuysen, Sangonet, South Africa; Ernest Wilson, Director, Centre for International Development and Conflict Resolution, University of Maryland, USA; Lalla Ben Barka, Deputy Executive Secretary, ECA, Ethiopia.

Objective: This presentation aimed to:

  • provide an overview of how Africa is meeting ICT needs of different social sector: women, youth, rural and urban poor;
  • present opportunities for expanding access through applications that meet social needs: food, health, education, access to income, and governance;
  • bring out challenges for access, use and content;
  • point out successes in extending access, in Africa and elsewhere


The discussions focused on the right to communicate as the very heart of the issue of access to the information society. There was consensus on the need for visionary governments to drive and lead the quantum leap into the information age as well as visionary leadership in civil society and the private sector.

It was pointed out that policies are still being developed behind closed doors, with little or no popular participation in the formulation of policies and that increased effective access to policy making institutions such as WTO (as opposed to simple formal access) is imperative.

Despite the political will in many African countries to increase universal access toward benefiting the social sector, the requisite resources necessary to make it a reality remain a fundamental challenge.

There was consensus around the following:

  • Access to the information society is increasingly bottom-up, demand-driven;
  • The information revolution is not primarily about technology, but one that is political and institutional;
  • Reducing the increasing technological and knowledge gap is only possible by opening the rules of the game, and increasing democracy to enable civil society participation in defining the policies;
  • There is need to move toward increased access to the institutions that determine the rules.
  • The expertise being developed by the youth needs to be harnessed;
  • Money or technology will not lead Africa into the future, it is visionary leadership with constituencies that support that vision, leadership at all levels of government, civil society and the private sector that will make access possible;
  • There is need to look at democratic best practices that have resulted in increased access;
  • It is largely a matter of choice to democratize or not to democratize access.

The issue of profiling failures as learning experiences across the board was raised, particularly in light of mushrooming telecentres. Democratizing access must be based on a combination of different types of technologies.

This material is being reposted for wider distribution by the Africa Policy Information Center (APIC). APIC's primary objective is to widen the policy debate in the United States around African issues and the U.S. role in Africa, by concentrating on providing accessible policy-relevant information and analysis usable by a wide range of groups and individuals.

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