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Twin Peaks: WSIS from Geneva to Tunis

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Twin Peaks: WSIS from Geneva to Tunis
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  TWIN PEAKS: WSIS FROM GENEVA TO TUNIS Whither Africa in the Information Society? Aida Opoku-Mensah Abstract / This article looks at the emergence of ICT for development activities in Africa with theadvent of the African Information Society Initiative (AISI), which is an action framework led bythe UN Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) to address digital divide issues on the continent.The discussion is presented in the context of Africa’s subsequent participation in the WSIS process,with the preparatory meeting held in Bamako, Mali in May 2002. Developmental concerns werecentral to the debates raised at the meeting and remained central in deliberations in Geneva. Thearticle analyses Africa’s participation and considers the gains resulting from the Summit andexplores the prospects for implementation of the Plan of Action at country level. Furthermore, thearticle looks ahead to Tunis 2005 with proposals as to what the relevant considerations should be. Keywords / Africa / AISI / ICTs / information society / WSIS Overview The advent of the information society through the introduction of informationand communication technologies (ICTs) over the last decade has broughtdramatic improvement and opened up opportunities for many African coun-tries. Despite having one of the weakest communication infrastructures in theworld by most standards, there is now greater access by citizens to informationthan ever before.Liberalization of the telecommunication sector as a result of economicreforms attracted private sector participation in the delivery of valued-addedservices. The last 10 years have seen dramatic improvements in Africa’s ICTsector. Internet users have, within a decade, surpassed 5 million users. In lessthan 10 years, the number of internet hosts increased from a mere 28,000 toover 280,000 in 2001. Mobile services have outpaced fixed telephones (ECA,2003(a): 1). In 1997–9, the number of landline users in Uganda inched upfrom 54,000 to 59,000. Over the same period and with the introduction of competition, the number of mobile users exploded from 7000 to 87,000 ( The Economist  , 2001: 9).Furthermore, through the African Information Society Initiative (AISI), ledby the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), a fully-fledged ICT forDevelopment programme was put in place to support emerging activities inAfrican countries. GAZETTE: THE INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL FOR COMMUNICATION STUDIESCOPYRIGHT © 2004 SAGE PUBLICATIONSLONDON, THOUSAND OAKS & NEW DELHI 0016-5492 VOL 66(3–4): 253–273DOI: 10.1177/0016549204043610www.sagepublications.com  The African Information Society Initiative The process of developing an African vision for the information age began inApril 1995 with the African Regional Symposium on Telematics for Develop-ment organized by ECA, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU),the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization(UNESCO) and the International Development Research Centre (IDRC). Thisevent brought together some 300 information technology experts, seniorgovernment officials and private sector leaders from over 50 countries andresulted in further conceptualizing an African information infrastructure.In May 1995 the 21st meeting of the ECA Conference of Ministers, whichconsists of the 53 African ministers of social and economic development andplanning, adopted Resolution 795 (XXX) titled ‘Building Africa’s InformationHighway’. In response to this resolution, ECA appointed a High-Level WorkingGroup on Information and Communications Technologies in Africa to draft anaction framework to utilize ICTs to accelerate the socioeconomic developmentof Africa and its people.The High-Level Working Group consisted of 11 experts on informationtechnology in Africa. The group met in Cairo, Dakar and Addis Ababa andcommunicated further by electronic mail. This resulted in ‘Africa’s InformationSociety Initiative (AISI): An Action Framework to Build Africa’s Informationand Communication Infrastructure’. The document was submitted to the 22ndmeeting of the ECA Conference of Ministers in May 1996 and adopted by Res-olution 812 (XXXI) titled ‘Implementation of the African Information SocietyInitiative’. This initiative is currently supporting and accelerating socio-economic development across the region. Driven by critical developmentimperatives, it focuses on priority strategies, programmes and projects, whichcan assist in the sustainable build-up of an information society in African coun-tries.The four major development goals that were articulated by African leadersthat formed the basis for AISI were:•Improvement of the quality of life for every African;•Economic integration of the region;•Improved trade and other linkages with the global community;•Utilization of information technology by all AfricansTo achieve the strategic objectives of the AISI each member state needed toconsider ways of making the following actions an integral part of their nationalplans and programmes (ECA, 1996: 4):•Develop a master plan for building national information and telecommuni-cation infrastructures and a two- to five-year plan for implementation;•Establish strong regulatory bodies independent from operators and theirministries, to stimulate and regulate public–private sector partnerships andreview fiscal policies (such as tariffs, duties and licence fees); 254GAZETTE VOL. 66 NOS 3–4  •Eliminate or drastically reduce import tariffs, taxes and other legal barriersto the use of ICTs;•Establish an enabling environment to foster the development of informationand communications in society, including measures which energize theprivate sector to play a leading market role in the provision of services andin the human resource development needed to use them effectively;•Implement a policy for using ICTs in government services and developnational databases in all key sectors of the economy and national adminis-tration;•Conduct needs analysis to determine requirements and set up informationand communication services in key sectors of national priority, especiallyeducation, health, employment, culture, environment, trade, finance, tourismand transport.•Identify and develop IT applications in areas with the highest impact onsocioeconomic development at the national level;•Take immediate steps to facilitate the establishment of locally based, low-cost and widely accessible Internet services and indigenous African content;•Prepare and adopt plans to develop human resources in ICTs;•Adopt policies and strategies to increase access to information and com-munication facilities, with priorities in serving the rural areas, grassroots andother disenfranchised groups, in particular, women and youth;•Make special efforts to create awareness among those unfamiliar with poten-tial benefits of the African information infrastructure, with particular atten-tion to gender equity.At the continental level, the New Partnership for Africa’s Development(NEPAD) framework has identified ICT-related projects and initiatives to speedup subregional and regional connectivity and interconnectivity plans. NEPADaims to strengthen the Regional Economic Communities (RECs), whose roleshould be to coordinate national efforts and harmonize national regulatoryframeworks across the subregions. AISI is the framework for co-ordinating thesupport that United Nations agencies provide to NEPAD. AISI also serves as amechanism for achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in Africa.Seven among the eight MDGs are contained in the AISI framework document.The impact of AISIhas been the increase in numbers of African countriesdeveloping national e-policies known as the National Information and Com-munication Infrastructure Plan (NICI). NICIs relate to regulations, enablingenvironment and procedures that may lead to development of NICI activities.NICI also encompasses development of human resources in the public/privateand civil society sectors engaged in building infrastructure; creating appli-cations and value-added services; carrying out training programmes andtraining users; acquiring and selling equipment as well as providing internetand other ICT services. Further, the developers, administrators, users and thepopulation at large are an integral part of the NICI process and should beinvolved in its development from the beginning.The success in implementing e-policies is evident in that the number of countries with ICT policies increased from 13 in 2000 to 16 in 2002, while OPOKU-MENSAH: TWIN PEAKS255  countries in the process of developing a policy jumped from 10 in 2000 to 21in 2002. Thus, as shown in Figure 1, the number of countries without a planwas reduced from 30 to 16 in 2002.This background contextualizes Africa’s position with respect to buildingan information society and the kind of steps being taken by various countriesto attain ICT4D (Information and Communication Technologies for Develop-ment) goals.Against this backdrop, involvement in the WSIS process and subsequentlyin the Summit itself was a natural progression from what is currently beingimplemented on the ground. The Regional Preparatory Conference for theWSIS gave a unique opportunity to renew the commitment of member statesand bilateral and multilateral development partners of Africa to the realizationof the visions enshrined in the AISI. The Road to Geneva: First Stop – Bamako In preparation for the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), theAfrican Regional Conference was convened in Bamako, Mali, 26–30 May 2002.The conference was organized by ECA in collaboration with the government of Mali with support from key development partners. Participants were represen-tatives of 51 African countries, and people representing African and globalorganizations, the private sector and civil society.Fourteen pre-conference workshops were organized as follows:•Local initiatives;•NICI strategies;•African languages and the internet; 256GAZETTE VOL. 66 NOS 3–4 20022000 Countries with policyCountries in the processof developing a policyCountries where there isno policy developmentprocess 161613103021 FIGURE 1Development of a National ICT Policy in African Countries  •Media and an ICT forum;•Gender and ICTs;•Cultural diversity and knowledge ownership;•African NGO consultation;•Review and appraisal of ICT impact: the Scan-ICT Project;•Private sector forum;•Free software: the stakes for Africa;•Law and the web;•Local communities and ICTs;•Training of least developed countries (LDCs) for their participation in WSISactivities;•The national strategy of Mali.The conference, dubbed Bamako 2002, was based on four main workshops:•What the information society brings to Africa;•What Africa brings to the information society;•What Africa wants to preserve in the information society;•How Africa can benefit from the information society: round-table on thedigital divide.Bamako 2002 undertook the following tasks:•Conduct a regional assessment of the relevant challenges, opportunities andconstraints faced by the region and resulting from global developments inthe information society.•Confirm the vision for an information-based society in the region and astrategy to achieve that vision.•Establish a platform for dialogue and contributions that includes all majorstakeholders.•Share experiences and provide an opportunity to forge a better understand-ing of the concerns of the countries in the region, to prepare their positionsand to identify the key themes for the Summit.•Identify existing initiatives and networks in the regions and assess examplesof best practices.•Consider new initiatives and commitments within the region and its subre-gions with a view to overcoming the prevailing constraints and fosteringfurther progress towards achieving the vision of an information society.•Prepare contributions for consideration by the ensuing PrepComs.The Bamako Declaration on WSIS is reproduced in Figure 2. OPOKU-MENSAH: TWIN PEAKS257
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