Wednesday, June 15, 2005

WSIS - Mapping Africa' s role in developing an all inclusive Information Society

WSIS - Mapping  Africa' s role in developing an all inclusive Information Society


From 2 to 4  February 2005, the city of Accra in Ghana  was the host of the African region meeting  organised as part of the preparatory activities for  the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), which will be held  in Tunisiain November 2005. Kwami Ahiabenu, II spoke to Aida Opoku Mensah the Team leader, Promoting ICT for Development at before the Accra meeting. See interview below :

  1. Why is the  attempt at creating an information society very important in our world  today?
The advent of the Information society is dramaticaly changing the way in which we live and work nationally and more profoundly globally. It is because of the Information revolution that globalisation has come to stay and is so pervasive in our affairs today. Predominantly the need 'information world order' is being driven and transformed by digitised  information and communication flows within various sectors of sociery which has given way to new ways of organising sociery and of production. This is what is making the Information Society a central issue for development in the developing world and is seen as an enabler for greater economic development by poorer countries.
2. What was the  key achievement of Africain the first phase  of the WSIS process?
 I think African achievements are significant. For a start Africa was the only region of the world that went to the first phase of WSIS with a regional framework in the form of the African Information Society Initiative, developed way back in 1996 upon the request of African leaders to ECA and it remains a unique initiative - one of a kind. Even in 1996 the issues that were raised as pertinent to Africa under AISI are today enshrined in the WSIS Action Plan in 2003, so again the issues had already been flagged by Africa. Another key achievement, though still controversial is the Digital Solidarity Fund led by Senegal and President Wade. It is a means for Africa to highlight the importance of financing the Information Society given that there is quite a lot of financing to be done if the continent had to catch up, even if you take infrastructural development alone it will cost billions so this is an important consideration and the Fund should be used to address this aspect. African political leaders came to Geneva to pledge their commitment to ICT4D in their countries, incluidng Presidents Paul Kagame of Rwanda, Olusegun Obansanjo of Nigeria, Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe and Joachim Chissano of Mozambique as well as John Kufour of Ghana. Africa registered a high level turnout.
3. What  is the role of UNECA in the WSIS process?
After Geneva, the UN Regional Commissions were mandated to lead the Tunis phase of the WSIS process as they had done during the first phase. As such the ECA's sister Commissions such as the Economic and Social Commission for West Asia (ESCWA) held its regional Arab conference in Damascus, in collaboration with the Government of Syria, for instance. So, ECA's role is to coordinate and ensure Africa's effective participation in the WSIS process and by that we mean all stakeholders: CSOs, Media, Academia, Women's groups, Private Sector as well as Governments. We are for instance supporting a Africa WSIS CSO Caucus Group made up of various organisations throughout the continent. We launched in December 2003 in Geneva during the first WSIS an Academia Research Network made up of academics researching on key themes and issues that came out of the Action Plan. So far we have 4 thematic research networks on: 'Enabling Environment/Legal Issues on Cyberlaws etc", "Indicators", "Indsutrialisation" and "African Languages in Cyberspace" led by leading African academics who will be coming to Accra to share during the Academia forum their work and experiences.
4. What the key issues Africamust discuss at Accra 2005?  
The 6 themes of the conference are all key issues for Africa. Internet Governance is a new area for the continent but it needs further attention from African policymakers and stakeholders. IF Africa is to benefit or even be threatened from the Internet and its resources then it must have a say on how the Internet is governed, it must be a stakeholder as well. Governments must therefore give support to the African Internet organisations and associations that are emerging such as Afrinic and Afrinog.
5.Who are the key personalities involved in the  WSIS process on the Africacontinent?  
I don't think we should talk in terms of personalities. The WSIS process is a broad-based process encompassing all stakeholders. What I am seeing is that champions are emerging within various stakeholders but all in all, the Information Society affects everyone and so each and every one of us is a player, including those whose access is limited. I think each country has its own WSIS group of people who are leading the process from a national perspective which is also important because there should be some main actors who can mobilise stakeholders at the national level.
6.What are the  key expected outcomes of Accra 2005?
More commitment from African Governments towards Information Society Initiatives including taking bold steps to promote access to rural areas. So far, not a lot of Government funds have gone into national activities and this should be stepped up. So apart from national commitments, there has to be concerted efforts by regional economic communities to establish Information Society programmes that can accelerate economic integrations. Again this needs more political commitment to that and an increase in regional or sub-regional activities. For instance, West Africa can become a very ICT strong market for investment if policies and laws were harmonised, with common standards and tariffs which is something ECOWAS could lead. More integration of ICTs into socio-economic sectors of the economy to facilitate economic growith and create more wealth.


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