Friday, November 18, 2005

ITS UNITY OR NEVER FOR AFRICA

BY REBECCA
African governments, private sector and civil society organizations have pledged to form an unprecedented alliance to ensure that the continent establishes a full fledged internet industry.

Delegates attending the World Summit on Information Society (WSIS) have promised to co-operate and oil the engine of development in Africa and implement the Tunis commitment and Plan of Action.

Theophilius Mlaki head of Information and Documentation at Tanzania Commission for Science and Technology said there was need for the government to enter into strategic partnerships in order to fully and quickly implement the Plan of Action.

“We know the challenges, strengths and fruits of working together. It is the only way to develop Africa,” said Mlaki.

After Tunis, Mlaki says the government will implement the research it has already conducted and liaise with the private sector and civil society organisations to implement research findings and educate the public on ICTs.

One of the findings is that ICT development can be incorporated with other spheres of development such as water provision, agriculture, and health and road construction.

To illustrate his point, he said the government has collaborated with the Chinese in a water project where the pipes are dug, fitted and a fibre optic cable laid at the same time. The 100-kilometre water pipe system between Wami and Challenge in Coast region is the highlight of what alliances can achieve.

Pierre Dandjinou, Chairman of AfriNIC board, admits there is need for concerted efforts adding that every sector must play its role. AfriNIC is the Regional Internet Registry (RIR) tasked with providing Internet Protocol (IP) addresses.

He said African governments must play regulatory role and provide enabling environment for businesses to thrive and private sector as well as civil society must collaborate in research and innovation.

“Today, Africa is merely a consumer of internet business. We need to start an industry and all players must be involved,” said Dandjinou.

If internet business thrives in Africa, then AfriNIC will offer requisite addresses and support, communities will be connected and jobs will be available for many people who may be currently unemployed.

In this respect, Dandjinou says different regions can network and exchange ideas and governments can make relevant policies and make budgetary allocations for telecommunication development.

On the same breath, the Sudanese government used the summit as a forum to attract multinational companies and government agencies interested in investing in the south of the country that has experienced civil war for 20 years.

Khateeb Dafi, Secretary General in the ministry of Information and Communication said the government has a subcommittee that is going to meet and assign responsibilities according to the Plan of Action.

According to Dafi, the largest country in Africa has laid a 100-kilometre fibre optic cable in conjunction with Sentech of South Africa and has four telephone providers, two for mobile and two for fixed line.

“The summit has been a success for us, we made contact with companies from Italy, Spain and Malaysia and we are hoping to finalise a deal to establish radio stations across Sudan,” said Dafi.

In Benin, all participants from private and public sector are planning to meet and chart the way forward in implementing the Plan of Action. Kouferidji Ramanou, Director General of Groupe Africoncept Broadcast Telecom S.A said the Action Plan had a lot of challenges and success stories that can be replicated in the West African nation.

Dorothy Okello, Executive Director of Women of Uganda Network (WOUGNET) emphasized the need for public and public sectors to work together and for more money to be channeled to implementation of the plan.

“We have all been working on our projects in respective countries. We can no longer work in isolation. We have to unite, share lessons and way forward in implementing commitments made in Tunis,” she said.
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Thursday, November 17, 2005

WSIS RISKS LOSING MOMENTUM

BY REBECCA

The World Summit on Information Society (WSIS) risks losing its momentum unless proper implementation and commitment is assigned to various actors, Africa Civil Society Organisations claim.

The group of Non Governmental Organisations from all over Africa has labelled the Tunis phase of the summit as a flop and a recipe for in action if participating governments do not inject a fresh dose of commitment to ensure commitments made in Geneva two years ago are implemented.

Nnenna Nwakanma, a member of the African civil society caucus says she believed the summit was going to be a solution to commitments made and promises made in Geneva. She also thought the summit was going to determine the responsibilities of various players since problems were diagnosed in Geneva.

“The content is a failure and big disappointment for Africa’s desire at WSIS. It was not an engagement forum, we have participated in a political process and not a process committed to building access to ICTs,” said Nnenna.

In the absence of such commitment, Nnenna argues it would be hard to bridge the digital divide and ensure access.

“This second phase has no renewed commitment and the follow-up is less than clear. Someone has to take the initiative to save it from losing momentum,” says the ICT consultant.

At the same time, Nnenna says the meeting lacks a clear way forward and participants may have to attend another meeting to define mandate and assign responsibilities to various participating entities.

Besides, Nnenna feels that too much money has been spent in organising the summit yet it discussed mainly issues to do with Internet governance and financing.

In this respect, Khaled Fattal the chairman of the Multilingual Internet names Consortium argues that the biggest losers are the communities whose languages are not even used on the internet.

“We wanted action not compromise. People are expecting action not talk. If people are hungry, give them food not consultation, if they have no access, connect them, do not call for dialogue,” says Fattal.
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Wednesday, November 16, 2005

TRANSLATING COMMITMENTS TO ACTION-WSIS

By Rebecca Wanjiku

It was a breath taking moment as more than 100 Cameras rolled at the same time and a crowd of about a thousand delegates rose in unison and applauded.

It was the official opening ceremony of the World Summit on Information Society (WSIS) and the host - Tunisian president Ben Ali walked into the plenary hall accompanied by United Nations Secretary General Koffi Annan, ITU secretary General Yoshio Utsumi, president of the preparatory committee Janis Karklin, Swiss president Samuel Schmid, Nobel Laureate Shirin Ebadi and Craig Barrett from Intel Corporation:

As they took their seats, the giant television screens and state of the art cameras captured every moment and the security detail, which is trademark in such meetings ensured that everyone took their place.

There were no traditional dancers, no camel dancing or children singing their tunes, here there were men and women, dressed in suits, traditional wear and holding on to their laptops, camera phones and other communication gadgets.

The civilian-dressed security officers formed a single file signifying the difference in seating arrangements. The observers were not allowed to sit with the government delegates and another file equally kept off the photojournalists.

Most participants were locked out of the plenary hall as the organizers directed that only four members per delegation were allowed in and observer badges were given to organizations. There are 150 countries represented at the meeting.

It was time for the host president to welcome the delegates.

A confident looking Ali heaped praise to the host country and to ITU for accepting the proposal to hold WSIS “in this beautiful and ancient land of dialogue and tolerance”. The participants listened keenly.


After underlining the historical significance of holding the summit in Tunisia, he invited the UN Secretary General to address the gathering.

When he rose to the podium, he was as calm as always, did not read any speech but spoke from his heart. His emphasis on moving from dialogue to deeds and the movement of his hands demonstrated the confidence he had that both the government and private sector were capable of bridging the digital divide.

The ability to bridge the digital divide was also stressed by the Swiss president who got special attention from the floor when he said it “is unacceptable that some UN members still imprison those who criticize their governments.” The clapping grew louder when he insisted that freedom of expression and information should be the central themes of WSIS.

His speech was a milder version of what Shirin Ebadi had to say.

The Iranian lawyer made a stinging attack on government that set aside huge military budgets yet complain about digital divide and the heads of government that start the own NGOs then send them as representatives to such meetings.

But the ovation greeted her when she demanded liberation of prisoners of conscience and for an end to filtering of certain internet sites that some governments forbid their subjects from visiting. She was speaking on behalf of Civil Society.

After an hour of marathon speech, six African heads of government were given a chance to address the meeting. It was a time for them to recite their gains as well as challenges in bridging the digital divide.
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Tuesday, November 15, 2005

COVERING WSIS: MY EXPERIENCE

COVERING WSIS: MY EXPERIENCE
The birth….

I was overjoyed when I got a chance to attend the WSIS preparatory committee meeting in Geneva, (September 2003). To me, being on the Highway Africa team was a break that I was waiting for and I am not disappointed.

It was my first time to a PrepCom, first time I was out as a team of pan African journalists and was the first time I was in Geneva, the fabled city that everyone dreams to visit, if you have enough money.

My mother tells me that I have always been assertive and that I do not easily yield to challenges. I must admit she was right, as she always is.

My excitement was still there but I struggled to get a story. I could not understand the issues well. Though there was a mountain of documentation, it was not easily digestible and was making news per se.

But I was in good hands, Steve Lang, a veteran journalist had accompanied Emrakeb Assefa and I. Granted the conferences he has covered and his wealth of experience, we were able to pick his brains.

Soon I learnt that the best way to get a story is mill around the Civil Society, and government delegations, who are the main participants. Usually the role of CS is to propose changes and the governments to oppose alter or ignore the CS contributions.

The easiest way to get to governments is through your country delegations and in the Kenyan team, I had Wangusi and Mercy. I had people who I could converse in Swahili and my mother tongue- Kikuyu.

Thanks to Wangusi who chaired the internet governance group, I found my bearing and began to understand the dynamics. He explained to me the whole politics of the internet and the selfish interests that underlie the intergovernmental negotiations. At this time, issues of internet governance and financing were shaping up, and I am glad HANA was there to chronicle these important moment.

I could tell that Mercy and Wangusi were happy to take me through the rigors of PrepCom. Though I was asking obvious questions, they happily answered, and for that, I am grateful. Of course they recited the usual poem about the myopia that Kenyan journalism is and decried the lack of sufficient analytical rigor on issues of ICT policy and implementation.

At that time, I was the emblem of ignorance among journalists and was given a chance to prove whether their poem had some basis. At the time, I was guilty of the charges of ignorance and myopia as far as ICT is concerned, but not anymore.
So, the birth of my ICT understanding and writing had several mid wives…..

Watch out for the next piece
Becky.

ICT JOURNALIST

ICT JOURNALIST

POOR AFRICA CHOOSES TO BE LUKEWARM AT WSIS

AFRICA IS LUKEWARM AT WSIS
By Rebecca

African governments will not back a decision to wrestle control of the Internet from the US government right now, African ministers attending the World Summit on Information Society (WSIS) have resolved.

“Africa appreciates the investment put into Internet development by the US government. We would want this to be an evolutionary and not a revolutionary process,” said A. Kan-Dapaah, the chair of the Inter-ministerial committee.

According to Dapaah, who is also the communication minister in Ghana, Africa has adopted a middle ground between the two sides taken by most representatives attending the summit in Tunis.

The issue of internet governance has highly polarized governments attending the summit. One group feels that its time the US loosened its grip on control of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) while the other questions why a smooth running organization should be taken over.

Whilst Africa appreciates that the Internet has been running smoothly, Dapaah underscores the need for a more democratic, multi stakeholder institution where more governments are represented.

In this regard, Dapaah argues that the evolutionary process adopted by African governments will all representatives to explore and recommend the way forward regarding internet governance.

The other thorny issue related to finance mechanism and Africa is comfortable with the establishment of the Digital Solidarity Fund (DSF) secretariat based in Switzerland.

Asked about the way forward for the fund, Dapaah insisted that the secretariat will be given a chance to make a presentation on how the fund should be managed.

“We have not finalized on implementation mechanisms. The secretariat will be given a chance to make their presentation because there are differences between the developed and developing countries,” added Dapaah.

Africa has also grappled with the role of private sector and how to strike a cord regarding development. The private sector has been identified as a partner in bridging the digital divide but the vision is still blurred.

Among the issues under discussion is how to engineer development in areas that may not offer incentives to private companies.

In this respect, the minister argues that most urban areas that promise profit to private companies have been attended to but the poor, rural areas that offer no incentives have been neglected.

“In the past, we used to depend on the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, now the money has dried up. How do we convince the private sector to invest in rural areas that may not bring in profits?” Dapaah posed.

The idea of taking a common position was mooted by South Africa just before the Geneva phase of the summit in 2003. South African Department of Communication (DOC) called a meeting on WSIS and it was discovered that African voices were fragmented.

African governments were invited to forge a common position just like other regions. The European Union, Arab group, Latin America and Oceania speak with one voice at the summit.
Ends

Tuesday, September 13, 2005