Tuesday, November 15, 2005

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

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