CHAKULA Issue # 4: 'Addis 2002: Where to from now?'

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CHAKULA
Africa ICT Policy Monitor newsletter from the APC
Issue No. 4, December 2002: ‘Addis 2002: Where to from now?’

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Contents:

1. The right to communicate campaign in full swing!
2. Open Source Dawns in Africa
3. The Right to Communicate: A Fundamental Human Right
4. African ICT policy reports now available at http://africa.rights.apc.org!

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1. The right to communicate campaign in full swing!

It has been just over a month since a team of activists met in Addis Ababa to discuss the need for African civil society organisations (CSOs) to become engaged in the ICT policy-making process. Since then, the great momentum from the meeting has been sustained by various initiatives and activities including:

  • The formation of the ‘Open Source Task Force for Africa – OSTA
  • Expressions of interest and conversations between meeting organiser, the Association for Progressive Communications (APC), and various civil society organisations on moving forward with the development of an ICT policy training for civil society curriculum
  • Debates on issues which arose at the workshop including NEPAD (the New Partnership for Africa’s Development) on various mailing lists
  • The development of a website section as the central hub for continuing communication and information sharing initiated at the workshop

This month’s edition of Chakula ­ which means ‘food’ in Swahili – focuses on the key developments that have occurred as a result of last month’s workshop as we look forward towards 2003 and beyond in developing action plans around the Resolution of the Addis Meeting – English, and French. The final workshop report and evaluation is currently being completed and will be available soon on http://africa.rights.apc.org.

World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) and the “Right to Communicate” Campaign

The “Right to Communicate” campaign ­ led by Article19, the APC, and MISA (Media Institute of Southern Africa) – is now in full swing, with a number of key activities planned for the weeks leading up to the second WSIS preparatory conference (known as PrepCom2) in Geneva next year (17-28 February 2003). Civil society organisations have been meeting with their countries’ official WSIS delegation in the run-up to the event in order to contribute to each Minister of Foreign Affair’s Action Plan to be presented to WSIS organisers, the International Telecommunications Union. At the Addis workshop, civil society organisations agreed to communicate as much as possible with official national delegations in order to have the greatest impact on the vision for an equitable Information Society.

Contact: Peter Benjamin peterb@apc.org or Emmanuel Njenga njenga@apc.org for more information about how your organisation can become involved.

Lively Post-meeting Discussion

Workshop participants (and others who couldn’t make the event) are using? used two email lists (AfroCN, the African Community Network – and the AISI, African Information Society Initiative
i-l – - lists) to have post-workshop discussions on contentious issues raised at the workshop. Comments were predominantly made around the need to train civil society in how to engage ICT policy-making (an area being addressed by
APC, see below) as well as a genuine interest and enthusiasm for the statement made at the workshop.

There has also been a lively discussion around NEPAD with users divided into two camps – with some believing that ‘NEPAD is a begging mat for Africa’ and others who think NEPAD is an opportunity for civil society to become engaged in a major development initiative and to steer it in a way that will help to develop the people of Africa. UNECA is heavily involved in civil society engagement in the NEPAD process and can be contacted for further information and support.

ICT Policy Training

The APC has received support from the Commonwealth Telecommunication’s Organisation to develop a weeklong training course on ICT policy for civil society. The objective of the course is to build the capacity of civil society organisations to understand policy on ICT issues and engage in ICT policy processes.

This is now in draft form, and was demonstrated in a pilot workshop at the Addis conference on 9 November. The full course will be developed and run (in Southern Africa) by March, and then will be run again at least once in Africa & Asia. The course will be translated into French and Portuguese. An “ICT Policy for Beginners” booklet describing the outline of ICT policy for civil society will also be produced.

The five-day course will cover:

1. Introductions: What is ICT policy? Why it matters
2. Civil society organisations & ICT policy; the role of information and communication in many sectors
3. The Digital Divide; ICT and development
4. What is advocacy?
5. Social exclusion in the Information Age
6. Gender and ICTs
7. Universality: available, accessible, affordable
8. Setting goals for advocacy
9. Internet: basic concepts, history, market structure
10. Internet: economics, standards and governance
11. What is policy & regulation? Telecommunications regulation, lack of regulation for IT
12. Steps for running an advocacy campaign
13. ICT policy: global, regional, national
14. Intellectual property, open source and indigenous knowledge
15. Content, media and language issues
16. Skills, resources and networks for ICT advocacy
17. Security, privacy, civil liberties in the Information Age
18. The Right to Communicate
19. Designing an advocacy campaign
20. Conclusion: Civil Society and an inclusive information society

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2. Open Source Dawns in Africa

By the Open Source Task Force

It all started during the ICT policy and civil society workshop in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, when 82 participants from 25 different countries invited by the APC, Article 19 and UNECA assembled to discuss ICTs in Africa. The workshop participants fully acknowledged that open source software is paramount to Africa’s ICT development and immediately started work on a coordinated approach towards its development.

But what is open source? Scientifically, open source software is a type of computer program whose licenses allows users to modify or alter the program (by accessing and changing the software’s code) so that it can be improved or changed. This software is often available free of charge. Software programs that are not open source (e.g. commercial proprietary programs like Microsoft Windows) cannot be accessed or changed, and if someone tries to change the program they will violate copyright laws.

In Africa, we see the value of open source in slightly different terms. We see open source as an opportunity to develop local programs built by Africans for use in Africa. We envision a situation where educational authorities will introduce open source applications to the young minds of Africa; young minds that will in turn, learn to use, maintain, modify and
improve the original programs. We envision a point in time where governments and the private sector will embrace open source software, use them in all sectors and enlist the support of qualified local expertise to adapt and develop appropriate software. We foresee a perfect opportunity for South-to-South cooperation, where a consortium of students in Ghana, Egypt and Kenya will develop programs that are then tested by software gurus in Nigeria, South Africa and Uganda. We see an opportunity for Africa de-colonising itself from the digital divide. To sum up, we are talking of developing African Products with African Expertise for the African Market.

The big question at this point is: will this remain a dream or will the vision transform into action?

During the workshop in Addis Ababa, a task force on open source was created. The task force has embarked on activities that will create an enabling environment and infrastructure that will allow the dream to transform into reality. So far, a discussion forum African Linux Users Group has been set up that enables African software developers to share ideas, resources and develop a common strategy.

Secondly, a database of organisations working on open source in Africa is being developed and will eventually culminate in the formation of an African Open Source Portal.

Finally, it is envisioned that the Open Source Foundation for Africa will be formed during the WSIS PrepCom II meeting in February 2003 when the real action will start.

For more information, please contact any of the following task force members:

Gideon Hayford Chonia gideon.chonia@zi.unizh.ch
Bildad Kagai bill@circuitspackets.com
Eric Osiakwan eric.osiakwan@netplux.com

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3. The Right to Communicate: A Fundamental Human Right

By Fatou Jagne, Article 19, Africa Programme Officer
(fatou@article19.org.za)

The right to freedom of expression has generally been considered in many legal systems as a negative right ­ a freedom from government interference. Recently, a growing body of international law and legal theories has operated a major shift from the classic definition of the right to freedom of expression. Today, the right to communicate is increasingly being recognised as a fundamental human right without which all other human rights, especially freedom of expression, are meaningless.

The enjoyment of the right to communicate is intrinsically linked to the society’s level of socio-economic development. Empirical evidence has shown over the years that the revolution in information technologies has mainly benefited countries that have reached a minimum level of socio-economic development. The advent of new technologies in information and communication has brought about major changes in the world and has increased the marginalisation that already affects developing countries.

Africa continues to be located at the periphery of new developments ­ so much so that the inequalities that existed in accessing traditional media in the past are actually widened by the advent of new technologies. This is chiefly due to the rapid pace of growth of new technologies and the requirement for large-scale investment that many poor countries cannot afford. While the convergence of new ICTs (Information and Communication Technologies) with traditional media could facilitate and enable access to information, it would be deceptive to think that access to technologies alone will resolve structural inequalities and alleviate poverty.

One of the key obstacles for ICT development in Africa is the need for important investments that African states alone cannot afford. Moreover, very few African countries are interconnected. This lack of interconnectivity renders communications and resources sharing difficult. Africa first needs a regional network for its integration but also needs to be connected to the worldwide data transmission infrastructure through the Internet.

The tricky question in the age of globalization, where the notions of the state, its role, and powers have dramatically shifted, is to identify and determine where the duty for enabling the right to communicate lies. Given the economic interests at stake, it is essential that civil society organizations become involved in lobbying and advocacy in order to ensure that the right to communicate is a right enjoyed by all sectors of society.

Finally, it is not enough to have access to ICTs in order to truly bridge the digital divide. African civil society should be well informed about ICT policy developments taking place and set clear, achievable and realistic priorities and objectives in the short, medium and long term. The workshop at Addis has begun to set these objectives, but it will take continued hard work if we are to truly see the realization of the right to communicate in the near future.

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4. Research Reports on the Participation of Civil Society in National ICT Policy-Making in Africa Now Available at http://africa.rights.apc.org!

These insightful investigations into the policies, strategies and actions of the stakeholders involved in the African ICT policy-making process are the first in a series of research reports commissioned by the APC to investigate the current role of local civil society organisations (CSOs) in developing and strengthening ICT policy-making at a national level. Another aim of the reports is to analyse and then propose methods that can be used in order to strengthen CSOs’ participation in formulating and monitoring ICT policy implementation in African countries. Written by local experts in the field of ICT for development, these reports are a must-read for anyone engaged, or interested in, the important role that civil society organisations could play in developing just, equitable and sustainable ICT policies for Africa.

Find country research reports on Senegal and Ethiopia (available in PDF).

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Chakula: Africa ICT Policy Monitor newsletter
Contact chakula@apc.org with questions, comments and contributions.

Chakula is produced by the Africa ICT Policy Monitor Project of the Association for Progressive Communications (APC)
http://africa.rights.apc.org

APC: http://www.apc.org

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