WSIS update: APC in African regional preparatory conference in Ghana
ACCRA, GHANA, 01 March 2005
The African Regional Conference, preparatory to the second phase of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), was held in Accra, Republic of Ghana, from February 2 to 4, 2005. Participating in the Conference were representatives of African governments, delegates from many other countries and international organisations, and people representing African private sector and civil society, including members of the APC team.
The events were organised by the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa and the Government of Ghana.
Participants at the pre-conference events and the three-day preparatory meeting - held at the Accra International Conference Centre - tasked development partners and business communities to make available critically needed funds for the development of information and communication technology (ICT) infrastructure in Africa. They also asked the partners to reduce the complexities in financing requirements to make it easier for community-based organisations to secure funding for the deployment of ICT at the rural level.
The participants argued that without sustained timely and sufficient financial support, countries in Africa risked being left behind in the use of ICT to facilitate development. These were the views when the thorny issue of how to finance the information society took centre stage in one of the parallel workshops taking place at the conference in Accra.
On the basis of the outcomes and taking into account the Declaration of Principles and the Plan of Action adopted by the first phase of the WSIS in Geneva in December 2003, the Conference –under the theme "Access: Africa's key to an inclusive information society"- adopted a set of commitments for the second phase of the WSIS to be held in Tunis in November 2005.
The Accra commitments (see link below) included key principles, development orientations, resource mobilisation including human resources, international cooperation, and operational aspects. Of particular significance are two commitments:
“We call upon international and regional organizations to assist African countries in the implementation of the WSIS decisions including the urgent development and implementation of a broadband ICT infrastructure as anticipated by the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD).”
Africa calls for support for the Digital Solidarity Fund (DSF) that would complement and not duplicate other mechanisms of funding the Information Society. The fund will be global in scope and be utilized to bridge the digital divide in the world. It is further recommended that existing financing mechanisms should continue to be fully utilized to fund the growth of new ICT infrastructure and services.
In making these two commitments the Accra conference captured two key concerns regarding ICT development in Africa -_the initiative of the President Wade of Senegal in calling for a Digital Solidarity Fund at the WSIS in Geneva in 2003 and the work of NEPAD in working towards rasing political and financial support for the East African Submarine System (EASSY) to extend an undersea fibre optic cable up the east coast of Africa and into the landlocked countries of the interior.
Both issues received much discussion in the finance sessions of the Accra Conference and it was fitting that both should be earmarked for special attention in the outcome of the Conference. The agreement on the two issues opened the way for Africa to better utilise a range of financial mechanisms for ICTD rather than put all its efforts only into one mechanism – the DSF. By recognising the importance of the EASSY initiative and stating that the DSF would operate as a complementary mechanism, the Accra commitments managed to overcome the impasse that had occurred at the The Geneva WSIS between developed and develoing countries over appropriate financial mechanisms for ICTD. This paved the way for a successful resolution of the DSF issue at Prepcom 2 in Geneva during February 2005.
APC had three main tasks in Accra: 1) to do research for its 'evaluating developing country participation in the WSIS' project; 2) to impact on decisions about financing mechanisms that would feed into PrepCom 2 in Geneva; 3) to contribute to a more focused African civil society approach to the WSIS.
“We had several presentations to do on financing and on the WSIS process”, said Anriette Esterhuysen, APC Executive Director. “There were also presentations on experiences in training women in ICT and on multi-stakeholder partnerships at one of the pre-conference events.”
The establishment of the Digital Solidarity Fund dominated much of the discussion on financing. APC proposed that it not be viewed as competing with existing financing mechanisms, but rather as complementary, with the potential to be innovative in mobilising new sources of funds for ICD (information and communications for development) and building solidarity between citizens in the north and the south.
The voluntary Digital Solidarity Fund (see http://www.dsf-fsn.org), announced at the first phase of WSIS in December 2003, is described and presented in the report of the Task Force on Financial Mechanisms (TFFM) in the section on multi-stakeholder partnerships and emerging initiatives. Initial contributions to the fund were made by a number of local authorities such as cities, departments, provinces, regions, and provinces, in addition to contributions from some nation states.
Mr Pietro Sicuro, Director of the Francophonie Institute of New Information Technologies, said donors were willing to support countries in designing e-strategies. However, these countries must as a first step, incorporate ICT in their national financing and development programmes. He acknowledged the complexities in current donor support arrangements at national and regional levels and gave the assurance that the process would be demystified.
Willie Currie, APC ICT Policy Manager and participant in the meetings of the TFFM, said effective mainstreaming of ICT could not take place without the necessary infrastructure backing.
In a presentation on financing challenges and opportunities, APC introduced its new thinking on ICTD policy that involves a differentiation being made between a market zone where the operation of the market is the primary driver of ICT growth and a development zone, where public finance, small finance and community networks take precedence. In between these zones is a grey zone located largely in the cities of developing countries in which the market is active but there are also underserved areas. APC proposed that the DSF concentrate on this grey zone as the target for its funding initiatives and leverage the value of the local governments which support the DSF internationally.
This presentation went down so well that it was translated into French by Jerome Adam, of the French development agency, Groupe Agence Française de Developpement.