Youth views almost not taken seriously during ITU’s WTDC-22

On the sidelines of the 2022 World Telecommunication Development Conference (WTDC-22), held from 5 to 16 June 2022 at the Kigali Convention Centre in Kigali (Rwanda), there was the 2022 Generation Connect Global Youth Summit (GCS) held at the Intare Conference Arena, from 2 to 4 June 2022.

This youth summit addressed the digital divide and related topics, including digital skills, gender, climate change, online safety, the future of work, entrepreneurship, digital dependencies and more. Held in a hybrid format, it is reported that this gathering was attended in person by nearly 1,500 delegates from over 115 countries and over 5,000 joining online; being a culmination of months of online work that resulted in the adoption of the Youth Action Plan.

Reference to this Youth Action Plan, or the GCS itself, was to be made in the proceedings of the WTDC-22, but for some reasons, that I will try to capture in this blog, the Youth Action Plan faced very strong opposition from a good number of member states. This reference was meant to be included in the text of Resolution 76 (Res 76) on “Promoting ICTs among young women & men for social & economic empowerment”.

The following paragraph in the “noting” section, as suggested by a group of delegates, was to be discussed for inclusion in the final document: “that the first Generation Connect Global Youth Summit, held in Kigali, Rwanda, from 2 to 4 June 2022, physically attended by more than 500 young women, 500 remotely, from 70 hubs and 115 countries; that the Generation Connect Youth Call to Action – ‘my digital future’ – prepared by youth was adopted at the Generation Connect Global Youth Summit”.

Delegates attending the WTDC-22 had to either adopt the inclusion of that section, edit it to meet their wish or at the very least if consensus is not met, go for a “No Change” (NOC), which means they reconduct the text of Res 76 that was adopted during the WTDC-17 that was held in Buenos Aires, Argentina. All discussions and conversations were done first in the ad hoc group charged to work on the resolution, then in the plenary and back to the ad hoc group if no consensus has been met.

“Pro” arguments

It is worth noting that some member states delegations did not openly present their positions but were inclined to support what the regional group they belong to would say, or they were sharing their views internally and let the groups speak, for larger impact. That is the practice at ITU meetings, as far as I was told.

Some of the arguments presented by member states in favour of the mention of the GCS in the WTDC-22 outcomes (Res 76) included that the GCS was an event accepted by the ITU Council, as an international event to be linked to the WTDC. Since it happened in that format, there is no way it should not be mentioned in the proceedings of the development conference.

Others, apparently raising this to the attention of the chair of the plenary who is none other than the Rwandan ICT minister, claimed that it would be an insult to the host country, the government of Rwanda, if no mention is made of the youth summit in Res 76. The truth was that both events happened and were hosted by government of Rwanda, side by side, and many delegates from the GCS later attended the WTDC-22. These delegates also mentioned that during the WTDC-22 opening ceremony, a youth representative addressed the audience, in front of Rwanda’s President, on the success of the GCS and called for their support in the implementation of their action plan.

In the same line, another delegate pointed out that in the draft under discussion, the mention made of the GCS is under “noting” and not under the “resolves” section, which means it is just a way of updating the 2017 document with this new event that happened alongside the WTDC-22. He added that it does not imply that people have to agree or not on the content or the proceedings of this youth summit. He concluded by saying he does not understand why delegates are arguing against its inclusion, whereas a reference to the Costa Rica Youth Summit in 2013 is made in the draft under discussion and under the same section. The GCS is simply another youth summit that has happened alongside the WTDC in 2022, and therefore it should be added.

Another delegate said, during a plenary, that the WTDC-22 is sending a very negative message to the youth of this planet, if their leaders cannot acknowledge and recognise their work and most importantly their vision put forward in the Youth Action Plan.

“Against” arguments

There were other groups of member states who were against the inclusion of GCS’s proceedings in the WTDC-22 outcome documents, including even the mention that the event happened.

Member states from two specific regions argued that the intuition behind not referring to the GCS was that they (the youth) came up with an outcome document with resolutions that were not shared among all youths, especially those from the regions they represent. A delegate from that region even said on the mic that their youth were denied participation to the GCS. It was also said that the Youth Action Plan encompasses some points that are sensitive to many member states in the aforementioned regions.

Another group of states said they do not want to include a mention of the youth event because it happened before this WTDC, therefore it was not officially part of it to be worthily mentioned. They made it clear however that they recognise the importance of including the youth’s voice in discussions about the future of technology.

Many delegates argued that if a youth event has to be mentioned in Res 76, the GCS should not be the only one. Other youth summits linked to the ITU or focused on the development of technology should be mentioned, if they happened between WTDC-17 and WTDC-22.

Later in the discussions, it became clear to everyone that, for many delegates, the true reason behind the refusal to mention the GCS was the fear that if the youth summit is mentioned, then it will mean that its outcomes, including their resolutions as presented in the Youth Action Plan, is also endorsed by WTDC delegates. Not all delegates wanted to be associated with these outcomes.

As we went ahead with discussions and delegates were deliberating on this issue, it almost became clear that “No Change” (NOC) would prevail, because it was even the conclusion from the chair of COMM 3, who was in charge of Res 76, after late hours of ad hoc meetings in between plenaries. The main rationale behind sticking to NOC as put forward by some delegates was that the 2017 text was not yet implemented in full and therefore not exhausted to give room for new items to be added in Res 76 on “Promoting ICTs among young women & men for social & economic empowerment”. They said that the ITU should first implement what has been agreed upon in the past conference and when exhausted, look for new topics.

In all instances, there was back and forth between delegates arguing for or against opinions as expressed by the other parties. For a newcomer like me, I was enjoying the conversations and the excellent moderation of the chairs, be it in the ad hoc group or the plenary.

Towards a compromise

Because something had to be presented in the plenary as outcome of the ad hoc discussions on Res 76, a delegate came up with a new approach for discussion. They suggested to mention the GCS but add a footnote saying something like “mentioning the GCS is not an endorsement of its outcomes or any other document related to the summit”. This was a way to attend to the issue raised about endorsing the outcomes of the youth summit whose content was not approved by some delegates.

This idea was saluted by many other member states who found it to be a good way to move the discussion forward. The majority of members of this ad hoc group now started discussing the rephrasing of the suggested footnote, options included: “The reference to the first Generation Connect Global Youth Summit does not imply any endorsement or acceptance of ‘other related documents connected to the youth summit’” or “any recommendations embedded in the Call to action output document of the summit”.

It was past 8:00 p.m. on 15 June and no consensus was made in the ad hoc group on Res 76, yet the plenary was to be held in the next few minutes. Ballot boxes started being brought into the plenary room. Some people, including myself, thought they were brought to be used if member states decide to vote on the way forward because they cannot reach consensus. The plenary was closed past 10:00 p.m.; no vote, no consensus. No vote was done that night.

As a last chance, the ad hoc group on Res 76 was to meet the following day in the morning, its chair entrusted with the mission to rally their members in order to reach consensus before the last plenary that was scheduled to start around 9:30 a.m.

In the afternoon of 16 June at 12:30 p.m., representatives from different regions came to a consensus on a text that was approved by the last plenary of the day. The text read: “That ITU-D advances national, regional and international events that promote information and communication technologies that can be used by young women and men for social and economic empowerment such as the Global Youth Summit.”

Arsène Tungali is the executive director of APC member organisation Rudi International. The views expressed in this blog are his own personal views and do not necessarily represent those of any other organisation or entity he is affiliated with. He is currently an ARTICLE 19 Internet of Rights Fellow and attended his first WTDC as part of the Association for Progressive Communications (APC) delegation.
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