By APCNews TOULOUSE, France, 03 April 2006
In a country where the majority of the population lives below the absolute poverty level, where political crises and violence have done away with social institutions, does it make sense to invest energies in information and communication technologies (ICTs)? Canadian APC member, Alternatives, firmly believes in this opportunity.
The story goes back to the 1980’s, when Alternatives began to support the work of various local non governmental organisations (NGOs). Since 1998, it began to carry out its own reconstruction and rehabilitation projects in different areas of the country and in 2002 the Canadian NGO opened an office in Kinshasa, where it works in coordination with the government.
The limited access and use of ICTs in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) was identified as a limiting factor early on. Alternatives launched the SocieteCivile.cd website (http://www.societecivile.cd) in March 2003, which makes information on more than 400 organisations available to the world, with the objective of increasing the visibility of Congolese NGOs.
In 2005, with the arrival of the Multi-sector ICT Dynamic (MICTD) – a multi-stakeholder allliance working on ICT policy – Alternatives demonstrated that civil society, media, the government and the private sector were capable of working together to develop and implement an ICT development policy in the DRC. This was a new and successful governance experience, that resulted in the creation of a cooperation structure. A pan African meeting, organised jointly with APC, culminated in the elaboration of a strategic plan for the MICTD, which is currently being carried out.
Nevertheless, there is much left to do. Alternatives is currently working on new projects so that, little by little, access to ICTs in the DRC ceases to be an unattainable utopia. One of them consists of extending and developing the MICTD’s actions, with the support of APC and the British NGO Computer Aid International, over the next three years. This initiative has two central axes: the implementation of an ICT development policy and the provision of equipment and training for local NGOs.
An ICT development policy requires minimal conditions for access and infrastructure, which, at the moment, are far from being a reality in the DRC. This should be accompanied by the continued training of the population, so that it is able not only to use these tools, but also to integrate them to address its daily tasks. The first axis will allow the government to commit to its engagement in the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), especially in reaching the Millennium Development Goals (MDG). [For more information on the WSIS process, visit the http://wsisdrc.gn.apc.org site, created by Alternatives].
To make a real impact on local development, NGOs need to identify common objectives and coordinate actions. How can this be done without a basic communications infrastructure? This is what the second axis of the project aims to achieve through joint action. Computer Aid International will make equipment and training available at prices far below their commercial value. This methodology reinforces the financial autonomy of NGOs and stimulates the renewal of funds to extend the programme.
The ultimate objective of this project is to democratise access to ICTs in the DRC and transform them into a real tool of empowerment. If equality between the sexes is not explicitly considered throughout this process, efforts to address the inequality issues will fall short. Concrete gender equality strategies will be implemented transversally in both the axes of the programme. This takes into account the historical marginalisation that women have experienced in this country.
The priorities and interests of women will be favoured in the development of ICT policy. Every document resulting from the reform process will have to establish clear gender equality objectives and precise mechanisms and resources for their implementation. In reference to the programme for the supply of computer equipment and training, special care will be taken to include organisations that work to improve the conditions of female beneficiaries (in fair proportion) and to ensure that women represent the majority. In this manner, a beneficial circle will be completed, as women will be better trained to participate in the design and implementation of policies that take their needs into consideration.