By FD for APCNews MONTREAL, Canada, 21 August 2007
Coura Fall is enterprising, dynamic, knows the media and has knocked around with all sorts of acronyms. One of these is ICT, used to refer to information and communication technology. Coura grabbed hold of this, and is preparing to give us an earful of these three letters, which could well make all the difference in Africa. Let yourself be won over by “ICT fever” by following this interview with the new Africa ICT Policy Coordinator for the Association for Progressive Communications (APC).
APCNews: You joined APC in July 2007. What attracted you to APC?
Working at APC attracted me on many levels.
I came to know APC when I was an animator for Senegal for a portion of the CATIA programme, an initiative to promote ICT access in Africa. It primarily impressed me to see a multi-cultural team, present on all continents, with a vision that truly embraced my wish to see a world where all people could, together, have affordable access to ICT tools. Access to information and communication technologies (ICTs) is perceived of by APC within the perspective of improving the daily life of these people, and creating wealth for a better democracy.
In addition, I had the opportunity to meet the members of the Women’s Networking Support Programme (APC’s WNSP), which also works towards improving the situation of women. As a woman, I ended up involved with their mission of integrating a gender perspective within APC’s goals.
After fifteen years of enriching experience in the private sector, I suddenly felt that I was of no use to other members of society, underprivileged and often forgotten in our developing countries. Working with civil society, my contribution towards society will be more direct and efficient.
Having begun my ICT policy advocacy in Senegal as an animator, I felt frustrated at the end of the CATIA programme, especially with the momentum started with the media. I felt that I needed to go further, contribute more. Joining APC, an international network of civil society organisations working for the internet and ICTs for social justice and sustainable development, particularly attracted me, firstly in order to pursue this advocacy in Senegal, but especially to develop and implement APC’s African advocacy strategy with regard to information and communication technologies for development and internet governance.
APCNews: What did you do before joining APC?
I had one foot in the private sector, and another in civil society.
My training and professional experience enabled me to manage projects for innovative enterprises such as one-way messaging system networks, a GSM mobile telephony network in Côte d’Ivoire, Senegal and Togo, an internet service provider in Côte d’Ivoire, and software solutions integrating companies in Senegal. I am also a joint shareholder of a teleservices company, which is a regional call centre that manages the information service for the United States Embassy for visa requests for nationals of several African countries (Liberia, Sierra Leone, Mali, Mauritania, Guinea, Gambia, Guinea-Bissau and soon others…). My entire team is made up of women too!
I am also a founding member of several associations and organisations such as AfrisPA (African Internet Service Provider Associations), SITSA [Senegalese IT Association] and ACSIS Senegal, being involved in establishment and animation. This involvement has allowed me to become aware of issues related to ICT policy advocacy in the region and the rest of the world.
From 2005 to February 2007, within the framework of CATIA, I coordinated an ICT policy advocacy programme, working closely to build media capacities in this area. This enabled me to associate with other animators in Africa, and especially to collaborate online to share experiences, while mobilising the different players at the national level. Positive results have been seen, including the establishment of a network of journalists specialised in ICT, and a national televised broadcast on ICT policies in Senegal.
At this time, I am also assisting the German NGO IT-Pool in its capacity building programme on free software (Linux Professional Institute certification) and the establishment of the free software training centre in Saint Louis, in the north of Senegal.
APCNews: What are your immediate challenges and goals within the framework of your new position?
My first challenge is being able to join the team and collaborating effectively with my colleagues to fulfil the terms of reference of this new position.
As my work plan has already been validated by the CIPP (APC Communication and Information Policy Programme) manager, I had to rapidly implement APC’s strategy concerning ICT policy advocacy, amongst other things. This includes:
- developing a database on ICT policy challenges, especially with regard to undersea SAT3 and EASSy cables, and participating in all debates related to these challenges in order to incorporate the needs of civil society;
- establishing a network of players, in sub-Saharan as well as eastern and southern Africa, ensuring their participation in advocacy, and accompanying them to the “Connect Africa” meeting to take place in Kigali, Rwanda at the end of October;
- updating the ICT Policy Observatory in Africa;
- developing a French version of the “Fibre for Africa” campaign;
- taking part in certain events related to ICT policies in the world so as to be up-to-date with policy-level developments, and especially to soak up the environment.
APCNews: Clearly, it is only early days for you at APC, and you must respond to the new environment and pressing demands. But how do you see ICT policies developing at APC, and within civil society as a whole?
In Africa, bandwidth access is not affordable, and does not allow for the economic development needs of the continent to be met. The lack of an appropriate strategic or regulatory framework hinders the full use of these infrastructures.
From east to west Africa, the debate revolves around access to bandwidth from the perspective of the final consumer, thus civil society.
At APC, we are now talking about open access and this new order must be taken into account within the framework of ICT policy implementation, especially in infrastructures in Africa, and in under-developed countries in general.
However, all that must be through capacity building of the various civil society players to inform then and motivate them to animate networks to protect their ICT-related interests. This multi-sectoral approach should enable more effective advocacy, and the implementation of ICT policies better adapted to the needs of civil society for “a world in which all people have equal and affordable access to the creative potential of ICTs in order to improve their lives and create more democratic and egalitarian societies”. Here, I quote APC’s vision, developed in 2001 and to which I subscribe fully.
Photo: Coura Fall