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Report of the African Civil Society Forum ; Abuja, Nigeria, July 1-4

The African Civil Society on the Information Society held its Abuja Forum as a pre-event to the African Regional Preparatory Meeting (ARPM) of the World Telecommunications Development Committee (WTDC). This forum was made possible by the support of the people and the government of the Federal Republic of Nigeria through its Nigerian Communications Commission – NCC.

The Forum was a timely one which offered the African Civil Society on the Information society the needed space to address issues and challenges of the African information society with a special emphasis on the Civil Society. On the other hand, civil society entities got educated on the World Summit on the Information Society as well as the other issues in the Africa Information Society Initiative - AISI.
1 Information and communication technologies (ICT) play a significant role in development efforts and poverty alleviation. ICTs open up new horizons for the creation and exchange of knowledge, for education and training and for the promotion of creativity, cultural development and intercultural dialogue.
2 Many African governments are facing the challenge to seize the opportunities of ICTs and to apply and integrate them into a wide range of activities. Particular challenges include the improvement of information literacy, an improvement of ICT infrastructures, the enhancement of access to ICTs, the practical use of ICT, in particular in education at all levels.
3 Civil Society Organisations (CSO) and Non-Government Organisations (NGO) are crucial partners in the development, advancement and stability of our society. It is in recognition of the importance of CSO’s and NGO’s that this Civil Society Forum is being organized from the 1st-3rd July 2005, during which Civil Society entities will engage in the issues of the preparatory conference. This will be followed by a Multi-stakeholder consultation on the 4th of July 2005.
4 Many factors which impinge on the accessibility to ICT’s by African’s, such as education, are in some form of crisis at all levels of education. Institutions of higher education and learning, along with many other basic infrastructures, which are the stepping stones of the country towards partaking in the emerging global knowledge society, suffer from a debilitating lack of financial resources and insufficient learning tools.
5 Much of the requisite infrastructure is either non-existent or grossly inadequate and insufficient. Even in the urban centres where they do exist, their operations are epileptic and their services are undermined by poor funding, obsolete and inadequate equipment. These inadequacies seriously impede the infrastructural basis for the development of the continent and prevent the citizens and institutions from engaging in and benefiting from global exchanges that ICT facilitates. In sum, the potential role of knowledge development and management, innovation and research, as tools for social development and as means of communications have become seriously eroded.
6 Structural rather than political constraints are thus the major impediments facing the increased and enhanced use of ICT’s in knowledge development and management as a vital component renovating and innovating our economic wellbeing and quality of life. Resources and services need to be designed to enable ICT’s to facilitate knowledge based solutions that cater effectively to the social, cultural and developmental needs of our citizens at all levels in Africa, for sustainable development.
7 To help improve the above situation, the Civil Society Forum has been organised to secure a mandate, chart a vision, and develop an action plan for its implementation.
1 In order to secure a mandate, chart a vision, develop an action plan for its implementation various issues must be reviewed/ examined, taking into account the present ICT infrastructure. In that connection, a series of issues must be addressed and clarified. These issues are enumerated in the Breakout Session guides.
2 The immediate objectives of the forum are to:
A To exchange experiences from the sub-regional and national perspectives
B Capacity Building/Training
C To compile and present African Civil Society contributions to the Regional Prep COM of World Telecommunications Development Conference in 2006 (WTDC ’06) in Doha Qatar.
D To exchange African sub-Regional experiences in the use of Information for development.
E To assess conditions, challenges and make recommendations on way forward.
F To examine possible broad-based projects which could be presented to the Digital Solidarity Fund
G To draft concrete recommendations towards the WTDC’06 prep COM
H To engage in other brainstorming to refine our way forward to Tunis.
I To examine related funding issues
J To networking and build a strong social capital.
K To examine the implication of the proposed debt relief on the development of the region.
L To facilitate the formation of coalitions, partnership and alliances.

Management of the Forum
Proceedings were organized in plenary and breakout sessions. Plenary sessions were used to harmonize African CS visions on the Information Society in general and listen to sectoral challenges in the CS engagement in development. They also gave the opportunity for participants to hear from experts on diverse Information Society issues that included:
• The Role of the Civil Society,
• Policies and Regulation,
• Media,
• Training and Reinforcement of capacities,
• Child Safety on the Internet,
• Public Health Strategies,
• Free and Open Source Software,
• Electronic Waste,
• Geo-Information,
• Millennium Development Goals - MDGs

The support given to the African Civil Society on the Information Society – ACSIS by the Nigerian National Communications Commission – NCC allowed members of African civil society entities from all five regions of the continent as well as the African Diaspora to meet in the beautiful city of Abuja for three days. Daily participation to the African Civil Society Forum numbered well over 120. ACSIS expresses profound gratitude to the NCC for the support received by participants before, during and after the Forum.

Organization of workshops
To better effect the deliberations during the Forum, six parallel thematic workshops were organized in breakout sessions. They were as follows:
1. Multi-Stakeholder Partnerships (MSP) in the WSIS implementation,
2. Priorities in the use of ICT for African Development,
3. Processes, Policies and Regulation in ICT,
4. Finance and Financing Mechanisms,
5. Mainstreaming the African Civil Society in the realisation of the MDG goals,
6. The African Media in the Information Society: WSIS and beyond.

Recommendations and conclusions from workshops

SESSION I: The following recommendations were made:
A Civil Society has to be better organized at national, regional and continental levels; it has to become professional in the implementation of its activities in order to become a credible partner to the government and the private sector.
B African governments should create development institutions which would support civil society activities;
C The African Civil Society has to collect and document positive MSP experiences,
D Civil society’s negotiation skills/ capacities have to be strengthened; this capacity building should be also done internally;
E The African Civil Society has to advocate and lobby so that they get more and more involved by governments, in governance initiatives, at the national, regional and international level;
F The African Civil Society should create a monitoring group/system in order to insure that it’s own initiatives (initiatives of the different NGOs and associations, for example) respect ethic standards;
G Governments and international organizations should better involve African civil society in the decision-making;
H African society has to establish an effective partnership with private sector, but has to take care of to protect its independence and ethic values.

SESSION II: The following conclusions were reached:

A The African Civil Society is a vital component of the tripartite multi-stakeholder strategy for effective implementation of ICT4D in Africa.
B Efficient transparent and accountable partnerships with public and private sectors are essential for the sustainable African ICT4D.
C African Civil Society is best placed to facilitate and advocate the above processes.

SESSION III: The following conclusions were reached

A Governments should make provisions in their national budgets for IT investment in addition to the Global Digital Solidarity Fund
B Civil Society should implement the bottom-up approach to policy development through a participatory approach based on rights
C Civil Society should be ready to consult and confront the US with regards their decision to retain supervision of the DNS root servers

SESSION IV: It was concluded that it is now time for civil society to take its place and broker, sensible to the private sector and sensitive to the poor, financing options for the benefit of all.

SESSION V: Recommendations for the participation of the ACS in the next steps of the implementation of the MDGs. The MDGs will be the focus of a midterm review (New York + 5) in September, 2005. The ACS, particularly in regard to ICT, has to take into account that new situation to prepare its future contribution to the next phases of the MDGs prcess. To that end, the following recommendations are formulated:
A A research to be conducted to ensure the financial autonomy of ACSIS;
B ACSIS will make sure to effectively engaged in monitoring and evaluation of the implementation of the MDGs. She will also make input into the midterm review of September, 2005;
C ACSIS will promote transparency and accountability in the implementation of the MDGs, as well as the NEPAD, the PRS and the Commission for Africa. This will be achieved in partnership with other groups ;
D ACSIS will advocate for her inclusion in the realization process of the MDGs, similar to the ACP-EU Agreement where the Civil Society is classified among the “Non State Actors”.
E ACSIS will collaborate with her various partners on ICT-related projects and activities for the achievement of the MDGs. The ACS’s involvement is indispensable for the successful outcomes of the MDGs.
F The details of roles and contributions of the ACS at the various stages of the MDGs process will be clearly spelt out, and especially for the midterm review in September 2005. These roles should be clearly acknowledged by the other members of the partnership including governments and international development institutions.

SESSION VI: The recommendations so derived are:

A Increase the participation of journalists and media groups in activities and issues relating to the pending World Summit on Information Society (WSIS) and the World Telecommunications Development Conference (WTDC);
B The promotion of a conducive environment for media pluralism that enhances cultural identity and diversity.
C Establish an independent media sustainability fund in member states.
D Better networking, especially through strategic sharing of resources like the setting up and patronizing of independent news agencies;
E African governments should ratify and implement all Treaties and Declarations that ensure and promote the Freedom of Expression Concepts that are rooted in Article 19 of the UDHR.
F African leaders should make haste in signing unto the African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM), and to make media pluralism and freedom of expression as further criteria for this important assessment.

Projects for consideration:
1 An Africa based Virtual Library which is expected to have two aspects:
A The subscription to full text databases in all major fields of study relevant to Higher Education institutions;
B The development of indigenous content. This activity is envisaged to be crucial to the survival of our heritage, dialects, languages, cultures, value systems, and collective memory/ history which will otherwise be subsumed by the more dominant languages or cultures of the world.
2 The opening of an appropriately regulated community radio window for the underserved and disadvantaged communities, with a lower threshold for participation, in the existing national broadcasting policy of various African Countries.
3 Development of rural multimedia community centres.

Date: 07/15/2005
Source: ACSIS

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