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Building an Inclusive Information Society in Africa

Statement of the Addis workshop of African Civil Society organisations, November 2002

Introduction

The ICT policy and civil society workshop was held in Addis Ababa from 6 to 8 November 2002. It was organized by the Association for Progressive Communication (APC), Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), and Article 19. Eighty-two African civil society representatives drawn from twenty-five countries, regional and international organizations (UNECA, UNESCO and the ITU) participated in the workshop to strengthen the role of Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) in national, regional and global ICT fora.

Preamble

The World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) received a clear mandate from the UN Secretariat to outline a clear vision of the way human kind wants to build societies free from poverty, oppression and imbalances of all kind and exclusion from the benefits that can be derived from information and communication technologies and their fair utilization.

Participants of the workshop:

Recognizing:

  • the important role that civil society plays in development and formulation of national ICT policies,
  • that the WSIS should be people-centered, gender-redistributive, youth-friendly and concerned with communities well being and their access to, and ownership of, communications tools, processes, services, technologies, training, education and opportunities,
  • that the use of ICT as a mechanism for eradicating poverty should be key in this international drive for economic and social justice,
  • that there is urgent need to strengthen civil society and private sector inclusion in the national, regional, and international ICT policy forums,
  • that NEPAD is the main regional framework addressing Africa’s development, · that the NEPAD consultation process has lacked adequate civil society involvement.
  • WSIS Youth Caucus Statement to PrepCom 1, Geneva, July 2002 (http://projects.takingitglobal.org/wsisprepcom1)

Endorsing:

  • The Kampala Know How Declaration, July 2002
  • The African Charter on Broadcasting (ACB), Windhoek
  • APC Internet Rights Charter
  • The Bamako 2002 Declaration – African preparatory meeting to the WSIS, May 2002.
  • The African Declaration on Freedom of Expression
  • The African Information Society Initiative (AISI)
  • The statement resulting from the UNESCO consultation with Civil Society conducted prior to the African WSIS Bamako preparatory meeting, May 2002.
  • WSIS Gender caucus statement to PrepCom 1, Geneva July 2002.
  • The African Children’s Broadcasting Charter for Africa

Made the following recommendations:

1. Building on our own strength

Given the centrality of civil society to the development of an inclusive information society, and the proximity of CSOs to the needs of people and society at large, CSOs need to be play a central role in developing and implementing ICT policy.

Therefore it is important that we define our priorities for building an inclusive information society in partnership with other stakeholders.

The details of what should be done are given in the attached Action Plan.

2. FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION

The right to freedom of expression is a fundamental individual right that includes the right to communicate and to access all means of communication. These principles must be the basis of regulation, legislation and infrastructure development.

Radio is an ICT tool of particular importance in the African context because it has the capacity to reach large populations in a cost effective manner and to overcome barriers to communication such as illiteracy and linguistic diversity.

3. POLICY & ENABLING ENVIRONMENT

All policy regulation, legislation and infrastructure development should be gender sensitive and adjusted to meet the needs of marginalized and vulnerable groups such as women, the youth, the illiterate, the economically disadvantaged, differently-abled and rural peoples.

States should ensure that all businesses operating in the field of ICT infrastructure development should be required to invest in and deliver services and infrastructure to under- and un-served areas with particular sensitivity to the needs of marginalized and vulnerable groups in society.

States should develop national infrastructure policies that are affordable, sustainable, upgradeable and expandable and that enable ICT to develop without restrictions created by current technological standards.

Civil society organizations in each country should gather knowledge about the policy processes, meet in order to discuss a policy position and then lobby governments to adopt and implement fair policy processes in relation to ICT.

4. GOVERNANCE

Government should enact legislation and help create an enabling environment that would give communities the ability to develop relevant capacities to use ICTs for their own well-being and advancement.

The principle of Universal Access should be applied to include cultural, information/communications and educational opportunities.

Civil society should organize together and engage in the governance of the Internet and other information and communication media, at local, national and regional perspectives. At the international level civil society should engage further with ICANN in the Internet governance process.

Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) need to be included in all consultative processes including government-led delegations in regional and international forums, especially the WSIS process.

The principle of the Information & Communication Society should include issues of human rights and equitable and sustainable socio-economic development, and not just be restricted to technological and financial matters.

CSOs are encouraged to create a flexible coordinating mechanism with readily available regional networking and outreach capabilities. The mission of such a mechanism will be to encourage discussions, work towards a much broader inclusion of other CSOs and interested stakeholders and defend common positions on outstanding issues.

Participants called attention to the fact that developing information and communications societies entail the promotion of free and fair flow of information and communications as well as the implementation of support and access to local ICT manufacturing capabilities especially with regard to open source, low cost, appropriate and people centered technologies.

Participants recognized that information and communications processes and technologies should be primarily utilized to tackle outstanding challenges related to peace and security, education, cultural empowerment and democratic and sustainable human development.

5. Content creation, barriers to participation and diversity in the Information Society

We acknowledge the existing imbalances in media content and the dominance of Colonial languages, which have hindered the cultural expression and socio-economic development of the majority of African people.

A major opportunity presented by ICTs is a diversification of existing ownership patterns in terms of barriers to market entry. Measures should be put in place to ensure access by new players / entrepreneurs to services and opportunities regardless of gender, geographic location, age, economic status, literacy, religion or disability. Any market restructuring must ensure that adjustment policies do not lead to further external dependency.

Given that Africa is under-represented in the global knowledge economy, there is a need to develop and encourage local information resource centres and to build capacity to produce and collect accurate and relevant local content in official and national languages and lingua franca taking cognizance of oral and traditional forms of communications.

The African enabling environment requires a convergence of media legislation that takes into account the convergence of modern and traditional technologies.

It is essential that ICT is pro-actively used to address the gaps between government and civil society, the information rich and poor, and that cross-platform compatibility facilitates information flow that bridges divides and creates equality.

Tariffs must be affordable and facilitate access to all. This could require subsidies for those who are marginalized and vulnerable.

6. Open source

In the face of rapidly changing technological advancement, and the exorbitant cost of proprietary hardware and software solutions, which discriminate against CSOs that are attempting to participate in ICTs for development, the need for open source solutions has emerged.

There is a global trend toward open source solutions, which have become viable, cost effective and sustainable options for CSO participation in ICTs for development.

We strongly recommend the creation of the Open Source Foundation for Africa to explore and advance open source solutions for ICT development for our communities.

7. Brain Drain

The youth of Africa represent the hope for Africa’s future and losing them through the continued brain drain does not bode well for Africa and its future. African youths must be empowered and motivated to contribute to the development of their continent. They should also be included at all levels of decision-making that will impact on their lives and those of generations to come.

The workshop has been made possible thanks to the generous support of the International Development Research Centre (IDRC), HIVOS and the Open Society Institute (OSI).
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