president of Rwanda

The African Regional Preparatory Conference for the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) in Accra, Ghana, put the spotlight on the issue of information and communication technology (ICT) funding for the developing world.

“There is no running away from the fact that most of our best-laid plans have often been undermined by lack of money,” said Ghanaian President John Kufuor at the meetings’ official opening.

The preparatory meeting, which ran from last Tuesday to Friday, was one of the regional meetings held before the WSIS meets in Tunisia in November.

At the Accra meeting, African ministers as well as representatives from the U.N. Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), the World Bank and other multilateral organizations examined ways to bridge the digital divide and finance the so-called information society on the continent. With poor infrastructure and high costs of access to information and knowledge, we cannot compete freely and fairly in the digital world. Paul Kagame>Text

Before last week’s WSIS preparatory conference, African ministers of the African Ministerial Committee on Information and Communication Technologies reached a consensus that the Digital Solidarity Fund remained the only practical information-society funding mechanism. The Digital Solidarity Fund is an international initiative based in Geneva, through which public administrations contribute a percentage of the value of government ICT contracts to a common pot, to be disbursed for technology projects in developing markets.

Government and political leaders during the ministerial conference agreed that the Digital Solidarity Fund complements other mechanisms and does not compete with them. They encouraged member countries to continue to utilize existing financial mechanisms to fund the growth of new ICT networks and services. Other issues on the talking board at the WSIS preparatory conference included bandwidth access and infrastructure as well as ICT for socioeconomic development and Internet governance.

“With poor infrastructure and high costs of access to information and knowledge, we cannot compete freely and fairly in the digital world,” said Paul Kagame, president of Rwanda.

“Unless the asymmetries and imbalances in information and communication technologies are removed, we cannot fully integrate into world economy,” he said.

However, there have been some positive steps toward construction of regional infrastructure, according to other speakers.

For example, some countries are working together to complete the fiber optic cable loop around the African continent, between South Africa and Djibouti, according to according to Henry Chasia, executive deputy chairperson of the e-Africa Commission, which operates under the aegis of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD).

NEPAD, based in Johannesburg, is an initiative operating under the auspices of the Organisation of African Unity, which is building and improving ICT infrastructures on the continent.

There also been progress on the plan to connect land-locked countries with cable network heads, another project initiated under NEPAD, Chasia said. So far 15 countries have signed memos of understanding about it, he said.

A conference resolution, agreed on by government and multilateral institution representatives, focused on the role that international Internet bodies play in building infrastructure for developing markets, and for the need to incorporate local languages into Internet access.

“Special attention should be paid to the Integration of African languages and to multilingualism in the Internet,” the resolution said.

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