[Read more session reports from the WSIS Forum 2018]
Mr Malcolm Johnson, deputy director of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), welcomed the African delegates to the WSIS Forum 2018. He explained that WSIS Forum has become the biggest event dedicated to information and communications technologies (ICT) for development. He especially thanked Rwanda for its contribution to the WSIS Forum, and explained that the forum is dependent on external sponsorship and therefore cannot afford interpretation for all events.
Mr Mactar Seck, head of the New Technologies and Innovation Section of the Special Initiatives Division of the Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), moderated the session and addressed the issue of gender equality in the use of ICTs. He further reported on the outcome of the Regional WSIS Review Meeting of 2017 which was held in Addis Ababa and was attended by 35 countries, with many representatives from the private sector as well as from civil society.
Seck identified the main issues for African countries regarding ICTs as:
- access to ICTs,
- the correct use of ICTs in order to support digital economies, and
- the creation of infrastructure which will support access to the needed services.
Remarking that African countries produce only around 1% of worldwide Internet content, Seck further explained the need to implement ICT teaching in the respective educational systems in order to encourage innovation and digital literacy. He gave the examples of Tunisia, Senegal and Egypt which have enabled ICT development through the creation of techno-parks and state-sponsored incubators.
According to Seck, another element that would attract investment and allow better access to financial support would be the implementation of better regulations on ICTs. These would give private companies more certainty for their investments.
Seck also invited the delegates to use WSIS as a platform to exchange best case practices and increase the involvement of other relevant stakeholders.
Many delegates spoke of the necessity of developing a pan-African approach to ICT policy implementations and commended the work of the UNECA and that of the African Union in that regard.
In response to the challenges that were brought up by the attendees, Johnson said that a lot of these issues could be addressed with the help of the ITU. He noted that participation in ICT development policies is often difficult for African countries because of the high cost involved for delegations wanting to participate in the policy elaboration processes in Geneva. Additionally, he identified the limited resources of the ITU as a factor for participation because many of the ITU’s materials are only available in English. The ITU is trying to increase remote participation for meetings and increasingly uses technological advances to solve these problems.
The ITU acknowledged the fact that small and medium enterprises (SMEs), especially from African countries, are underrepresented but they can be encouraged to participate in policy-making processes through lowered annual participation fees.
Mr Abdoulkarim Soumaila, secretary general of the African Telecommunications Union (ATU), emphasised the point that in order to achieve sustainable development for the African countries, the focus should not be put on development of the ICT sector alone.
He encouraged states to look for ways to encourage young talents to develop their local economies and urged the countries to make this into a national issue addressed by all the states of the continent. He further stated that countries should not be afraid to open their markets to foreign private investments but rather they should do so while establishing guidelines and measures protecting local innovations and economies.
Seck announced the next event regarding ICT development in Africa, namely the Africa Internet Summit which will take place in Dakar, Senegal from April 29 to May 11, 2018.
The African Civil Society on the Information Society (ACSIS) invited all member states of the African Union (AU) to accept the invitation for the first Pan-African Summit on Digital Economy and Sustainable Development that would follow soon.
By Cedric Amon