In 1995, following the regional symposium on data communications for development in Africa organized in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, by the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), UNESCO, the International Development Research Centre (IDRC), and the Bellanet Secretariat, 53 African countries (1) appointed a high level working group mandated to develop an action plan for the effective use of ICTs to support the continent’s development. A broad consultative process resulted in the “Africa Information Society Initiative (AISI): An Action Framework to Build Africa’s Information and Communication Infrastructure.” This important document formed the basis for the implementation of an African digital schedule.
Most of the work taking place in the ICT industry in Africa is being implemented within the framework of the African Information Society Initiative (AISI) and by members of Partnership for ICTs in Africa (PICTA).
African ministers were convinced that building an information society would stimulate growth and provide new opportunities in education, trade, healthcare, job creation, and food security, thus helping countries develop quickly and raise their standards of living.
AISI was also endorsed by both the African Regional Telecommunication Development Conference organized by the ITU and held in Abidjan in May 1996, and the Organization of African Unity (OAU) at its July 1996 summit in Yaoundé. In 1998, the African Ministers of Communication launched the African Connection Initiative in Johannesburg and also supported AISI. Three years later, this initiative served as a basis for the African common position and was adopted as the regional component of NEPAD’s (New Partnership for Africa’s Development) ICT programme. The AISI was extremely well received at the G8 Summit held in Denver, Colorado, on June 22, 1997. Heads of state and government of the seven largest industrial countries and Russia issued a press release emphasizing that “a number of African countries are making impressive efforts to harness the information revolution with a view to support democracy and sustainable development.”
With AISI, it can be said that Africa was the first region in the world—and only one to this day—to have defined a true vision for an information society, as well as a corresponding action plan. This took place several years before the rest of the world started addressing digital divide issues or the organization of a world summit on an information society.
The AISI outlines a comprehensive framework aimed at creating digital opportunities to benefit the economic and social development of African countries. Its priorities were further defined in October 1999, during the first African Development Forum (ADF 1999), where a thousand participants recommended prioritizing selected areas. They also identified the development of a suitable political climate as a prerequisite to any sustainable activity in the ICT field and urged African countries to consider exploring data communications in the three major sectors that pose pressing development challenges: education, health, and trade.
The outcome of the 1999 ADF served as a basis, in May 2001, for the “Common Position for Africa’s Digital Inclusion: recommendations of the meeting on Africa’s Contribution to the Digital Opportunity Task Force (DOT Force) and the UN Economic and Social Council’s (ECOSOC) panel on Digital Divide.” The efforts of each and every one to agree on a digital schedule in Africa culminated in July 2001 during the Lusaka OAU heads of States Summit with the inclusion of a chapter on the digital divide in the NEPAD document, which came to be known as the New African Initiative (NAI). NEPAD identified ICTs as a priority area that should be fast tracked. The document broadly defines ICT activities likely to strengthen NEPAD objectives. More detailed action plans are being designed under the leadership of Senegal, which is responsible for the infrastructure component of this partnership.
The ECA believes that developing a sustainable information society in Africa should be organized around seven main groups of activities:
• Creating awareness among decision-makers to ensure real national leadership and ownership of the process;
• Establishing favorable policy climates to attract investment, mainly from the private sector, which has not been very successful so far;
• Developing an ICT infrastructure, as no viable digital opportunity can emerge in the current environment;
• Selecting priority sectors for the use of ICT, beginning with the main development challenges of African countries;
• Building human and institutional capacity, taking into account all the steps of the process: planning, implementation, monitoring, and evaluation;
• Monitoring progress and measuring impact to assess whether there is actual progress and impact on economic and social development;
• Building strong alliances to involve all potential national and international actors.
Major initiatives underway in Africa: [described in the original article]
Building Digital Opportunities (BDO)
Karima Bounemra Ben Soltane
Article taken from Courrier ACP-UE (European Commission, Directorate General for Development), No. 192, May-June 2002.
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