PANEL ACSIS : WSIS FORUM 2017

Thanks to all participants to ACSIS panel on 15 June 2017 at WSIS FORUM ITU Geneva on the theme “Africa and the Digital Economy: Benefits, Losses and Strategies”

Dr. Cisse Kane, PhD President of ACSIS moderated panel

Many thanks to our distinguished panelists:

HEM. Emery Okundji Ndjovu, Ministre des Potes, Télécommunications et NTIC, 
RD CongoMrs.
Marion Jansen Chief Economist International Trade Centre - ITCM. Verengai Mabikai Senior Policy Advisor for Africa, ISOCM.
Aboulkarim Soumaila, Secretary-General UAT-ATUM.
Richard Bolwijn, UNCTADM.
Mactar Seck, UNECA

The session, organised and moderated by Dr Cisse Kane (President of the African Civil Society on the Information Society (ACSIC)), aimed to look into the state of ICTs in Africa, with regards to the digital economy. Different speakers discussed the benefits, losses and strategies, to help the continent benefit from the dividends of digitalisation.

The first speaker, Mr Emery Okundji Ndjovu (ICT Minister, Democratic Republic of Congo) focused his remarks on presenting the ICT landscape in DRC and the importance that ICTs have in the development of the country, being its second source of income after mining.

Okundji Ndjovu mentioned that his government is doing its best to develop the sector. As an example, he mentioned the national backbone project which is already in its second phase. The third phase will be starting soon with the support of the World Bank to use optic fiber to connect the country and grow connectivity.

In the area of legislation, his ministry has just sent two bills to parliament for approval, one on telecommunications and ICT, and the other on e-commerce. Okundji Ndjovu recognises that there are a lot of challenges, such as in educating people about why and how they should use technologies and integrate them in their daily work.

The next speaker, Ms Marion Jansen (Chief Economist International Trade Centre (ITC)), presented some of the ITC’s preliminary findings from their survey on the digital economy market in Africa. She mentioned that many companies in Africa are going digital and presented some of their survey findings:

Do these companies have an international e-payment system? To that, she said that in most African countries, this is not yet available.

Are they able to deliver their products cross-border? On that, she said that many SMEs do not do this by themselves; they use specialized services such as UPS and DHL. Moreover, 63% of their respondents outsource the clearance of customs procedures.

What happens after sales? Are customers happy? Do businesses have a way to ensure their customers are happy with the service? On this,she concluded that accountability is needed across the whole process as described above.

In finishing, Jansen recognised that challenges to e-commerce are faced not only in Africa, they are everywhere. So many entrepreneurs do not know how to put their services online, hence the need for education in this area.

The next speaker, Mr Abdoulkarim Soumaila (Secretary General of UAT-ATU), started by saying that in Africa, challenges should not be feared because they are part of life; and where there is no challenge, there is no life. Soumaila mentioned that besides the challenges mentioned by the speakers, there are others such as:

  • The need for governments to create an environment that will convince and attract investors, and they should be ready to liberalise some sectors of their economy that have the potential to support the digital economy.
  • Access to power, energy. Countries in Africa may have infrastructure but there is the issue of electricity to make them work.
  • Quality of service is another challenge that needs to be worked on,in order to boost the digital economy in many African countries,especially for e-commerce start-ups.

Soumaila concluded that the Ministry of ICT is not the only sector that should be considered responsible for the digital economy, but that all other sectors should be involved in building the national strategy such as the Ministry of transport, energy, agriculture, etc.

The next speaker, Mr Mactar Seck (United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA)), drawing from the previous speakers, was of the impression that the digital economy works in Africa. He said that many jobs have been created and many innovations such as mobile money, which is widely spread across the continent, and that the number of start-ups being created by young people across the continent are considerable. He recognised a number of challenges, including:

  • Internet penetration rate in Africa, which is at 29% (in 2016) while it is 86% in Europe and 33% in South Asia.
  • Digital divide between men and women on the Internet as well as between cities and rural areas.
  • A need for capacity building programs because if no one is educated in ICT, they will not be able to embrace it.

Seck also said that to boost the digital economy in Africa, there are a number of things that need to be done, including:

  • Having stable governments that will attract investors. He said that there is a need to increase public-private partnerships across Africa. Rwanda, Senegal, and Nigeria are good examples of countries in which investors feel their investments are secured.
  • Support local innovation especially those driven by young people, those creating solutions to local problems through technology and countries such as Rwanda and Tunisia are again good examples mentioned.

The next speaker, Mr Verengai Mabikai (Senior Policy Advisor for Africa, ISOC), recognised that there is progress in Africa’s digital economy thanks to the adoption of the Internet. He believes that the lack of content in local languages is inhibiting further progress because, if people cannot understand the language that the content is in, it cannot benefit them.

As part of his finishing remarks, he mentioned some initiatives that the Internet Society is involved in across Africa, such as the setting up of Internet Exchange Points (IXPs) which are very important to grow connectivity in Africa and contribute to the creation of infrastructure in several African countries.

The last speaker, Mr Richard Bolwijn (Investment Division,UNCTAD) spoke about the need to attract investments in Africa, which is key to supporting the African digital economy. Many African countries have developed their ICT strategy plans, but close to half of them fail to give more details on their investments needs. Richard Bolwijn said that these strategies do not make it clear what type of investments they need, which types of partnerships they are looking for, and in which specific sectors they need investments. Many of them only mention that they are looking for investment in infrastructure and forget other sectors such as e-commerce, e-health,etc.

By Arsene Tungali, ACSIS

WSIS FORUM 2017 (FROM 12 TO 16 JUNE 2017 – GENEVA, SWITZERLAND)
STATEMENT BY THE AFRICAN CIVIL SOCIETY ON THE INFORMATION SOCIETY (ACSIS) CALL FOR MORE INCLUSION AND MORE PARTICIPATION IN THE WSIS FORUM

Mr. President of WSIS Forum 2017,
Mr. Secretary General of the International Telecommunication Union,
Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
Dear participants

On behalf of ACSIS, we congratulate you and Mr. Houlin Zhao Secretary General of the International Telecommunication Union, his team and all its partners in UNESCO, UNDP and UNCTAD, for the organization of the WSIS FORUM 2017, which was the setting for lively consultations with very high-level sessions organized to address the linkages between ICTs and the SDGs. We also welcome the strong participation and substantial contribution of Africa to the WSIS Forum 2017 as well as the strong mobilization of members of ACSIS Switzerland and African Civil Society in general.
The relationship between ICTs and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals is self-evident in that ICTs are the global “enabler” tool for all other UN SDGs. ICTs are among the largest job creators in the world. It must be made an opportunity in the world but especially in Africa

As far as Africa is concerned, the major challenges remain important. Indeed, fractures are still very gaping in Africa with a very low rate of connectivity in Africa. We all started together 25 years ago, but there are 90% of the countries and others 3% Internet connection (mostly in Africa). The mobile explosion in Africa can not mask a very partial access to the information and knowledge society.

In Africa there are still many barriers such as access (costs and infrastructure), language, numerical illiteracy). We are likely to continue for a long time to collect many of the same harms from ICTs.

The dangers of the Internet related to cybersecurity, the environment (electronic waste but also waves of all kinds, gadgetisation), make Africa even more vulnerable than other continents.

To answer the question of the central theme of the WSIS Forum this year, it will be a question of putting ICT at the heart of the process (all ministries, all activities), to include the digital dimension as a prerequisite in any action that is undertaken, in any policy to be implemented, in any development plan.

This involves major training and awareness-raising efforts on the critical place of ICTs in Africa’s digital transformation process, and more ways to take ownership of Internet governance processes.

Mr. President of WSIS,
Mr. Secretary General of the International Telecommunication Union
Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
Dear participants

As one participant in the ACSIS Panel on the Digital Economy in Africa said, “Losses, Gains and Strategies:” Even if we give all the connectivity in Africa, we will remain consumers until we have resolved the question of local languages ​​and contents. It is therefore necessary to ensure more local and localized ownership of ICT tools and opportunities.

The digestion of this process can not be done without great efforts in the localization of processes in Africa through the use of local knowledge and culture, the multiplication of points of exchange and the generalization of local content that will open new opportunities for investors and boost innovation. Today only 3% of Internet content in Africa is in African languages. If we are not careful, Africa will continue to be what it is today, a consumer of the digital economy who has no control over the process, a market at the mercy of multinationals. So it may only benefit from the crumbs of the digital economy.

This is why we believe that the international community should look into the question of mobilizing even greater resources for Africa to benefit more from the benefits of the digital economy. ACSIS welcomes all the initiatives that are developing in Africa like Smart Africa and calls on all African countries to support the upcoming organization in Chad of the Panafrican Summit on Digital Economy and Sustainable Growth.

Mr. President of WSIS,
Mr. Secretary General of the International Telecommunication Union
Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
Dear participants

African Civil Society welcomes the unique framework of the WSIS Forum, which allows for the greatest interaction among all actors in the sector. What is essential in our present and in our future. We congratulate the entire organizing team of the Forum on Mr. Houlin Zhao, Secretary General of the ITU.

However, we believe that, given the challenges, the international community needs to be more engaged in providing the WSIS Forum with substantial resources to ensure more inclusiveness and more equitable participation by all countries in the world and all stakeholders ( Governments, Private Sector, Civil Society, Local Authorities, Technical Community, Academic Sector, etc.)

Today the WSIS Forum website is entirely in English. The WSIS Prize contest is entirely in English. This means that if we can not fill out the form in English we will not be able to participate in the WSIS Prize contest, even if we have a very nice project. It is also obvious that if we are not English-speaking we are very likely not to be able to vote since the voting interface is only in English. This contest is likely to continue for a long time to favor candidates handling English as is the case again this year. In addition, during the WSIS FORUM, only high-level meetings are interpreted in the United Nations languages. ACSIS therefore launches a solemn appeal to the international community to endow the WSIS forum with sufficient means for more meaningful support to the WSIS Forum by reinforcing its inclusiveness and increasing its resonance. This requires more multilingualism in the Forum process. Significant support from the Secretariat would:

  1. Translate the entire WSIS FORUM website at least in all the official languages of the United Nations
  2. Ensure that all sessions of the WSIS FORUM are interpreted in all the official languages of the United Nations
  3. Translate the WSIS Forum agenda into all United Nations languages
  4. Offer a significant number of scholarships (at least 20 per continent) each year to enable the most deserving civil society members to travel to Geneva and participate in the WSIS Forum
  5. To envisage the opportunity to complete the governmental delegations by some deserving members of the Civil Society

SCASI remains convinced that these measures are beneficial to ensure more inclusion, fairer and more equitable participation in our Global Forum. SCASI is convinced that the international community has the means to support this process of transition to multilingualism and more inclusive participation that will open up new horizons for the international community. We believe that the private ICT sector is very prosperous and we are appealing to support this proposal for more inclusion. We are appealing to Governments, the Technical Community, local communities and civil society from all UN Member States to support this process of greater inclusiveness.

Mr. President of WSIS,
Mr. Secretary General of the International Telecommunication Union
Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
Dear participants

Thank you for your attention.
Dr. Cissé Kane, President of ACSIS