The World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) ended in Tunis over two months ago, but it will only amount to obvious waste (of resources, including time and travel money) if any nation or people-group fail to maximize the opportunities that the process provided — and still provides. With various follow-up meetings and consultations continuing globally, it is important for Nigeria to also consider the opportunities that the WSIS process — and ICT for Development efforts — provides.
From Bamako to Tunis
Beginning in Africa (with Africa hosting the first of the regional preparatory committee meetings in Bamako in 2002) and ending here also, the WSIS process seems to be a great way of reminding Africa of her responsibilities within the Information Society. And when we are reminded of the fact that an African nation suggested the idea of hosting a World Summit on the Information Society, one can not but ask the question: â€œWas the WSIS process really beneficial for the African states that actively participated?â€ Each nation would be responsible for the appropriate answer, but it is worthy of note that beyond expected (and unexpected) flaws, the WSIS provided a unique networking and communication opportunity on a multi-stakeholder platform.
My consistent constituency throughout the process, the Youth Caucus, made a good case for what young people can do when there is a meeting point between preparation and opportunities. Right from Bamako through to Tunis (and including all the PrepComs and inter-sessional meetings), youth presence was felt. Arriving Tunis in varying numbers from diverse nations, the Youth Hub was soon to become a center of attraction to the entire WSIS population. Was it the visible energy, the colourful displays, the evident result of intense research, or was it the music and youthful vigour? All these played their respective roles in establishing the role of youth within the Information Society.
As you moved from one event to the other, you couldnâ€™t avoid seeing these young people whose faces radiated hope and spelt sustainability for the future of the Information Society. A subset of this Youth Caucus was even more visible: with impact on their minds, passion in their hearts, branded T-shirts often on their necks, and their national flag on their shoulders, young Nigerians revealed the hope for Nigeriaâ€™s active participation (and possible leadership) in the Information Society. And when you think of the meetings in which some of these young Nigerians were invited to share best practices, you could not help noticing the attendant commendation for their efforts. But how were they able to translate all the energy into visible products such as the popular documentary and much-sought-after book?
The Miracle of Accra
The translation of energy into visible products is not unconnected to what I choose to describe as the Miracle of Accra. A presentation opportunity allowed me to share my thoughts on possible youth participation at the then-upcoming WSIS Regional Meeting in Accra, and what would come after that was not exactly predictable a few months before that day. The Youth Caucus had learnt to work through volunteers who depended on personal finances to attend meetings, and to take advantage fellowship openings to continue involvements in the WSIS process. But the support of Heinrich Boll Foundation (HBF) changed the speed of action.
With the support for twenty one (21) young Nigerians to the Accra WSIS meeting, HBF clearly led what a word less than miracle cannot describe. These vibrant young people â€œled discussions, facilitated meetings, produced newsletters, met with dignitaries, resolved issues, matched words with action, and stayed up lateâ€¦ in order to help meet Africaâ€™s Information Society needs. â€ There in Accra, the African Youth ICT4D Network was born, and its effect can only be best described in the days to come â€“ when different nations (including Burkina Faso, Cameroun, Egypt, Ghana and Nigeria) will establish their own national-level networks in line with the principles of the pan-African Youth Network.
Out of Tunis: Reaping the Dividends?
Having arrived at our post-Tunis days, and with so much miles to be covered, it is only wise to consider the need for the sustainability of projects, people, policy, partnerships and platforms. In an earlier article , I had argued that:
“It is the duty of Government delegations to return to their respective countries and deliberately broadcast the outcomes of the process (to date) to their respective national stakeholders. This is also true for regional representatives and their sub-regional counterparts. We have come to appreciate the place of inclusion in national processes and while some nations, sub-regions or regions may not be able to boast of bottom-up consultations leading to the WSIS, this would be a great time to do so.
“At the end of the WSIS process, each nation would need to answer the question from her citizens – what do we benefit from the process? Many people in rural Nigeria are not bothered about the sub-section of chapter 27 or 28 that may be of immense interest to certain people; their question (and they have a right to ask) is, “where does my next meal come from and how do you (yes, you) explain why you have spent from my uncle’s tax (since I’m not employed and my aunt is under-employed) to finance national input into the WSIS process?”
“The Civil Society occupies a major space that is dear to the heart of many citizens. Will each civil society organisation be able to translate the “chapeau” into visible action for the average citizen? Will the networks that the civil society has been able to create survive the process and find meaningful expression and be available as a platform for progress? The civil society has made multiple requests and has expressed diverse possibilities, would development be visible if these are engaged?
“Would the DSF (among other outcomes of the WSIS process) empower civil society organisations? Would the outcome of the financial mechanisms debate also help increase support for these actors? The question on the mind of civil society organisations who have benefited from the process through networks and new ideas would be how to replicate this same “success” back at home – especially for those who work with communities that care less about Internet “governanceâ€ and more about livelihood. The Private Sector, International Organisations, United Nations Agencies and all other stakeholders within the process have the moral right to support this global opportunity of building an all-inclusive society that focuses on people and development over profit and technology.
“For young people, it is time to prove that our energies can help propel development. We discovered a best-practice effort during the first phase, the National Information Society Youth Campaigns. 21 countries, 5 continents, 20 regional and national conferences, over 200 workshops, over 40 radio programs, 5 video conferences, over 100,000 brochures, over, 50 media stories… the impact speaks for itself. You should have been there to see the faces of some rural youth literally glow when they learnt of the role of ICTs and had the opportunity of being taught in their own local language! Have you seen the Youth Caucus movie from phase 1? [And permit me to add this, â€œhave you seen the Nigeria Rocks! book and documentary?â€] You need to; it speaks for the impact and possibilities of youth energy.”
These assertions remain particularly relevant for Nigeria and other African nations that are interested in translating their WSIS investments into visible development opportunities. How about the upcoming Internet Governance Forum and the Stocktaking exercise? Have we reached the climax of national participation in the emerging Information Society consultations? I doubt that that should be the case. Projects such as the Lagos Digital Village (LDV) remain committed to the principle of maximizing WSIS opportunities, and I am sure that the coming days will witness dynamic efforts within the Nigerian civil society space. With the support of Heinrich Boll Foundation and project concept (with volunteer support) from Paradigm Initiative Nigeria, LDV will host an ICT4All Seminar for secondary school students (in order to encourage ICT clubs and discuss cybercrime) on the 29th of March; a Cybercrime Roundtable at the HBF office on the 19th of April; a Mentorship Roundtable (which will bring together two generations of ICT professionals in Nigeria for the purpose of building staying power for the sector, for the days ahead) at the HBF office on the 17th of May; and the annual Youth Agenda to discuss wholesome application of ICTs for development at the community level.
People remain critical resources for this key challenge of achieving Nigeriaâ€™s aim of becoming â€œâ€¦an IT capable country in Africa and a key player in the Information Society by the year 2005, using IT as the engine for sustainable development and global competitiveness. â€ We may miss the last digit in the year of target, but the decade should remain the same. With the help of the media (who have been significantly helpful with the creation of awareness and responsiveness of government â€“ among other things), civil society networks, private sector funding and academia research, Nigeria should be in safe hands. The task of producing a conducive environment and appropriate policy frameworks remain with the government â€“ through the specialized agencies that have been saddled with the responsibility of developing Nigeriaâ€™s ICT sector. Partnerships such as the one between HBF and civil society organisations (of which the LDV is proud to be one), and functional intra-civil society networks will contribute to the speed and efficiency of the post-Tunis phase. Platforms such as the Nigerian Youth ICT4D Network (NYIN) portal â€“ which I will present to you shortly â€“ will help various stakeholders to give expression to their commitments and contributions to Nigeriaâ€™s post-Tunis realities.
We do not have the luxury of many options. As it is popularly said, we either â€œshape up or ship outâ€. My preferred option â€“ and that which I have seen expressed in various discussions â€“ is that of shaping up, doing it right, and reaping the dividends of WSIS in Nigeria.
1. SESAN O. (2005), RIPPLES from Lagos: â€¦Nigerian Youth Choose to Lead Action in the Information Society. Retrieved from the World Wide Web on February 21, 2006: http://www.gbengasesan.com/papers.htm
2. SESAN O. (2005), Quo Vadis: Where do we go from Geneva? Retrieved from the World Wide Web on February 21, 2006: http://www.gbengasesan.com/papers.htm
3. Nigerian National Policy for Information Technology (2001). Retrieved from the World Wide Web on August 31, 2006: http://www.nitda.gov.ng