Quo Vadis: Where do we go from Geneva?
  by 'Gbenga Sesan
24 February 2005

The WSIS process has been a long journey. The first phase having ended, all eyes are on the possible outcomes of the second phase and every family, caucus, delegation and interest group keep flying different colours - all towards the major objective of an all-inclusive Information Society.

Just today, the Digital Solidarity Fund (which has been decsribed as one of the major "wins" for developing nations in this process) sailed through "multiple readings" and was agreed on. Well, the text relating to the fund was agreed on and the hope of all is that the funds will also keep being "agreed upon". The various streams of the WSIS process in phase II - especially the debates on Internet Governance, Financial Mecahnisms and the Political Chapeau - are ongoing at varying speeds and would have reached an "agreed" stage in a few hours, noting that the second preparatory meeting ends tomorrow.

So, where do we go from here? The answer will vary for different people but if you may allow the thoughts of a passionate stakeholder who believes that we owe ourselves a better society especially building on the WSIS process, the next few lines would interest you.

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 platfrom 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 "governance"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? You need to, it speaks for the impact and possibilities of youth energy.

The campaigns have already taken off in some countries for Phase 2, and during this soon-to-be-concluded PrepCom 2, some eight (8) countries have been announced as receipients of small grants for campaigns focusing on rural youth. Expect the reports, prepare to see the multimedia outcomes... but beyond all these, the second phase campaigns will help connect rural youth to the process. Many of them have never touched a computer (and that's if they've even seen one) and may not do so very soon if there's no intervention to highlight the
need to "wade through the waters of life"in order to get access to one. In Africa, where rural youth account for majority of the population, it is hoped that this campaign will help build a bridge across hydra-headed divides. The African Youth ICT4D Network, which was launched during the African Regional WSIS meeting in Accra, has a responsibility in this direction - and they will surely stand up to it.

Where do we go from here? Between now and the next PrepCom in September, - and the summit in Tunis- meetings will hold and documents will be produced but the true indices of growth within the Information Society would be the possibility of linking these processes with true and appropriate action.



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