16 November 2005. With the final Tunis documents surprisingly being adopted in Tuesday night's session, the so far dominant summit agenda of Internet Governance now suddenly seems to switch again to the development aspects of ICT. As countries make their final statements to the 2-year process, the development agenda regains its urgency.
In fact, the prominent subject of the digital divide has already been comprehensively dealt with during the Geneva phase leaving - besides Internet Governance - mainly the topic of financing ICTs for development open on the agenda for the second phase. However, as negotiations on the controversial Internet Government issue have now finally been settled two days earlier than expected (see our earlier report) governments now gladly use the opportunity to stress topics which are still of major concern for them. It is probably due to this new situation that almost every speaker on this afternoon's session focused on the implications and necessities of bridging the digital divide. And it definitely came in handy that most of this afternoon's speakers on the list where representatives of African countries who strongly stressed the importance of not loosing focus on the development aspects of ICTs.
Lesotho referred to the negations of the G-8 summit in Gleneagles this summer from which "too few comes out" until the present day. Nigeria and Congo welcomed the decision of world leaders to endorse the Digital Solidarity Fund within September's UN World Millennium Summit and 60th Session of the General Assembly, encouraging voluntary contributions to its financing. The Central African Republic in this regard even called on the Secretary-General to establish a working group on the fund. The demand which could be sounded out of the contributions of the other governments, namely Mali, Nepal, Gabon, Latvia, Zambia and Senegal, was mostly the same:
- Understand ICTs as major means to eradicate poverty and promoting sustainable development;
- Stick to the commitments made in the Declaration of Principles and Plan of Action of both phases of WSIS regarding the role of ICT for development processes;
- Make sure that appropriate financing for ICTs for development is provided.
The United Kingdom as the only Western country that was speaking this afternoon joined in that voice and pointed out their commitment to double their foreign aid until 2015 as announced at the G-8 meeting earlier this year. However, the British foreign minister also passed over responsibility for the implementation of the ICT4D agenda to the recipient governments, stressing that it would be up to them how much of that money will be used for ICTs within their national budgets.
All governments emphatically stressed the connection between the Millennium Development Goals and ICTs and gladly referred to Kofi Annan's demand from the opening ceremony this morning, that the Tunis summit shall be a "summit of solutions". Though the notions of the above contributions will not be included in any official summit document any more, it is pretty clear that any follow-up process will have to deal with the implementation of the "ICT for development" agenda in a comprehensive way.
This afternoon's debate therefore perfectly fit into the impression a normal participant would get from this Tunis summit when making his way through the ICT4ALL exhibition and the pavilions of the various exhibiting countries. Countries present their national e-strategies, NGOs promote IT education and infrastructure initiatives, and international organizations stress the importance of global development cooperation efforts for ICTs.
Most of the exhibitors focus their presentation on ICT and development, while other topics like internet governance, security, cyber crime, privacy - issues also covered in the final summits documents - are hardly dealt with. This must not at all be a bad thing. But the dominance of the issue - both visually and in content - should bring back to our mind that besides all discussions about the different policy and content aspects of ICT - the major need for half of the planet is still this one: Being able to use it at all.