The APC Africa Development Networking conference took place in the
Holy Family Centre, a Catholic convent. To quote from the
instructions in each room, "Avoid using the showers and toilets
between 10:30pm and 6:30am." Careful planning was of course
The outcome of the meetings will presumably be available from the
SANGONeT Web site. There will for example be a brief declaration
agreed by the participants.
But the process was as interesting to me as the content. Key to the
process was the invitation list. Many of the participants were the
"old Africa hands," the individuals who are the pioneers of African
networking. Several have chapters in the "Bridge Builders" book
that Wendy White of the American National Academy of Sciences had a
hand in producing.
Not only connectivity service providers, but also information content
providers were represented. Peter da Costa of the Inter Press
Service news organization, a Gambian based in Zimbabwe, was chief
facilitator of the meeting. Mercy Wambui was there from Econews
Africa, as was Regina Shakakata of the Zambian Association for
Research on Development.
Women were well represented, roughly half of those present. In a
world in which girls seem to have fewer educational opportunities
than boys, particularly in technical fields, and in which women seem
generally less likely than men to be considered for technical
positions even if qualified, the APC has been quite active in seeking
out those women who are involved in information communications
technologies, and providing training for others.
A smattering of representatives of donors were there, particularly
from the IDRC which provided major support to bring many of the
participants to Johannesburg. The IDRC has of course been a
fundamental source of support for networking in Africa specifically
targeted at NGOs. At the meeting their representatives announced the
Acacia Initiative, which I'm sure we'll be hearing more about.
Three discussion groups formed, one each for Southern Africa,
Eastern Africa, and Francophone Africa. It was an interesting way to
divide the continent, and it made sense given the mix of persons
present at the meeting. Issues were raised in plenary, the groups
discussed, and then summaries were presented to the whole.
In the final marathon session, some 40 action items were posted and
participants voted using a voting process that allocated 15 votes to
each participant. Participants could cast all 15 votes for one item,
or distribute them among multiple items, hence expressing an
intensity of interest in particular items.
300 votes were thus cast by 20 people. Regular training for system
operators topped the list of vote getters with 40 votes. It could
have been four people casting 10 votes each for this item, or 20
people could have cast 2 votes each for it. It would have been
interesting to cast a second ballot where each person had, say, only
3 votes, then compared results with the first ballot to see if there
were any significant differences.
As it was, the top five vote getters were system operator training,
translation for training manuals, support for information brokers,
support for rural and urban infrastructure development, and
electronic mail accessible databases with appropriate software.
While I did not cast a ballot, I did participate in the voting by
recording my own votes privately. There were some differences. Most
important for me was that the APC formulate an African entity of some
kind. This item received only five votes of the 300 cast.
Consider that the APC has two official languages, English and
Spanish, which suggests those parts of the world where the APC is
most active. There was much discussion at the meeting about
representing the views of APC's constituent communities in Africa in
important meetings of governments and donors, but to do this, the
representative will have to demonstrate in some way that he or she is
a legitimate representative. Forming an APC-Africa entity of some
kind would be a strong step in this direction.
With or without a formal entity, there is an APC Africa, and it was
present at this meeting. The forum was remarkable for the
composition of the group assembled and for the methods by which
decisions were reached. SANGONeT and the APC are to be commended.
Have a look at the report of the meeting when it becomes available
for an account of the substantive issues covered.
Jeff @ Harare