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AFRIK-IT  February 1999

AFRIK-IT February 1999

Subject:

Southern Africa and the Millenneum

From:

Jeff Cochrane <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

[log in to unmask]

Date:

Sat, 13 Feb 1999 08:38:29 -5

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (152 lines)

Greetings Afrik-ITes!

The great conference hall in Lusaka is located just outside of the city
on the road to the airport.  Next door a new shopping center in the
South African suburban style is taking shape.  On the grounds,
gazelles graze freely.

At the end of the long drive, traditional dancers and drummers
maintained constant rhythm.  At the entrance, an attendant tried with
little success to move along all the large cars with diplomatic flags
blocking the way.  At the door, a security guard in special uniform
checked my bag thoroughly.

A tremendous crowd mingled in the foyer.  Hostesses in matching
local dresses held aloft signs distinguishing delegates from Southern
Africa (SADC members), cooperating partners, nations outside the
region, and other organizations, directing all to their proper places.  As
we entered the great hall, singers welcomed us from the balcony
above.  A circular table filled the room.  Three rows of chairs behind
each seat of the main table accomodated complete delegations.  I took
my place in the last row behind the seat reserved for the USA
delegate.  From there I could see that the center of the room inside the
great circular table was empty but for a couple of television cameras
with bright lights and perhaps a dozen photographers and reporters.
Two tremendous air conditions at opposite corners of the room
blasted frigid air directly over me, forcing me to place a weight over my
papers to prevent them flying away, and I was for once glad of having
brought a warm suit.

Across the room I watched as senior officials of SADC took their
places.  The Executive Secretary called the meeting to order.  The
Honorable Alfred Nzo, the SADC Council Chair and South African
Foreign Affairs Minister, offered an opening address.  The singers
extolled the virtues of information technology, and a musician on a
traditional stringed instrument accompanied a dramatist poet who
proclaimed "I.T. is mighty" in its ability to bring the people of
Southern Africa together.

President Chiluba hardly touched on the subject of information
technology, prefering instead to respond to allegations that he or
members of his government are funneling arms for diamonds to one of
the forces now fighting in Angola.  He also touched on the subject of
debt relief, noting that this would enable his and other countries in the
region to care for the victims of AIDS.

Health was indeed a common concern throughout the day.  Speaker
after speaker thanked SADC for addressing the issue of information
technology in the region, but with reservations.  The delegate from
Norway reminded us that information technology is a tool, not an end
in itself.  The representative from Canada asked that IT be harnessed
to combat HIV  More harshly than the rest, the delegate from
Zimbabwe observed that health was scarcely mentioned in the
Conference's Theme Document, yet was the most critical issue facing
the region.  The closing Conference Communique therefore endorsed
all the policy points of the Theme Document, but added a
recommendation that the technology be used to collect and
disseminate information on AIDS.

The USAID Regional Office for Southern Africa, located in Gaborone,
paid for the production of the Theme Document, contracting through
my office.  I recommended Mike Jensen, an independent consultant in
South Africa, for the drafting of the document, and he worked closely
with the information technology team of the SADC Secretariat on the
final product.  Elliot Odirile of the Secretariat had the principal
influence on the final product.

The day prior to the formal plenary, the delegates divided into small
working groups to consider the Theme Document from a variety of
perspectives -- infrastructure, human resource development,
community participation and governance, the regulatory environment,
etc.  I sat in on the session on regulations.  In attendance were
representatives of an Internet service provider, the World Trade
Organization, the SADC Secretariat, the Government of India, and
many others from within the region, about 20 persons in all.
Discussions were generally quite lively, but there were no real points
of disagreement.  All seemed to agree that the major issues were
contained in the policy section of the Theme Document.

Several interesting points did emerge.  One delegate suggested that
by adhering to international agreements on information technologies,
pressure might be brought to bear on domestic entrenched interests
resistant to change.  There was also general concern expressed about
disfunctional regulatory structures in the region, perhaps due to
political interference, conflict of interest, or lack of skills.  There was
consensus that the SADC Secretariat should prepare a draft protocol
for the consideration of member states.

Comments on the document the next day at the plenary were almost
universally favorable, with the general reservation that too much
focus on technology alone would miss the point that it is in specific
applications (e.g. health) that true benefits accrue.  My impression is
that the authors accepted this as a friendly amendment.  The Japanese
delegation complained that the examples in the document focused too
much on comparisons of Africa to North America and Europe to the
unfair exclusion of other parts of the world, but apart from that I heard
few complaints.

The Theme Document is on the Web at

http://www.sadc.int/theme.htm

(Careful, I think the whole thing is in a single table, which on my
browser requires the whole thing to load before you can view any of
it... about one minute over a 28,8 link.)

Among the principle recommendations were those highlighted as the
document was formally tabled for consideration by the Honorable Jay
Naidoo, Minister for Posts, Telecommunications and Boradcasting of
South Africa.  He stated quite forcefully and articulately in his
prepared remarks:

"The cornerstone of national policy for information technology is for
governments to ensure the provision of universal access at an
affordable price and at an acceptable quality and level of service for all
citizens... A critical challenge is to establish a consistency of rules
across the region... We now need to move to implement a three tier
separation of power with government responsible for national policy
framework, and independent regulators responsible for licensing a
multiplicity of service providers in a competitive environment.  SADC
should look towards creating complimentary infrastructure capable of
interconnecting with member states and setting the norms and
standards."

What next?

My impression is that the real purpose of the conference was to
confirm a mandate for the SADC Secretariat in Gaborone and the
SADC Southern Africa Transport and Communications Commission
(SATCC) in Maputo to elucidate norms and standards, embodying
these in a protocol and model legislation for each of the member states
to consider.  The Secretariat and SATCC must then have sufficient
resources to work with national governments, persuading them to
implement the model, and helping them find solutions to local
problems that might impede them from doing so.

A meeting of the region's experts is to be called for late March in
Maputo to consider the way forward.

Cheers!
Jeff @ Lusaka

-----
SETA Corporation Senior Analyst
USAID/M/IRM/CIS: Program Technology Transfer
USAID/AFR/SD/PSGE: AfricaLink
[log in to unmask]
http://www.info.usaid.gov/alnk
1325 G Street NW Suite 400
Washington, DC 20005 USA
Tel +1 (202) 219-0463
Fax +1 (202) 219-0518

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