Bamako 2002 Spells out Vision for African Information Society
By Ruth Nabakwe
June 5, 2002
As a key outcome of the Africa Regional Conference on the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) held recently in Bamako, Mali, an African Regional Bureau has been established to work with the WSIS secretariat according to the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA).
The Bureau will be chaired by Mali, with membership from Cameroon, Rwanda, Senegal, South Africa and Tunisia. Civil society members include representatives from the Anais Network (Cameroon), the African Women's Development and Communications Network (FEMNET, Kenya) and the Arab Union of NGOs (Tunisia).
The African Enterprise Network and a private Senegalese information technology company, represent the private sector with the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) acting as the interim secretariat for the Bureau.
The regional conference, known as Bamako 2002, which took place May 26 - 30, attracted representation from 51 African countries, drawn from governments, civil society, the media, public and private sectors as well as a cross-section of international development agencies.
Participants unanimously agreed on a set of principles and recommendations for developing a common African vision for an information society. In a conference communique, known as the Bamako Declaration, emphasis was placed on the need to insure that every citizen has access to information as a basic human rights calling for the removal of regulatory, political and financial obstacles to the development of communication facilities. This also included addressing the continent's linguistic specificities with the introduction of new technologies that ensures access for all.
The Conference acknowledged the fact that narrowing the digital divide should go hand in hand with the development of telecommunication infrastructure, which calls for African governments to fully contribute to the preparations for both phases of the World Summit scheduled for Geneva 2003 and Tunis in 2005.
The meeting reiterated the need for NEPAD to benefit from concerted and coordinated mobilization of all development partners to provide funds to guarantee public service, universal access and content creation that addresses the essential needs of the people of Africa if the information society is to be attained. There was a recommendation for the immediate establishment of a training fund for sensitizing Africans on the information society before the second preparatory meeting of the Geneva Summit. In addition, the formation of a high level scientific committee to make recommendations on the challenges of the information society from an African perspective was called for.
The Bamako Declaration acknowledged the continent's rich cultural diversity and urged that it should be reflected in cyberspace with accompanying funds for digital archiving of traditional knowledge and heritage as Africa's contribution to the global information.