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Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Global ICTs: The Silent Development Revolution

(as appeared in last Sunday's edition of Sunday World:
Global ICTs—The Silent Development Revolution

By E.K.Bensah II


When the American poet and musician Gil Scott-Heron wrote the poem "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised", he perhaps got it right with regard to the development of ICTs in the context of the World Summit on Information Society (WSIS).


Before 2005, WSIS had assumed an unclear UN process that had little practical connection to development. Now, it is virtually impossible to talk about the World Summit on Information Society (WSIS) without talking about the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).


When world leaders met at the UN in 2000 to draw up the MDGs, one of the goals was to achieve universal primary education. Given that education is, in essence, a passport to one's future and opening up of possibilities for any child, UNESCO has led the way of hosting seminars on Knowledge Societies in the Context of WSIS. For UNESCO, its vision of knowledge societies is based on four principles: freedom of expression; quality education for all; universal access to information and knowledge; and respect for cultural and linguistic diversity. UNESCO is far from the only UN agency involved in the WSIS process, but its role as one of the pre-cursors of the WSIS is moot.


Despite the critical involvement of UN agencies, such as FAO and UNDP at WSIS, it is clear for many observers that the Second Phase of the World Summit on Information Society (WSIS) that took place from 16-18 November in the Tunisian capital, Tunis, was disappointing. It certainly was for civil society organizations (CSOs) who, after an alleged stabbing of a French journalist, were denied by the Tunisian authorities to hold a Citizens Summit on WSIS. For others, however, one of the more concrete things, to have emerged from the whole summit was the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)-sponsored One Laptop Per Child (OLPC), going for one hundred dollars.


The brainchild of the Professor Nicholas Negroponte of MIT, the lime-green laptop is made of rubber, so that when it closes, it will be sealed to protect it from environments, such as harsh environment in northern Kenya. It can be powered by a retractable crank that can be used to generate 10 minutes of power for every one minute of cranking up the machine.


Negroponte's team turned down Apple's offer to use its operating system, opting instead for a slimmer version that uses a 500MHZ processor and open source software under Linux. It is equipped with a 1GB flash RAM instead of a hard drive, a word processor, email application, and programming system.  


Former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan called it "an impressive technical achievement", adding that "it holds the promise of major advances in economic and social development."


Pressed on why laptops in place of "proper" development, MIT argued that laptops are tools to think with. More specifically, their relatively affordable price of hundred dollars is coupled with how they can be used for work and play, drawing, writing, and mathematics.


In October this year, Uruguay bought 100,000 of the machines for schoolchildren aged six to 12, with a view to procuring a further 300,000 for every school-going child in the country by 2009.


Here in Ghana, Finance and Economic Minister Baah-Wiredu announced in the annual reading of the budget that the laptops in question will be introduced to Ghana from next year.


For many observers of the WSIS process, the laptops have constituted not only something concrete coming out of WSIS, but something that can be used to facilitate development. In the long run, WSIS has highlighted the importance of using ICTS to facilitate development, and so rural areas being able to afford to use such ICT tools is moot in getting closer to the Millenium Development Goals of halving poverty by 2015.


The UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has piloted studies, for example, where the use of ICT tools, such as mobile phones, has helped farmers in Senegal to obtain prices of goods.


Yoshio Utsumi, Secretary General of ITU and of the WSIS Summit, said that "the WSIS was not an end but a beginning." What the Tunis phase did was remind one about the much-talked-about Digital Divide; how to govern the internet, and how to use ICTS for development. Whilst the Digital divide—as evidenced by the chasm between those who have ready and steady access to computers and, by extension, the Internet – very much exists even within countries (such as the rate of using the internet cafes in Accra as compared to the rate in the Northern region, which is three or four times the cost), the use of ICTs for development, for example, is being facilitated by non-governmental agencies like the Accra-based GINKS, which aim to " provide information and Knowledge sharing that will facilitate capacity building for ICTs Products and services"


Other developments are also taking place. One notable one is that of a story in the Ghanaian Times of 1 April 2006, in which it was reported that Accra Girl's Secondary School has become the "first school in Africa to have an electronic learning (e-learning) center to facilitate the adoption of [ICTS] into its academic programmes." The issue of internet governance, however, is a murkier—and more technical affair that merits as much consideration and study as those issues that pre-dominate international development.


Internet Governance, concrete outcomes

The issue of internet governance has assumed similar dimensions characteristic of the North-South divide in, say, the international trading system. If at the WTO, it is the so-called QUAD (comprising Canada, the US, UK, and Japan) that have a major say surrounding the decisions made on the multilateral trading system, so it is that when it comes to the internet, the US is right at the heart of controlling how domain names, for example, are assigned.


A communiqué produced by the European Commission in late April 2006 has argued that this system of control by the US is slowly changing—and that is also thanks to the Tunis Agenda on the Information Society that came out of the WSIS Summit last November.


In the Agenda, paragraph 63, for the first time, recognises that "Countries should not be involved in decisions regarding another country's country-code Top-Level Domain (ccTLD). Their legitimate interests, as expressed and defined by each country, in diverse ways, regarding decisions affecting their ccTLDs, need to be respected, upheld and addressed via a flexible and improved framework and mechanisms ".


Put simply, this means that unlike before when countries needed the approval of the US Commerce Department before changing, say, to, countries, exercising their sovereign right, can now go ahead and change it—ensuring that the existing non-profit ICANN (Internet Corporation of Assigned Names and Numbers) oversees the change through regional registries, such as AfriNic, which helps, as its website maintains, to " provide professional and efficient distribution of Internet number resources to the African Internet community, to support Internet technology usage and development across the continent and strengthen self Internet governance in Africa by encouraging a participative policy development" .


Even the decision to create "", before Tunis, would have meant seeking assent from the US! What this old way of doing things would have meant is that if Ghana were considered not strategic enough a country, the US Department of Commerce cold turn down that domain name.


Some of these technical issues were discussed at the first-ever forum on Internet governance, which the Greek government played host to in October 2006. This year, the second Internet Governance Forum was held in Brazil, where the issues of content regulation; the duty of states to protect freedom of expression online, including the protection of children online; a set of global public policy principles—including, inter alia, an Internet Bill of Rights were discussed.


The future of WSIS

At the UN level, monitoring what WSIS will do to the access to information is a key concern.   Malaysia's Minister of Science, Technology and Innovation, Jamaludin Jarjis, said last year that "access to information should now be regarded as a utility and basic human right." He adds that conventional development means were no longer adequate in today's economic climate, where knowledge capital was the new currency and the new, raw material."


The UN, at a Geneva meeting, in July 2006, maintained the world body should continue to play a leading role in expanding information and communication technologies to promote development.  The World Summit requested that a UN group on the Information Society ought to coordinate the work of the UN system.


It bears reminding that although the WSIS process seems rather nebulous to many in the sense that linking ICTs to development seems rather tenuous, in the long run, what remains clear is that as long as the Internet and ICTS are with us, so, too, will WSIS. It is a process that remains critical to the MDGs, and like most revolutions, its legacy for posterity can only be for the betterment of society.


Emmanuel.K.Bensah is Ag. President of Ghanaian Association of Journalists in ICT (GHAJICT) (

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Friday, November 23, 2007

Weekend Woes:At Long Last, It's Over! Still, Too Many Deeper Dramas...

No, it's not my much-talked about thriller (yawn), nor...get your mind out of the gutter!, nor...anything else I might have waxed lyrical over, but forgot to commit myself to!

It's about a blasted report on regional integration (in fact, a review of UNCTAD's Trade and Development Report) that I was supposed to have submitted last week. Oh, well. It's been done--finally! The odd thing about it all is that I'm a super-aficionado of regional integration, so this dragging of my feet is too much!

Suffice-to-say, there are quite a number of deeper dramas going on in my life.

The first involves...writing: one report for work pending; plus a recommendation by my former boss, a seasoned and veteran journalist, to write a column on ICT for our local Sunday paper. Deeply humbled, I have to endeavour to get an article every Tuesday for publication out on Sundays!

My commitment for Global Voices has waxed and waned in the latter part of the year. Seriously waned at the tail-end of the year! I'm seriously endeavouring to finish a review of posts on/about Ghana before the year is out.

My novel--the less said about it the better!

Secondly, there's the issue of my weight, which I am using a light-hearted approach, coupled with serious activity and exercises, and avoiding of all-that's-bad-for-the-cholesterol so that I get trim. The doctors claim I grew an inch to 6". I suspect, they should have checked my height again; I am still tall, but a reasonable 5"10.

In any event, these cascading dramas have conspired to remind me about this most instructive of Marianne Williamson's quotes:

"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be?..."--Marianne Williamson

Make the weekend a good one...

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Friday, November 09, 2007

Searching for a Deeper Identity...

In between pretending to work very hard before the year is out, I've had to battle with some issues of identity.

The first has been preconceptions by the folks on what constitutes a good wife. Beyond all the qualities that one would hope for (care, love, and whatnot) in their view, it's also about marrying someone who is a couple of years younger than me. One year difference is too short--supposedly.

I'm not quite sure what to make of it, except to admit that to be the truth, but insist that if there is love, happiness and joy, that doesn't really matter, surely? Besides, it's not having a wife a few years younger than me that is going to make my marriage a happy one --or is it?

I did some yahoo searches of this on Yahoo Answers, and the answers were consistent: even if people had married women some ten or more years younger than them, most important was the love and respect. Besides as regards the latter, does it not take two to tango? If I respect my wife, will she not automatically respect me? Granted, it doesn't happen that way all the time (hell, we live in an imperfect world!) but that's the cosmic law of karma I guess...

Still, it's given me some food for thought...and then some. I felt, in what some might consider unusual, the need to tell my girlfriend. She understood that my parents had every right to feel that way, and that in the long run, the decision rested on me.

I believe it does--and, frankly, it's no skin off my nose. As regards my private life, even if my wife will be inextricably linked to the folks on account of me, it's important I state from the outset that they forgot about one thing: does the lady make me happy? If she does, I think that settles everything? or?

After all, is it not happiness that reigns supreme over any relationship? Bearing in mind care, respect and all that?

In any event, this is what one internet source put it:

1. If the man is about the same age as, or somewhat older than the girl, there will be no special problem of age suitability.

2. If the girl is slightly older there will be no special problem unless one or the other feels sensitive about it. The only question then will be, "How do they feel about it?"

3. As people grow older, age differences become less important. Other things being equal, there will be less difference between a woman of fifty and a man of seventy, than between a girl of twenty and a man of forty.

4. When one is relatively young and the other as much as twelve years older, the couple should carefully review the following problems:

In these age gap relationships, there may be real differences in their interest in physical activities. If the man is the elder, this may not be too important. A man of thirty-five may play as good a game of golf or even tennis, and swim as well as a girl of twenty.

In fact their age gap may actually make them more evenly matched. A greater age gap relationship problem will be the stage in which their interests happen to be.

I am probably vindicated by this post, however:

One thing to think of is the future. In a large age gap relationship, one person is going to age faster than the other one. It's nature and you can't avoid it. In a 20 year age gap for instance, as good as things are when she is 20 and he is 40, if they stay together, they won't be growing old together as much as HER growing older and HIM growing ELDERLY. These things need to be considered as well.

Coming from parents where there is a bit more than 5-yr age gap, I can understand why they might feel the way they do, but, hey, things have changed considerably--and, well, if, God forbid, it blows in my face, I'm man enough to accept it!

Either way, whatever the case may be, I want my woman to be with me as a partner for life--someone who can learn from me, and I from her. I know I find it with Sandra. If it's just one-year between us, the experiences of grief (brought about by the loss of Samuel, my one and only brother) in 1991, raised my sensitive and mature node higher than most people's. To that end, I truly think I'm the man for her!

This is compounded by her sending me text messages along the lines that she'd like to do naughty things to me. I cannot tell you what that can do to any guy!!

On a more serious note, the second reason for the absence has to do with me sorting out getting an ID card. My passport expired in May, and because I knew I wasn't going to travel outside the country, I took things for granted--until I was compelled to give a picture ID for some application a few weeks ago.

I can tell you the shock was more than rude, leaving me more than a bit foolish: I had no voter's ID (which is like a national ID card here) as I landed back in Ghana a few months before election day in 2004, and was therefore unable to get one. Coupled with that was the fact that I don't yet have a driver's license (I will do next year). ALl of this made me feel so "identity-less", which is something I surely should not be feeling in my own country!

Suffice-to-say, things are on the move, and my passport has gone through for renewal. It's just a matter of time.

Now, back to my relationship thingy, I just finished speaking to my best friend Juliet who believes in many ways, I'm in tune with my self, but in other aspects, I'm rather childish! Yeah, man! Primarily on the grounds that I've seemed, among a few other things, reluctant in taking my gf to meet the folks.

Anyways, the point she made was a seriously sound one: that perhaps my maturity has not been noticed by the folks, and so they feel that I couldn't handle a one-year gap!

Good point noted--and taken...

Have yourselves a good weekend!

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