Africa: Inclusive Information Society, 12/04/02

Africa: Inclusive Information Society, 12/04/02

Africa: Inclusive Information Society Date distributed (ymd): 021204 Document reposted by Africa Action

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Region: Continent-Wide Issue Areas: +economy/development+


This posting contains several articles from the Association for Progressive Communications (APC) on the use of Information and Communication Technology in Africa, including (1) the report from a workshop sponsored by the APC and the Economic Commission for Africa, and (2) articles related to the APC Africa Hafkin Communications Prize and the winner Schoolnet Namibia. Check out the links below both for background on Schoolnet Namibia and examples of their innovative work in connecting schools in Namibia to the internet. And test your knowledge of African geography with their Africa map puzzle at:

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Association for Progressive Communications (APC) Our policy work in Africa:

APCNews mailing list;


Heather Ford, APC Africa ICT Policy Initiative Johannesburg, South Africa Tel: +27 82 8727374 Email:


13 November 2002

Viva African Civil Society Building an Inclusive Information Society! Viva!

JOHANNESBURG - These were the words that began one of the most vibrant and challenging discussions about civil society's engagement in ICT policy-making in Africa to date. Organised by the Association for Progressive Communications (APC), and hosted by the UN Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) with the support of Article 19, the workshop on ICT Policy and Civil Society sparked the formation of a network of ICT policy mobilizers dedicated to building an inclusive information society in Africa.

The workshop took place over three days starting November 6 at the UNECA headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Over 80 representatives from non-governmental organizations, human rights organisations, media groups, women's organizations, development groups and researchers from 24 countries throughout Africa gathered to discuss the role of African civil society in ICT policy-making and to outline a plan of action to move forward in mobilizing other organisations on these issues.

Karima Bounemra Ben Soltane of the ECA opened the workshop by expressing the need for civil society organizations to become more engaged in ICT policy processes on the continent. She challenged the organisations present to organise and unite so that civil society can have a greater voice in the formation of policy. APC Communications and Information Policy Coordinator Peter Benjamin outlined the plan for the week, impressing on participants the need to take action on the issues and tasks that had to be completed by the end of the three days. The aims of the workshop were, firstly, for civil society actors to share their experience and build on the knowledge that already existed, secondly, to identify the needs of those organisations in developing ICT policy at both national and international levels, and lastly, to identify the strategies required to meet those needs.

Participants at the workshop came from diverse fields in the civil society sector and from countries throughout Africa. The debates, especially those around issues such as the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD), were intense and challenging, as participants critically analysed the role of civil society in governance and policy development. "This workshop is one of the milestone events in ICT policy-making in Africa from a civil society perspective," said participant, Ewan McPhie, Policy Director at "It is difficult to estimate the value of providing a venue where civil society organisations from Africa could meet, share views and experiences and get to know each other better."

Smaller working groups formed around four main areas of ICT policy-making including the right to communicate, freedom of expression and information exchange, diversity of content, language, ownership and control and global, regional and national governance of the information society. These discussions led to the formulation of action plans and a statement on African civil society's engagement in ICT policy development from participants. The statement begins with the recognition of the importance of civil society in ICT policy-making: "Given the centrality of civil society to the development of an inclusive information society, and the proximity of civil society organizations (CSOs) to the needs of people and society at large, CSOs need to play a central role in developing and implementing ICT policy." The statement goes on to assert recommendations on the themes of 'freedom of expression', 'policy and enabling environment', 'governance', 'content creation and overcoming barriers', 'open source' and 'brain drain'.

The Action Plan sets out a clear course of action for participants to engage in information sharing, lobbying at national and international levels (especially at the World Summit on the Information Society), a free/open source software task force, and the development of a cross-regional information exchange for community radio organisations.

The Civil Society and ICT Policy Workshop was funded by Open Society Initiative of Southern Africa (OSISA), the Open Society Initiative of West Africa (OSIWA) and the International Institute for Communication and Development (IICD). This workshop was organised as part of the APC's Africa ICT Policy Monitor project, supported by HIVOS and the International Development Research Centre.


The Association for Progressive Communications (APC) is an international network of civil society organisations dedicated to empowering and supporting groups and individuals through the strategic use of information and communication technologies (ICTs), especially Internet-related technologies. APC and its members pioneer practical and relevant uses of ICTs for civil society, especially in developing countries. APC is an international facilitator of civil society's engagement with ICTs and related concerns, in both policy and practice.

Read the Workshop Statement: [English] [French]



Association for Progressive Communications (APC)

Contact: Karen Higgs APC Communications Cassinoni 1085 11200 Montevideo Uruguay Tel: +598 2 400-6460 Email:

ADDIS ABABA, ETHIOPIA, November 7 2002 - SchoolNet Namibia, a volunteer-driven organisation that is working to see all Namibian schoolchildren get access to a computer and the internet, was awarded the APC Africa Hafkin Communications Prize for people-centred information and communications technology (ICT) policy at a ceremony attended by the prize finalists and other champions of the ICT and development sector in Addis Ababa this evening. Second place went to the policy programme of, a research and advocacy non-profit from South Africa that promotes access to ICT by researching, testing, and promoting best practices for sustainable technology use.

"Network architecture. Sector liberalisation. Infrastructure. Regulatory frameworks. Universal access. Universal service obligations. Radio frequency spectrum. Software and applications. They're all areas of ICT policy. You can see why civil society organisations and others are often intimidated by the technicalities from taking on the challenge of working for positive change in national ICT policy!" said Nancy Hafkin, networking pioneer for whom the prize is named. This is why APC - a non-profit association which has worked to promote Internet and ICTs for development since 1990 - chose to focus this year's Hafkin Prize on inspirational African ICT policy initiatives.

"ICT policy decisions impact any citizen who wants to take advantage of the opportunities that can come with new technologies," Hafkin pointed out in her congratulatory message. "Will the national policy favour technology that is state-of-the art but not affordable to the rural areas? Will government provide service subsidies to the poorest or to the disabled? Will government encourage the development of software that the illiterate can use? All of these are the very real and non-technical questions that are determined by national ICT policy choices. Both SchoolNet Namibia and have been leaders in demystifying ICT policy and bringing its realities to people in Africa."

SchoolNet Namibia's objective is to provide appropriate computer technology and Internet access to ALL schools in Namibia. Primarily a hands-on training and support organization, their successful introduction of computers and internet into over 200 schools since 2000 led SchoolNet to become actively involved in policy-making at the national level in Namibia.

SchoolNet Namibia is an exemplary role model for the sustainable introduction of ICT across the education sector. The SchoolNet model which includes the adoption of appropriate school computer technology, the use of open source and free software solutions, free Internet Service provision in partnership with local government-owned telecommunication agencies, and solar-powered school computer laboratories can be replicated by education systems across Africa. The Namibian government has recognised SchoolNet Namibia in its National Development Plan for 2000-2005 as a key actor in the roll-out of ICT in education and job creation.

Awarded with a very honourable mention was the policy programme of, which is committed to raising awareness of the impact of policy decisions at both the policy level and at the grass-roots level. The policy team drafts issue-based reports and briefs, gets information into the hands of government officials who can use it, informs policy-making, involves people at ground-level in policy debate, and acts as a bridge between international views and best practices and local circumstances. has worked closely with South African government officials to provide practical input to their ICT legislation and planning. also catalyses public support for ICT policies by explaining the issues in laymen's terms, helping citizens understand the potential benefits of ICT for their daily lives. The policy team publishes community articles that detail the implications of policy issues in a meaningful way, and covers topical issues such as digital public records and citizen rights to privacy.

"Since APC first started awarding the Hafkin Prize and its international equivalent, the APC Betinho Communications Prize in 2000, we have become more and more convinced that it is essential to publicise and promote the types of ICT initiatives that embody APC's core development values such as community-initiated, -driven and -managed ICT projects, especially those that contribute to empowering and supporting organisations, social movements and individuals to make meaningful contributions to human development," explained APC's acting Executive Director, Maureen James regarding the motivation for the prize. "The Hafkin Prize plays a small but important role by recognising and rewarding real life examples of how the Internet can be, and is being, used as a powerful tool for development and social justice."

The Hafkin Prize winner and finalists were all present at the award ceremony which was held during a workshop on civil society and ICT policy co-organised by APC.


The $7,500 USD APC Hafkin Prize - a biannual award - recognises outstanding examples of African initiatives in information and communications technology (ICTs) for development.

The Theme in 2001: People-Centred Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Policy in Africa

More about the prize finalists and winner:

Prize Winner - SchoolNet Namibia: Honourable mention -

The Hafkin Prize is supported in part by the International Development Research Centre (IDRC).

Canada's International Development Research Centre (IDRC) is one of the world's leading institutions in the generation and application of new knowledge to meet the challenges of international development. For more than 30 years, IDRC has worked in close collaboration with researchers from the developing world in their search for the means to build a healthier, more equitable, and more prosperous society.


Message from SchoolNet, the Winner of the APC Africa Hafkin Communications Prize in 2001

"We are very excited and honoured by the award - the APC Hafkin Prize 2002 - and the impact we trust this significant award will have on our further work in Namibia and further afield; importantly it comes at a time when a lot of attention has been given to Open Source solutions in education and other civil society development areas, and I can only hope that our government (and those of other African countries) will appreciate the great value of such Open Source solutions! We intend to use the prize to seed a start-up Open Source R&D team comprising young African "geeks" (computer technicians), empowering them and subsequent youthful local expertise to develop open source applications in education - curricular content, life-long learning skills, distance learning and special education needs of persons with disabilities.

On behalf of the Board of Governors of SchoolNet Namibia, I would also like to express SchoolNet Namibia's deep appreciation of APC and its alliance of partners in recognising our efforts here in Namibia! Viva APC and all the many wonderful CSOs pushing back ICT frontiers in Africa!" -- Joris Komen, Director, SchoolNet Namibia (November 11 2002)

BBC News Online: "Award for Namibia schools project"

An ambitious initiative to provide computers and net access for all schoolchildren in Namibia has been recognised with a prestigious award.

Examples from Schoolnet Namibia web site:

"The Impact of AIDS on Katutura:

Test your knowledge of Africa with this puzzle:

Another Article on Schoolnet Namibia "Namibia wisely spurns M$ 'gift' in favor of Linux" By Thomas C Greene in Washington, Posted: 31/10/2002 [excerpts only: for full text see link]

The African nation of Namibia is large in area and small in population with considerable distances between communities. Imagine the challenges of getting its schools wired to the Net. SchoolNet Namibia, a chiefly volunteer organization, struggles to do precisely that with a free ISP and numerous other initiatives to get the nation's schools, many of which lack any library resources at all, on-line.

Imagine the pleasure with which SchoolNet would initially have confronted a charitable overture from Microsoft involving free software. Now imagine the disappointment of learning that accepting the 'gift' would entail outlays of money in the range of fifteen times the value ...

The idea was to obtain fifty inexpensive laptop computers from Acer and for Redmond [Microsoft] to donate some of its Great Software. It appears that SchoolNet had at least briefly labored under the illusion that the operating system software would be donated as well, but this was not to be. The company was willing to donate only free licensing for Office Pro, valued at $2,000," while SchoolNet would have to lay out an extra $9,000 for OS licensing ...

Redmond had also made a generous offer to provide networking hardware and software, presumably to get SchoolNet off Linux, which it uses for both its networking and client services. ... but there were a few rough spots in this deal as well.

According to a letter from SchoolNet Namibia Executive Director Joris Komen to Microsoft South and East Africa Regional Manager eorge Ferreira, the cost of allowing Microsoft to exercise its generosity would be ironically prohibitive.

"From the outset of our consultative meetings with Microsoft, it was made abundantly clear that SchoolNet and NetDay would be happy to provide Microsoft with an opportunity to develop a potential alternative to our viable Open Source LTSP refurbished LAN and stand-alone Linux-PC solutions for schools and teachers in Namibia and further afield in Africa. ... "

Unfortunately, as Komen explains, Redmond's understanding of the deal was a bit out of sync with his own.

"It became imminently clear that the development of a potential Microsoft alternative ... at five pilot schools in Katutura would incur considerable cost for SchoolNet, given the revised understanding that Microsoft would not be paying for the refurbished hardware, but would only provide the software platform at some unknown Research & Development (!!) cost ...

"Such a change of direction would result in SchoolNet having to pay out in the order of US $4,500 per school ..."

Komen says he has no desire to turn his organization into a platform for Microsoft publicity, especially when the networking deal would cost the organization something like $22,000 by his reckoning, in addition to the $9,000 he would need to accept [Microsoft's] $2,000 offer regarding the laptops. ...


Message-Id: <> From: "Africa Action" <> Date: Wed, 4 Dec 2002 13:26:47 -0500 Subject: Africa: Inclusive Information Society

Editor: Ali B. Ali-Dinar

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