Magazine article New African

UN Information Summit Puts Spotlight on Tunisia: The United Nations Brought over 20,000 Delegates from around the World to Tunisia in Mid-November to Discuss the Future and Raise Awareness of Information and Communications Technologies (ICT), with the Aim of Bridging the Digital Divide between the North and the South. Mohammed Awar Reports from Tunis

Magazine article New African

UN Information Summit Puts Spotlight on Tunisia: The United Nations Brought over 20,000 Delegates from around the World to Tunisia in Mid-November to Discuss the Future and Raise Awareness of Information and Communications Technologies (ICT), with the Aim of Bridging the Digital Divide between the North and the South. Mohammed Awar Reports from Tunis

Article excerpt

For a few days in mid-November, Tunis was the capital of the world. The biggest ever UN meeting on record was held in Tunisia. The world Summit for the Information Society was different from other UN gatherings. Open to representatives of the private sector and the civil society, it was attended by over 20,000 delegates from 170 countries. The biggest contingent of heads of states came from Africa: Algeria, Mauritania, Senegal, Sudan, South Africa, Nigeria, Togo, Equatorial Guinea, Comoro Islands, Rwanda, Niger, Congo and Libya.

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There were more civil society representatives (5,800) than government officials (5,700), international businessmen and women (4,000) and journalists from all over the world (1,200).

During the three-day summit, and alongside the plenary sessions, there were 300 round tables, workshops and conferences where major issues were discussed. The aim of the summit was to raise the awareness of the Information and Communications Technologies (ICT), bridge the digital and development divide and create a more equitable information society.

Over 50,000 enthusiastic visitors packed the two huge exhibition halls where 328 exhibitors from 64 countries presented their products and services. At the busiest stand, you could have a quick glance at the low cost $100 laptop for children, conceived by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and pre-launched during the summit by the UN secretary general, Kofi Annan. Millions of the laptops will be produced next year. Nigeria and South Africa are among the first countries where it could be distributed to children.

The worldwide delegations, many of whom had never set foot on the continent, were not only impressed by the Tunisian legendary hospitality but also by the excellent organisation of the summit. They discovered a modern Tunisia--with a rich heritage--which is one of the most advanced African and Arab countries. Like the six million tourists who visit Tunisia, the delegates enjoyed the sunshine and the pleasant Tunisian way of life.

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Representatives of international organisations, local authorities, business, civil society, scientific bodies, youth, indigenous peoples and gender associations presented numerous recommendations and reports on their activities. The discussions covered all sorts of subjects, ranging from specialised and technical issues to the more general questions like the governance of the internet, cybersecurity, copyright, free and open source software, patent laws, innovations, freedom of expression, democratic rights, gender inequality, cultural diversity and memory, etc.

While the information society is largely dominated by the Western world, it can offer huge benefits to the developing world. President Abdoulaye Wade of Senegal, who initiated the creation of the Digital Divide Fund, insists that nobody and no country should be left behind. It is better, he says, to catch the last coach than to miss the train! He is confident that Africa will benefit from the ICT revolution and will reach the goal to connect everybody to the internet by 2015.

According to Wade, the most powerful leaders in the world do not fully understand the technical issues involved in ICT. "But they can share with us a vision for the future. The internet can be used to fight poverty and illiteracy, make progress in medicine, save African languages and cultures from oblivion. …

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