July 2004

7-9 July 2004, Mauritius:ICT stakeholder forum

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The First Global ICT Stakeholder Forum with a special focus on Least Developed Countries (LDC) brought together high-level decision makers, private companies and civil organisations at one platform to discuss and find innovative practical solutions for the ICT deployment for development.

The Forum had a theme 'to move from the so-called perpetual-pilot-project- syndrome' to projects that can make a difference on the ground'. This theme generated a lot of interest and inquisitiveness within the ICT sector and it attracted 150 participants from 49 Least Developed Countries (LDCs).

This three-day forum was jointly organised by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and Commonwealth Business Council (CBC), hosted by the Ministry of Information Technology and Telecommunications of Mauritius, and held in association with E-Africa Commission (NEPAD). It took place at beautiful location of Pointe Aux Piments in Mauritius.

The aim of the forum was best described by Mohan Kaul, CBC while opening the forum, “This forum will not be another talk shop, and it would be a multi-stakeholder discussion on actual projects. The goal of this conference is to bring the widest range of stakeholders together from governments, civil society, private sector and donor agencies.” Last year CBC had hosted a two-day summit in London bringing together all stakeholders to discuss the recommendations on the Commonwealth Action Programme for the Digital Divide (CAPDD), to promote co-operative action among stakeholders, but at the end of the summit the delegates were 'disillusioned and impatient' about the realistic role played by ICTs as a tool for development for bridging the information divide. So CBC decided to host this event, which would focus on the ground projects in LDCs.

Ethiopia, Ghana, Kiribati, Lesotho, Mali, Mauritius, Solomon Islands, and Sudan were represented at Ministerial level. The African Development Bank, E-Africa Commission, ECOWAS, European Commission, COMESA, the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) and USAID, the Commonwealth Secretariat, the International Trade Centre (ITC), PNUD and UNESCO were some of the key regional and international organisations that took part and played an important role at the Forum. The private sector was well represented by organisations from Africa, Asia, Europe, and the United States.

In the welcome session on day one, Hon Deelchand Jeeha, ICT Minister of Mauritius talked about the vision of making Mauritius a 'cyber island' in which ICT would become the fifth pillar of the economy after sugar, textile, tourism and financial services. He said that this event therefore gives his country an opportunity to showcase its projects and best practices. Further, Mauritius Acting Prime Minister, Jayakrishna Cuttaree emphasised some of the key initiatives need to be taken up by LDCs to integrate ICT in their economy, “a firm commitment of the Government to develop the ICT sector, a well laid out ICT policy, the ICT sector that should be open to full competition in a gradual manner, government should be one of the biggest users of ICTs, and the information that can be utilised by the citizens should be made available online preferably in local language.”

During three days, which comprised of presentations and showcases ranging from projects in the areas of infrastructure to universal access, education service and encouraging entrepreneurship, the key points inferred from different plenary sessions of the entire forum were as follows:

  • Donor Perspective: All the donors present there, African Development Bank (ADB), SDC and USAID, emphasised that the ICT4D activities is one of their priority areas of funding. There is a urgent need to integrate ICTs into national plans, strategies and policies focusing on core areas of rural access and development, education, ICT training.
  • Universal Access: Community centres, be it called CMC or MCT or by any other name, are the main gateways to attain rural access in LDCs and developing countries. There is lot of duplication currently happening with similar projects in different parts of the globe and there is a need of co-ordination between donor and implementing agencies. Multi level partnerships are the key to any ICT project for access. Lack of training skills also should be addressed.
  • Education services: The means to provide digital opportunities to the schools are by providing access, training and relevant content. It is not only important to provide Internet access but also to find ways of integrating it in the learning curriculum of the students. Providing useful content is the need of the hour.
  • Public-private partnerships: They are crucial for the infrastructure support for ICT4D projects. There are abundant market opportunities to explore in ICT4D for the private sector. Government and private sector need to work hand-in-hand to bridge the divide and alleviate poverty.

 

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