The Economic Commission for Africa’s (ECA) Director for Technology, Climate Change and Natural Resources Management, Jean-Paul Adam, flagged the importance of building the information and communication sector (ICT) infrastructure in Africa to address the digital divide at the upcoming World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) Forum 2023.
Jean-Paul made the comments during a session at the ongoing Internet Governance Forum (IGF) taking place in Addis Ababa from 28 November to 2 December.
In her opening remarks, Doreen Bogdan-Martin, Secretary-General Elect of the International Telecommunication Unit (ITU) and the Director of the Telecommunication Development Bureau of the ITU, explained to participants, “this process offers you a direct opportunity to shape the agenda and to help build the program of next year’s forum.”Explaining that the ITU seeks to further strengthen the WSIS process and better leverage digital technologies to transform national and international development outcomes.
H.E. Professor Isa Ali Ibrahim, Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Nigeria and the WSIS Forum 2022 Chairman, noted the critical importance of ICT, “ICT and the digital economy are very relevant in the world – might I say they are becoming necessary for a successful life. Today, ICT is necessary for our healthcare, education, economic growth and development, and day-to-day activities.” He also said that in light of the world population reaching eight billion, it is critical to redouble efforts to bridge the gap between those who have access to connection and those who do not.
Jean-Paul Adam underscored the value of providing access to ICT infrastructure, stating, “Africa has the lowest implementation of appropriate capacity development aspects with only 25% of citizens having access to basic ICT skills.” In this regard, ECA is working with the government of Rwanda to establish a regional centre of excellence on education from science to technology, engineering, the arts and mathematics to support curriculum development with a particular focus on ICT across the continent at the early education level.
Neema Kichiki Lugangira, Member of the Tanzanian Parliament and Founder of the Omuka Hub, an organization providing digital skills to people living peripheral regions, highlighted the importance of including parliamentarians at the WSIS Forum 2023 “we can bring the issues and challenges of the people we represent to the table. We play a key role in accelerating the WSIS action lines.”
Other speakers in the session included Tawfik Jelassi, UNESCO’s Assistant Director-General of the Communication and Information Sector, Michael Hodin, CEO of the Global Coalition on Aging and Mei Lin Fung, Chair and Co-Founder of the People Centered Internet.
Looking ahead to the WSIS Forum 2023, participants highlighted several topics to be included in the agenda, such as rural connectivity, digital democracy, safeguarding women and girls from online abuse and addressing the broader gender digital divide and promoting digital literacy.
The WSIS Forum 2023 is scheduled to be held from 13 to 17 March 2023 at the ITU Headquarters premises in Geneva on the theme “WSIS Action Lines for building back better and accelerating the achievement of the SDGs.”