Africa Civil Society and WSIS
African Village brings life to WSIS market-place
Geneva, 11 December. While the speeches by government officials continue in Hall 1 of Palexpo, Hall 4 nearby houses the ICT4D exhibition. A mixture of a commercial trade fair and a presentation of civil society projects, the ICT4D stalls stretch from the flashy Microsoft stand to the tiny corners of smaller NGOs. An island of lively colour in this rather polished and sanitized environment is introduced by the African village.
“The African Village? It’s impossible to miss!” is the usual answer you get when you ask for the way. And indeed, the wooden hut, the palm trees and the colourful human figures catch the computer-screen-tired eye immediately. Life-size pictures of Africans invite the visitor to put on headphones, through which these very persons tell about their lives and their own views on information issues. These testimonies construct an impressive picture of the realities of information and communication on the African continent. They bring the voices of local people to the remote World Summit.
In striking contrast to most of the debates on sophisticated technological infrastructure at the WSIS, most people in Africa don’t even have access to a telephone, and if so, its costs consume a much larger portion of their salary then in the Global North. So while the technicalities of the digital divide have been widely discussed in the WSIS debates, the village fills a much-needed gap in exposing the every-day realities of the information society in the South, as well as the every-day needs of local people. Those needs and practices stretch from using wireless computer networks for medical consultations to “old-fashioned” books for the local library.
Many of the organisations involved in planning the village, including MISA, AMARC, Article 19, and APC, have been very vocal throughout the WSIS preparation process in advocating a people-centered and community-based vision of information society and have been crucial contributors to the civil society declaration which has been drafted in response to (and as a critique of) the official WSIS declaration.
In addition to raising awareness and highlighting crucial issues, the village offers concrete strategies to overcome the information divide at the local level, making use of available technology and community participation. A telecentre shows a way of creating collective access to the Internet, while a collaboration of the Swiss Radio Lora and AMARC (World Association of Community Broadcasters) produces a multi-lingual radio stream, covering everything that is happening around the summit. You can access the stream through the AMARC website.