Thursday, November 20, 2003


The World Summit on the Information Society is to have its first meeting in Geneva, December 10-12, 2003. (The second meeting will be in Tunis in 2005.)

There have been national meetings and regional meetings in preparation for this event, as well as a seemingly endless series of “PrepComs”. Thousands of people are expected to descend on Geneva, and something like 110 parallel events are planned during WSIS I.

I am told that while there has not been much press coverage of WSIS in the North, there is a lot in the South. This may reflect the high hopes for the outcomes of WSIS in the South, and the concern for limiting the damage in the North.

WSIS was conceived as providing for an open dialog among governments, businesses, and civil society organizations. Perhaps as a result of better understanding among these organizations, it is rumored that many NGO leaders feel disillusioned because of their lack of success in influencing the draft Declaration of Principles and Plan of Action. International business firms are in all likelihood avoiding public controversy, and focusing on influencing the policies of the OECD governments.

Governments are discovering how great are the differences among them in areas such as:
· openness of cyberspace, the importance of human rights,
· the control and amount of donor assistance in the field of ICT,
· the relative importance of intellectual property versus public domain,
· the importance of the commons in cyberspace,
· global governance of the Internet.

Donor agencies are staffed by human beings who seek job security and increased responsibility, and are no doubt vying among themselves for control of this field of development, while seeking to survive in their intra-governmental power struggles, and seeking to satisfice their domestic constituencies in civil society, the business community, the political arena, and the academic sphere.

From my distant viewpoint, I think there has been a huge amount of work done in preparation for WSIS. Many websites have been developed, papers written, meetings planned, and travel arrangements made.

Conflict is to be expected, but it would be a shame if the conflict became the story. WSIS does recognize that new tools for international development and the reduction of poverty have become available. It signals an opportunity for people to rethink policies and to change the emphasis on capacity building in development. It provides an opportunity for people to exchange views, and come to better mutual understanding. I hope those opportunities are fully utilized!

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