The Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa (CODESRIA) is calling for proposals for its new Multinational Working Group (GMT) on the theme of "Africa in the Information Society Era".
Deadline: 30 September 2012
The MWG is an important CODESRIA program aimed at promoting multinational and multidisciplinary reflections on issues affecting the African community of social science researchers. Each MWG will be led by two or three coordinators and will include a maximum of fifteen researchers. Two to three senior researchers will be selected as independent assessors and will also be resource persons during meetings of each Group. The average length of a MWG is two years during which all phases of the research process should be completed and final results prepared for publication in the CODESRIA Book Series. For more details on the MWGs and on the activities of CODESRIA, visit the Council's website: http://www.codesria.org/.
The advent of information technology and communication
Since the appearance of the first personal computer (PC) in the mid-70s, the development of public Internet in the 90's and the convergence of computing, telecommunications and media to give birth to the multimedia, the world in which we live is going through profound changes as information and communication technologies (ICT) are entering almost all spheres of human activity. Online newspapers, online radio, online TV, online payment, online communities, music online, online dating, education online, e-mail, electronic warfare, e-commerce, e-governance, e-democracy, e-administration, e-tourism, e-agriculture, e-citizenship, e-health, e-inclusion, e-exclusion, mobile phones, tele-centers, cybercafes, cyberspace, cyber-attacks, cyber-terrorism, cyber-security, digital divides, digital television, digital radio, digital dividends, websites, blogs, wikis, social networks... the list is long. There are really very few areas that are actually beyond ICT influence . ICTs are changing the ways we teach, learn, train, do research, manage, work, produce, do agriculture, communicate, publish, write, have fun, do politics, sell, raise money, enrich our personal knowledge , make war, do shopping, try to find a job, get organized, etc.
Following the triumph of liberal economic policies in the early '80s and the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, GATT negotiations led to the deregulation of the telecommunications industry worldwide, including the signing of the Agreement on Basic Telecommunications services (ABT), the Information Technology Agreement (ITA), and the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS). Mainly conducted under the auspices of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and the World Trade Organization (WTO), the telecommunications sector reform was structured around market liberalization, privatization of state companies operating in the sector, and sector regulation by autonomous or independent bodies. All around the world, strategies for entry into the Information Society era have been designed by governments (National Information Infrastructure in the United States, Governmental Action Plan for the Information Society in France, etc.. ), regional economic communities (European Union Green Paper in 1997) and even by the G7 (the Brussels Summit on the Information Society in 1995). In a second step, these strategies have involved local governments and have also taken the form of sectoral strategies (health, education, etc.). Over the years, the importance of ICTs even encouraged the United Nations system to devote a world summit to them: the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), held in two sessions in Geneva (2003) and Tunis (2005). Both as a cause and a consequence of the globalization, the development of the Information Society has also taken place in Africa.
Africa and the construction of the Information Society
In April 1995, UNESCO, the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) and IDRC organized an African Regional Symposium on Telematics for Development which brought together some 200 government policy makers, representatives of the postal and telecommunications service operators, equipment suppliers, non-governmental organizations, educational institutions, users and donors, etc. Participants in this symposium adopted a resolution on the "Implementation of the Information Highway in Africa" and decided to create a high level group of experts on the issue and proposed to include this matter on the agenda of the annual meeting of Heads of State of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) to be held in June 1995. In May 1996, a Conference on Information Society and Development (ISAD) was held in Midrand (South Africa). Almost simultaneously, the high level group of experts commissioned by UNECA delivered a document entitled African Information Society Initiative (AISI) which was proposed as a framework for building an African information and communication infrastructure. To assist African countries to develop national ICT strategies, UNECA supported the development of National Information and Communications Initiatives (NICI). ICTs were also considered as a priority component of the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD).
In the field, neoliberal economic policies imposed by the Bretton Woods Institutions as part of Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAPs) spread all over the continent with the privatization of incumbent operators, opening markets to competition and the creation of regulatory bodies intended to correct market imbalances and to promote safe and fair competition. The period also saw the impressive development of mobile telephony in Africa with growing rates that are among the highest in the world. However in terms of infrastructure, inequalities of the past remained and rural areas have not been able to take advantage of these opportunities. In order to connect the continent to the rest of the world, large infrastructure projects have been implemented with the construction of submarine optic fibre cables (SAT3, Main One, GLO-1, EASSy, Seacom, etc. .), the launch of several communications satellites in various countries (Angola, Nigeria, etc.) and, especially, the launch of a satellite by the Regional African Satellite Communication organisation (RASCOM). However, as with other means of communication, the Achilles heel of these systems is the weakness of intra-African links, and their concentration along the coastal fringe of the continent marking the priority given to connecting to the globalized world at the expense of African integration. These infrastructures have been essentially built by consortia dominated by major international telecommunications operators for which Africa is one of the markets with the highest profitability and profit rates in the world. Since the acquisition of Celtel, founded by Mo Ibrahim, by Zain (Kuwait) and exception made of MTN (South Africa ) and Orascom (Egypt), all major telecommunications operators came from outside of the continent and within a short period they broke national boundaries creating sub-regional networks, which are inclusive markets that have gone far ahead of the regional integration polices promoted by governments.
However, governments are not totally absent and major efforts have been made by economic integration organizations. Thus in West Africa, the Economic and Monetary Union of West Africa (WAEMU) and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) have harmonized their telecommunications and ICT regulations. Similar efforts have been made by the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) and the Southern African Development Community (SADC) with the development of guidelines for policy design dealing with various issues (universal service, consumer protection, gender, interconnection, licensing, etc.). The African Telecommunications Union (ATU), which had somewhat fallen into lethargy, has been revitalized and the African Union (AU) has set up a Communication and Information Ministerial Conference and adopted the African Regional Action Plan on the Knowledge Economy (ARAPKE) in 2006 in Khartoum, Sudan.
Beyond the political, regulatory and economic aspects, the building of the Information Society raises a number of societal issues that ought to be addressed in ways that would contribute towards the building of inclusive societies while promoting the public good.
Information Society in Africa: Issues and Challenges
The events that occurred at the beginning of year 2011 in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, which are now known as the "Arab Spring", highlighted the role of social digital networks with an extensive use of tools such as Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, etc. both to mobilize broad sectors of the society in the context of social movements and also to denounce oppressive regimes by circumventing state censorship. Symptomatic of the real or perceived power of these tools is an Egyptian joke which says that Nasser was killed by Zionists, Sadat murdered by Islamists and Mubarak toppled by Facebook! The question of whether other "Facebook revolutions" could occur in a similar way in Sub-Saharan Africa is an issue regularly raised that should prompt us to question the use of social digital networks in contemporary African societies to go beyond feelings and intuitions. What is the profile of users? How many are they?, What do they use these tools for? What impact do the social media have on our societies? These are some of the questions that need to be answered in a scientific way.
There are also more theoretical questions about the nature of social digital networks: are they an extension of the public sphere or a manifestation of the trend towards privatization of the public sphere? Who controls the networks? What risks are likely to arise with them? Can we trust them? These are the kinds of questions we need to answer in order to avoid succumbing to the charm of the "deification" of what could also be perceived as mere tools. In addition, one must also question the involvement of different actors of the society (government, private sector and civil society) in the design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of information society public policies as well as in Internet governance, in order to take into account the particular interests of specific groups that are often marginalized such as women, youth, rural communities, the illiterate, then poor, minorities, etc. It is also an opportunity to examine under what conditions, for what purposes and with what amplitude, ICTs are used by national political players as well as by the Diaspora, to see to what extent these issues are part of the political debate, and to cast a critical eye on public policy in this field with a view to identifying the determinants, the beneficiaries, and the excluded and measure the various impacts at the national, sub-regional and continental levels. The contribution of ICTs to African integration should be questioned not only in terms of opportunities but also in terms of concrete actions on the ground.
The economic dimension and significance of the information society cannot be overlooked, particularly as economic concerns led to its coming. Increased productivity, acceleration and thinning processes of all kinds, new markets for computer equipment and telecommunications devices, connection to markets in the global economy, conquest of new markets of computers and telecommunications services, absorption of privatized companies, deployment of new products and services, etc. are some of the reasons that are behind the rush of big ICT firms (Orange, Vodafone, Nokia, Huawei, etc.) towards Africa, which is still a relatively virgin market and so an important growth driver compared to developed countries and even to the emerging markets. More than equipments and infrastructure, the true economic battle of the future will focus on content, applications and services; and that is why a number of large multinational content oriented companies are already present in Africa such as Google and Microsoft. Content inevitably raises the issue of language, cultural diversity, promotion of African cultural heritage, promotion of African values but also copyright and intellectual property issues with all problems associated with free software, open access, alternative copyright (Creative Commons, Copyleft, etc.) in a context marked by the offensive of industrialized countries to impose international agreements for the protection of intellectual property rights (TRIPS) in order to protect their interests. We should also be aware that knowledge production, storage, dissemination and use are also profoundly modified in African institutions of higher education and research.
This series of questions is far from being exhaustive but shows how problems related to the building of an information society in Africa are both complex and critical, and far exceed the use of ICT in our daily lives. It is therefore essential that all the disciplines of the social sciences in Africa be engaged in producing new knowledge to inform those who have the mandate for developing public policies, civil society, and all the other actors in our societies.
Priority research themes
Research proposals are expected on the following specific issues:
i) Social digital networks: extending or privatizing the public sphere? ;
ii) Civil society and Internet governance;
iii) Public policies for the Information Society ;
iv) Mobile telephony: between promises and mirages;
v) ICTs and politics in Africa;
vi) E-Government, E-Governance: lessons learned and prospects for the future;
vii) Gender issues in the Information Society;
viii) African higher education and research in the digital age;
ix) Telcos in Africa: the quest for new markets;
x) ICTs and African regional integration: political integration v/s market integration
xi) The changing telecommunications sector
xii) Access to the Internet v/s presence on the Internet
xiii) African youth in the Information Society era: access, challenges and opportunities
xiv) Online media: content, audience and impact
xv) Telecommunications regulation: what works?
xvi) ICTs: reducing poverty or increasing poverty tools ?
xvii) Hyper-connected urban digital enclaves v/s rural digital desert
xviii) ICTs and local development
xix) Telecommunications infrastructure issues
xx) ICTs and the African Diaspora
CODESRIA calls for the submission of research proposals on one of the above-mentioned themes, or on related issues that are not explicitly identified in the announcement but that relate to the theme in a regional, national or sub-regional context. Authors of selected proposals will be invited to participate in the CODESRIA MWG. Proposals should include the following:
1. A clear statement of the purpose of the project and of the issue to be studied;
2. A comprehensive literature review on the sub-theme ;
3. A description of the methodology to be used;
4. Results expected;
5. Dissemination (Policy briefs, etc.) and policy dialogue activities and mechanisms planned;
6. A detailed work schedule ;
7. An estimated budget ;
8. The authors' resumes ;
Proposals should not exceed 20 pages; Font: Times New Roman; Size 12; Single line spacing. All proposals should be received no later than 30 September, 2012. They will undergo a review process the outcome of which will be announced no later than 30 October, 2012. Selected applicants will be invited to participate in a launch methodological workshop which will be held in the last quarter of 2012. Applications should be sent to the following address:
Multinational Working Group (MWG) on « Africa in the Information Society Era» CODESRIA Research Programme Avenue Cheikh Anta Diop x Canal IV BP : 3304, Dakar, CP : 18524, Senegal Phone: +221 33 825 65 97/33 864 01 39 Fax: +221 33 824 12 89/33 825 66 51 Email : firstname.lastname@example.org Website: http://www.codesria.org/ Twitter : http://twitter.com/codesria Facebook : http://www.facebook.com/pages/CODESRIA