Real or Imagined: The Will and Effectiveness of the WSIS in Carving Political Space

Call me a cynic but it is not surprising that at the conclusion of the first WSIS summit, there was little funding or political will to exercise the WSIS Action Plan or a place of value for representatives of civil society. Civil society’s presence is essential as they represent the will and interests of ordinary individuals across the globe who are impacted in very real ways by the flurry of signatures and votes of yay or nay, and can in effect act as the conscience of the WSIS . The G8’s initiative to lessen the digital divide is admirable – and improbable – and I fear, little financial incentive to do so. There are more egregious challenges facing developing countries than Internet access and proper governance. Raboy cites Steve Buckley, Pres. of the World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters, “It should be obvious to anyone…that poor people need clean water more than they need fast connectivity even though access to good information can help make water clean.” For instance, in African countries such as Sudan, Niger, Namibia,  and Uganda battle against grinding poverty, war, food shortage, arable land, AIDS/HIV, disease, infant mortality, gender inequality, and intra-state wars and even those that are relatively politically stable such as Ghana, Nigeria and Botswana surely have more pressing problems such as corruption, crime, health care, access to clean drinking water and other maladies.  Providing humanitarian aid and development assistance to blighted areas is surely a good thing to do but certainly a drop in the bucket compared to the unimaginable gains these ventures will produce.  But seriously, who really cares when multinational companies and western governments are making vast with these forays into the third world armed with shiny new trinkets like cell phones, Iphones and laptops? The advent of globalization and agreements signed with supranational bodies such as WTO permits the unencumbered reach into heretofore unchartered markets.  Another troubling question is how does one quantify economic development.  An argument can certain be made that as multinationals extend communication networks into they provide resources, revenue, technology, infrastructure and opportunities that these communities would never have had. After all, some may argue, they’re getting a great deal more than what they have. But I say, it should at the very least be a moral imperative to provide long-term, sustainable improvements And, for those who are absolutely clueless, there’s always the UNDP or the UN Millennium Project’s measurement and indicators for sustainable development to give a hand.

It is optimistic I suppose to imagine that the WSIS has the moral fortitude or will to ask pertinent questions such as why are given carte blanche communication access to crippled but resource-rich regions of the world. The advent of the Internet, technological advancements, ease of travel and pop culture conduits such as MTV and BET.  Latin Americans and Africans want to be part of the vast network of culture coolness. Certainly they aren’t immune to the lure despite the wider impact of poverty and other socio-economic issues plaguing their country.But how does one stop the conversation from being dominated by technological and ideological considerations rather than more immediate humanitarian and socio-economic ones?

Despite the creation and intent of Civil Societies wield limited power (given in part their reliance on for funding and , their influence  is severely limited against the colossal will and infrastructure of the capitalist machinery.  Although governments of developing countries sought to challenge the prevailing paradigm that determined information flow in the NWICO debate, time and empirical evidence show they have little influence against the forces of Western government.  Ultimately, the WSIS will have to work industriously to make itself relevant outside of its current role of providing political space in which to discuss communication paradigms.

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About inteltakeover

This blog is written and maintained by of a group of graduate students in the International Communication program at American University's School of International Service.
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