Thursday, July 17, 2008

CICEWA Workshop #3

This week, I was asked to attend one of our IDRC research partner's workshops here in Johannesburg. Here is an edited version of my workshop report.

1. Project Objective:

The project, “Communication for Influence: Linking Advocacy, Dissemination and Research: Building ICTD Networks in Central, East and West Africa” (CICEWA) has the objective to identify obstacles to universal affordable access to broadband ICT infrastructure in Central, East and West Africa through two sub-regional ICT policy advocacy networks. Their key role is to disseminate research and find effective ways to advocate for ICTD.

2. Workshop

CICEWA hosted their third in a series of workshops (the June one was in Senegal). I dropped in last Wednesday, July 16. The purpose of the workshop was to bring African journalists and researchers nominated by the ICT4D network from East, West and Central Africa to develop a common research framework, and build the network for stronger ICT4D policy advocacy. In the previous two meetings, two regional networks were formed: EAICT4D, coordinated by Harry Hare (KictaNet, Kenya) and GOREeTIC (Coura Fall, APC).

There were 18 participants (7 were women) from both French (Senegal, Congo-Brazzaville, Rwanda, Benin) and English (Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda) speaking African countries. One of the participants was an APC member from South America.

3. Presentation: Telecommunication Reform in South Africa

The first speaker, Robert Horwitz, Professor at UC San Diego, spoke about a paper that he and Willie Currie recent wrote: “Another instance where privatization trumped liberalization: The politics of telecommunications reform in South Africa – A ten-year retrospective”. This journal article was used in the presentation as a possible output model for the country teams. The author spoke further on the research and the methodology undertaken to produce this paper.

A major issue which arises from many transitions from monopoloy state-owned telecommunications to a competitive market is governance. How does a country create a new market structure for telecommunications and then how do you deal with the incumbent? How do you change the tariffs enough for the incumbent (who had provided much infrastructure in the first place) to stay competitive and yet allow competitors? Many known regulators are still unable to provide strong structure to guide this process in a transparent manner.

4. Discussion

The researchers were asked to develop their country’s political narrative or institutional histories and use institutional players, the context, the political structures and understand why things happened and how they are likely to play out.

Major question put to the participants, “Where are the points of entry, on policy, and advocacy, how best to engage, how to provide pressure with impact, and practices of freedom.”

During the discussion, each country described their political and telecommunications story. In summary, there were several issues with the regulator and its ability to help in lowering the interconnection costs between mobile phone operators. There were also examples were cell phone operator competition led to lower prices but cases like Tanzania were there was no price change. There is also the issue of high costs as a result of governments high tax imposition (ex. Uganda has 30 % tax). Discussion also came up on the weak consumer associations in the country who are not able to push for fair competition and lower prices.

In terms of the research, the question came up as to how one revealed the “secret deals” which undermine the processes of good governance particularly during this transition period? How do we start to see transparency and show things as understood and fair by its citizens? How does one expose “never released documents” and hold government accountable?

Fifteen ways in order to retrieve important documents and interview key informants in institutions like government:

a) Be persistent
b) Try talking to people who lost out in a contract or deal
c) Work through the opposition or the chair of certain parliamentary committee
d) Interview mid-level management, reveal certain information, build rapport, allow them to reflect on the big picture
e) Always check sourcing
f) ‘Follow the money’ – check annual reports, stock exchange prices / reports
g) Use the switchboard operator to your advantage
h) Turn off the voice recorder and hope this will lead to information
i) reluctance to give information IS information
j) Ensure anonymity: “off the record” can be called key informants, “respected industry insider”
k) Always ask “who else should I talk to?”
l) Possibly align one’s self with an organization (eg. Statistic bureau) for authority
m) Use cousins / sisters within the organizations
n) Be aware of permits which may be required to conduct research.
o) Use the country’s freedom of information act

Other News:

Village Telco and gets exposed on the Economist: Read more

IDRC - CICEWA network project links here

Special ICT4D Edition: Computer June 2008 (Vol. 41, No. 6).

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