(Translated from French)
Regional High-level Conference for Africa on Electronic
Commerce Strategies for Development
Tunis, 19-21 June 2003
Minutes of the Conference
The Regional High-level Conference for Africa on Electronic Commerce Strategies for
Development, organized jointly by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development
(UNCTAD) and the Tunisian Ministry of Tourism, Trade and Handicrafts, brought together
more than 100 participants from 29 African countries, as well as representatives of regional and
international organizations (African Information Society Initiative (AISI), Economic
Commission for Africa (ECA), Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA),
United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Southern African Development Community
(SADC), West African Economic and Monetary Union (WAEMU), World Tourism
Organization (WTO)) and of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD).
Over the first two days of the conference, the presentations and discussion focused on
consideration of the implementation of strategies for the development of information and
communication technologies (ICT) and e-commerce in Africa. In the four sessions different
facets of national and regional strategies were presented, in particular the legal and regulatory
framework, electronic payments, and specific applications of information and communication
technologies and e-commerce, such as the marketing of agricultural products via the Internet,
e-tourism, online administration and free/open-source software. At the closing session the
Declaration on Electronic Commerce for Development was adopted. The Declaration aims to
strengthen the African position in the context of current international measures and, in particular,
the World Summit on the Information Society. It expresses the political willingness of
Governments to promote e-commerce as a vehicle for economic development in the region,
while taking into account cultural, social and economic disparities. The Declaration is an
outgrowth of the dialogue begun between African States and their partners in the international
community to promote and increase their cooperation and participation in the digital economy.
GE.03-51738 (E) 110803 210803
ICT and electronic commerce in Africa: reinforcing the African position
(a) Designing and evaluating national e-commerce strategies
Africa is the continent most affected by the digital divide. Every effort must thus be
made to ensure that this divide does not deepen, thereby preventing African countries from
benefiting from the advantages offered by ICT and e-commerce. In this time of globalization,
e-commerce is seen as a vehicle for economic development that would serve to reduce poverty in
Speakers at this session representing Mauritania, Tunisia and Egypt emphasized the
critical importance of a political commitment by their respective Governments in establishing an
environment propitious to e-commerce. They enumerated the major constraints facing African
Governments, and the various measures taken to allow their countries to participate fully in the
digital economy and capitalize on their potential and their competitive advantages. While a
ready-to-use road map would be envisaged and joint consideration undertaken in view of the
challenges common to African countries, each country must examine the priority areas in which
intervention was needed to maximize its participation in the digital economy. It was crucial for
the African countries, in particular the least developed countries, to define their priorities so as to
identify practical elements that could be used in national and international strategies.
Implementation of pilot projects by Governments, in partnership with the private sector, aimed at
the establishment of new, simple and attractive economic models in response to key challenges,
and democratization of access to information and communication technologies were essential
prerequisites if the digital divide was to be bridged.
The lack of infrastructure and access to telecommunications at an affordable cost
remained a major obstacle to participation by African countries in the digital economy and, more
broadly, in the information society. Access to new technologies, the Internet in particular, was
seen as one of the principal elements in e-commerce strategies and a prerequisite to developing
participation by companies and consumers in the digital economy. There were significant
disparities between African countries. In fact Internet use was largely confined to five countries:
Egypt, Kenya, Morocco, South Africa and Tunisia, and on the continent as a whole the Internet
was mainly used by an urban population which was beginning to take advantage of the potential
The absence of a legislative and regulatory framework, electronic banking and logistical
structures and the lack of human resources and know-how constituted the principal barriers to
the development of e-commerce in Africa, which thus far had little impact.
The importance of joint action by Governments and businesses, and the international
community, with a view to formulating policies and strategies to promote the development of
e-commerce in Africa was emphasized.
One of the prerequisite stages for the development of e-commerce in Africa was the
pooling of options and potential tools among African countries, thereby creating a dynamic for
change on the basis of best practice. Cooperation among African countries, in particular in the
context of international debate, was an imperative in the interest of promoting balance in an
international economy highly dependent on new technologies.
In the context of that exchange of experience, Tunisia, Mauritania and Egypt presented
the basis of their national e-commerce strategies.
In Mauritania, the Office of the Prime Minister for New Technologies had for the
previous three years been implementing a national strategy on information and communication
technologies to promote conditions suitable for the development of e-commerce. In that
connection the Office had undertaken an e-commerce project, “e-Tijara”, setting out the various
actions to be taken in terms of a legal and institutional framework and the development of
Internet content. The Office had taken a certain number of practical steps to promote
e-commerce and introduce e-banking services in the banking sector, and had drafted legislation
on e-commerce. Specific activities intended to raise Mauritania’s profile in terms of tourism and
handicrafts were currently handled through an Internet portal. Mauritania advocated a common
regional approach to e-commerce and recalled the need to strengthen and promote cooperation
between African countries and relevant regional and international organizations.
Tunisia’s presentation on e-commerce covered five major points, in particular the
establishment in the country of a legal and regulatory framework propitious to development of
e-commerce, the importance of action to raise awareness of and promote a digital culture, and
the need for a reliable infrastructure at a reasonable cost that was accessible to users. A sectoral
policy, based on a judicious choice of priority growth sectors, must be backed by supporting
measures and incentives, specific government action in terms of online public administration
(e-government) setting an example to the private and production sectors, and, lastly, electronic
payments platforms and involvement of the banking sector in making electronic transactions
secure. The difficulties were presented in the context of current and future action to overcome
them and thus promote the development of information and communication technologies and
The experience of Egypt in implementing an e-commerce strategy showed the
importance of introducing legislation, including on electronic signatures and certificates. Egypt
recalled that strategic decisions on e-commerce must cover a number of areas, such as
infrastructure, customs, taxes, development of human resources, security, intellectual property
rights, respect for privacy, consumer protection, settlement of disputes, domain names, electronic
payments, etc. In 1999 the Egyptian Cabinet of Ministers, with the support of the President, had
adopted a national plan on information and communication technologies. The plan had
influenced the rapid growth of information and communication technologies in Egypt through a
significant improvement in telecommunication infrastructure. Teledensity had increased
to 11 per cent, with over 10 million telephone lines and 5 million mobile phones, international
Internet gateway usage had attained over 850 megabytes per second, compared with
20 megabytes three years previously. The success of the plan was largely attributable to the
partnerships developed with the private sector, and had encouraged international investment.
Under the plan significant initiatives had been taken such as free Internet access over telephone
lines, the provision to families of computers at an affordable cost, and ICT clubs in all the
governorates, which had increased public access to the Internet. The result was that
800,000 homes had direct Internet access, and more than 500 new ICT clubs had been set up
throughout the country over the previous three years.
Legislation on electronic signatures had been drafted by a committee comprising public
sector decision makers and private sector and university experts; the legislation had then been
approved by the Cabinet of Ministers. It was due to be submitted to the Egyptian Parliament in
Further, the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology, in cooperation
with the Central Bank of Egypt, had set up a high-level committee to determine electronic
payments strategies and policies, and recommend national projects. The Ministry was also
developing the first EFT/ATM/POS network, allowing the use of multi-application smart cards
in 56 post offices in Cairo, and in another 400 offices throughout Egypt by the end of 2004.
(b) Designing and evaluating regional e-commerce strategies
The second part of the session considered strategies implemented at the regional level.
The United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, through the African Information
Society Initiative, launched in 1996, offered a regional framework for e-commerce activities.
Consideration of ICT centred on the broader challenges facing the African continent, such as
poverty, illiteracy, health, peace, and the place of Africa in international trade. Those challenges
coincided with the Millennium objectives defined by the United Nations. ICT could help Africa
to meet those challenges and the New Partnership for Africa’s Development had undertaken to
create key partnerships with a view to the development of ICT in Africa. It should be noted that
at the end of 2002, of 53 countries, 16 had had no ICT strategy, according to the AISI national
information and communication infrastructure plan.
Rural areas had been the focus of particular attention, since for the most part they were
devoid of adequate telecommunication infrastructure, although were home to a significant level
of economic activity in the informal sector. Questions relating to currency, quality of products
and services, and the size of enterprises must also be taken into account in determining
strategies. It was important to make all international partners, particularly in the context of the
World Summit on the Information Society, aware of the challenges facing Africa, but in addition
specific measures must be taken to allow African countries, aware of the benefits of ICT, to take
advantage of them. ECA had reaffirmed its desire to cooperate with UNCTAD and African
member States to develop and integrate e-commerce in their development assistance policies.
The experience of the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa formed part of
its constituent mandate to develop and implement regional ICT policies. A model bill and policy
had been adopted by the member States of COMESA in March 2003 with European Union
funding (EDF9). Topics covered included the establishment of national working groups on ICT
to develop and harmonize national ICT policies, the establishment of ICT observatories, training
courses for the public and private sectors, high-speed connectivity for selected users, and the
development of web sites for regional organizations. The COMESA region hoped to reduce ICT
costs by allowing competition to take place between service providers - that involved a change in
legislation and a separation of functions between regulatory authorities and service providers -
and by reviewing policy on taxation and determining the status of e-commerce as trade in goods
(under the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade) or services (under the General Agreement
on Trade in Services) and, in the latter case, whether e-commerce should be treated in mode 1, as
cross-border, or mode 2, as consumption abroad. COMESA was also seeking to improve the
effectiveness and connectivity of ICT through the use of satellites (VSAT) and fibre optic and
wireless technology by employing systems already installed by cellular telephone networks,
electricity companies, railway companies, and so on. Lastly COMESA was endeavouring to
improve the awareness of its member States of the opportunities offered by e-commerce, in
particular through the organization of training workshops and specific projects.
From the policy perspective of the Southern African Development Community, the
emphasis was on the need to draft legislation on e-commerce. The 14 member States of SADC
had unanimously subscribed to that view in August 2001 when they had adopted a declaration
on ICT. Following the recommendations of an ICT task force in 2002, member countries had
requested the SADC secretariat to prepare model legislative provisions to facilitate the
development of ICT in the region. To assess the impact of the Internet, it was necessary to study
how it facilitated regional and world trade, and to review security and privacy issues, electronic
payments, prevention of fraud, and development of relevant content. The member States of
SADC had a leading role to play by positioning themselves as providers of electronic services.
The Governments of Mauritius and South Africa already had such legislation in place, and had
made provision for e-government.
COMESA and SADC had nine member States in common, and had thus decided to
establish a working group to coordinate action on ICT and e-commerce.
At the closure of the session, a question and answer session allowed the concerns shared
by several member countries to be put forward regarding:
(a) Access to new technologies at an attractive cost and provision of national
coverage, including the population in rural areas, in particular women;
(b) The legal, banking, institutional and logistical framework with a view to
increasing private investment;
(c) Development of content and multilingualism on the Internet. The importance of
international negotiations in the context of the World Trade Organization (WTO) was also
broached, in particular with regard to automation and computerization, which made it essential to
adopt ICT strategies, as was the taxation of information products.
Participants stressed the importance of African cooperation in undertaking a joint
consideration of the means needed to increase exports and promote intraregional and
international trade, and add value to their goods and services.
Session II: Legal and regulatory environment
Presentations in this session covered various specific points relating to legal and
regulatory aspects, such as recognition of the legal validity of electronic messages, electronic
signatures, on-line disputes resolution mechanisms, etc.
(a) Legal and regulatory aspects
The aim of a presentation on the recognition and legal validity of electronic messages
was to outline the basic elements of legislation that would allow the development of e-commerce
in conditions of legal security. In the absence of such legislation, the considerable efforts made
by the developing countries to equip themselves with the technology infrastructure necessary to
the development of e-commerce were likely to prove futile, and the confidence of economic
operators in the use of modern communication techniques would be seriously undermined.
The legal questions raised for the private law legislator by e-commerce displayed both
long-standing and new elements. The long-standing elements (rules on remote consent, rules on
the legal validity of tele transmissions and digital recordings, rules on the freedom of
conventions of proof) indicated that e-commerce did not exist in a legal vacuum. The new
elements (digitalization of information and the impossibility of subsequent confirmation in
writing, internationalization of trade, lesser relevance of territoriality, advent of the consumer as
an actor in international trade), on the other hand, justified the establishment of a specific
In response to those long-standing and new demands, the Model Law on Electronic
Commerce of the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (1996) remained a
flexible and relevant model, whose status had been enhanced by being incorporated on many
occasions into various national regulatory systems. The general scope of the rules contained in
the Model Law meant that they had very broad applicability, covering relations under both
public and private law, relations between professionals (B2B) and between consumers and
companies (B2C), and relations between the authorities and those subject to them (G2C). The
fundamental principles implemented in the Model Law were: (1) functional equivalence of
information exchanged by electronic messaging and information exchanged by means of the
traditional instruments of paper documents, signed paper documents and original paper
documents; (2) neutrality of the medium and technology; (3) independence of will; and (4) the
distinction between human will and its computerized expression.
The UNCITRAL secretariat could be consulted on all issues concerning implementation
of the Model Law by interested Governments (www.uncitral.org).
(b) Laws on electronic signatures
The adoption of legislation on electronic signatures was a strategically important factor
for African States intending to establish a framework for and promote the development of
e-commerce. However, a State engaged on such a legislative and regulatory approach must take
a global and not an isolated perspective. Account must be taken of interactions between
international actors, inasmuch as e-commerce was such as to annihilate distance, borders and
delays. As various legal systems differed from each other, a legislative approach must be based
on international instruments negotiated by States from all regions of the world and all legal
systems. E-commerce required legal certainty and confidence. The first rested on adoption of a
law which should be based as fully as possible on the UNCITRAL Model Law on Electronic
Signatures of 2001, the only instrument able to harmonize and unify law in that domain. The
second rested on the action of independent and reliable third parties as intermediaries:
certification service providers.
Work on the UNCITRAL Model Law had influenced regional instruments (European
directive) as well as federal instruments in North America. The text included all the key
elements for the establishment of a legal regime for electronic signatures and certification service
providers. That framework also helped to promote confidence in e-commerce on the part of
investors and commercial partners.
Definitions were established, general principles enunciated: technical neutrality,
autonomy of the parties, non-discrimination against electronic signatures. Levels of reliability of
the electronic signature were proposed based on the purpose for which the message was created,
the circumstances, whether or not a contract existed, or whether the signature must be considered
reliable (four criteria).
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Norms of conduct applicable to the signatory, the certification service provider and the
party reliant on the signature had legal consequences under applicable national legislation.
As with the Model Law on Electronic Commerce, the application of the UNCITRAL
Model Law on Electronic Signatures in the African States would contribute to the unification of
law and ultimately to confidence in e-commerce.
(c) Online dispute resolution
The distance between the parties, linguistic and cultural differences, difficulty in
determining the applicable law and the competent jurisdiction, and problems in applying
judgements were some of the main obstacles, owing to the significant additional costs that they
imposed, to online trading. Since it might not be possible to adapt traditional mechanisms for
the resolution of disputes to electronic transactions, consideration must be given to extrajudicial
mechanisms for the resolution of disputes that would offer a quick and inexpensive mode of
settlement. There could be a number of contexts for online resolution of disputes - online
dealing (for example, mediation on online auction sites, arbitration regarding domain names).
Online resolution was still at an early stage. It must be expanded into an equitable and
inexpensive mechanism for the resolution of disputes arising from online transactions. Its use
should be promoted instead of the usual national procedures in order to strengthen consumer
confidence in the new ways of doing business. The development of labelling and
confidence-building programmes should also be encouraged, as should voluntary participation
in such programmes by African enterprises.
(d) National and regional approaches to regulation of e-commerce:
Burkina Faso and West Africa
In e-commerce, as in other fields, regulations did not simply impose limits, but offered a
framework for its development to the benefit of businesses and populations. Regulation took
place at various levels: at the national level, as Burkina Faso was engaged in following the
example of other countries such as Tunisia, South Africa, Canada, etc., a relatively
comprehensive, technical and detailed approach to the relevant issues had been adopted - the
body initiating the draft legislation had taken the view that legislation in that area should
anticipate practice and promote it; and at the regional level, as in West Africa where two
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economic and legal integration organizations, the West African Economic and Monetary Union
(WAEMU) and the Organization for the Harmonization of Business Law in Africa (OHADA),
seemed to offer suitable frameworks for the formulation and adoption of regulations on the
development of enterprises and their business.
There was no doubt that global regulations were necessary to deal with the most critical
problems posed by information and communication technologies, such as cybercrime, given the
international, cross-border nature of e-commerce and the Internet.
(e) Presentation of UNCTAD training courses on e-commerce
The UNCTAD secretariat made a brief presentation on its training activities in the field
of e-commerce. Those activities complemented the range of support for e-commerce provided
The training reflected various technical and pedagogical contributions by UNCTAD and
others, in particular UNCITRAL. Training was progressively being made available to recipient
countries, in particular the least developed countries in Africa. It embraced distance-learning
offerings, based on existing pedagogical resources under the TRAINFORTRADE programme.
The two courses currently on offer were “Legal aspects of electronic commerce”,
provided in English since April 2003, and “E-commerce practice”, more oriented towards the
needs of SMEs, offered in French since May 2003.
Training took place in the context of UNCITRAL technical cooperation projects,
implemented, wherever possible, in partnership with regional organizations.
The discussion following the presentations emphasized the importance for African
countries of taking into account their specific needs in adopting any new legislative instrument
on e-commerce, while also reflecting the international dimension of e-commerce and the
desirability of harmonization and compatibility of regulations at the regional level. Legislation
should seek to guarantee legal security as well as predictability and technological and
commercial neutrality. A certain level of interoperability was important so as to avoid creating
any impediments to the development of e-commerce.
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Participants noted the importance of electronic signatures in e-commerce as an essential
element in authenticating electronic communications. It was important for countries wishing to
use various electronic signature techniques to adopt their own legislation in order to confer legal
effect on the electronic signatures used. While a number of African countries had adopted
legislation recognizing the validity of electronic signatures, work remained to be done in terms
of mutual recognition of foreign electronic signatures and certificates.
The African countries emphasized that technological independence and neutrality of the
medium were the major principles to be taken into account by Governments in adopting
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Session III: E-payments and e-finance for enterprises
The session was devoted to the obstacles to the development of electronic payments and
methods of electronic finance in Africa, in particular microfinance, payments cards, online
banking systems, and the associated support institutions.
Speakers emphasized the unequal development of systems of e-finance in the various
African regions. While some African countries had already set up various e-payment systems, in
other countries such systems barely existed.
A number of microfinance projects had been running for some years in Africa. In
East Africa, a non-governmental organization, Pride Africa, had a network of 60 branches in five
countries offering microfinance services. One of its new projects, DrumNet, sought to create
synergies between information, marketing and financial services for smallholder farmers so as to
provide support for sustainable agriculture models. DrumNet comprised a hub of information
intermediaries close to rural communities but at the same time having links with brokers,
financial institutions, etc. The creation of the credit guarantee fund, the referencing systems for
smallholder farmers, and credit ratings and databanks, together with improved electronic files on
the financial status of microenterprises, should allow such enterprises to enjoy better access to
financing, and in particular e-finance on the most favourable terms.
The development of electronic banking services was presented by banking institutions in
South Africa and Tunisia. In 2001 one of the major South African banks, Absa, had launched a
new phase in its e-commerce strategy. The number of clients using its online banking services
was now in the hundreds of thousands. Other electronic services included networks of automatic
teller machines, financial transactions via mobile phones, use of smart cards, and biometric
technologies for public-access computers. Absa was developing confidence-building strategies
within commercial communities, and was attempting to attain a critical mass of e-finance
transactions so as to reduce their unit cost. Other elements of its strategies included training of
executives, client education, greater understanding of client needs and the potential of various
financial services networks.
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Tunisia had decided to develop e-payment systems by grouping commercial banks under
specialized national institutions, such as the Tunisian teleclearing system (SIBTEL), run by the
Tunisian Professional Banking Association (APET) and the Tunisian Electronic Banking Society
(SMT). For example, SIBTEL was responsible for management of the system of electronic
cheque clearing, transfers, withdrawals, cheques and bills of exchange. Tunisian banks had
delegated their status as principal members of Visa to SIBTEL. SIBTEL was seeking to provide
a one-stop Internet purchase platform and a centralized rating service for merchants and credit
card holders, thereby allowing banks to concentrate on their issuing activities. The strategy of
developing servers to ensure secure payments was based on adoption of a common security
system, sharing of servers and use of the same platform, and training of bank employees.
Finally, making electronic transactions secure through the use, inter alia, of the Visa Verified
programme improved the reliability of e-commerce and as a result promoted a high volume of
e-finance transactions in Tunisia.
According to MasterCard International, the use of international payments cards by
African businesses could enhance their export potential and provide direct access to foreign
buyers, thereby improving the foreign currency earnings of African countries. The use of smart
cards by a secure authentication system increased the volume of e-commerce transactions. To
reduce the complexity and costs of online payments for banks, MasterCard had developed a
ready-to-use payments platform, known as MIGS, based on its Banknet worldwide network.
Nevertheless, for the time being, e-commerce was limited by the absence of a guarantee of
payment for merchants, the lack of adequate authentication mechanisms between buyer and
seller, and the risk and fear of fraud. MasterCard offered “Securecode”, which ensured the
security of e-payments.
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Session IV: Applications of e-commerce and ICT
(a) The Internet and marketing developing countries’ agricultural exports
The marketing of agricultural products is characterized by the presence of many
intermediaries. As a result producers receive only a small part of the price paid by the final
Speakers and participants after the discussion following the presentations emphasized the
potential of the Internet in marketing agricultural products. The Internet allowed various
intermediaries to be replaced by providing information on markets which allowed producers to
promote their products directly without passing via the intermediaries. The Internet could also
provide direct access to world markets, with lower transaction costs.
Speakers emphasized the difficulties of changing the trading procedures/agreements now
in place for agricultural products, in particular resistance on the part of intermediaries to any
change which could reduce their profits.
Use of the Internet in marketing agricultural products was for the time being largely
confined to the developed countries. Nevertheless some developing countries had already begun
to take advantage of the opportunities offered by the Internet to export their products, such as
coffee and tea.
In his opening statement the representative of the Ministry of Tourism, Trade and
Handicrafts of Tunisia reaffirmed the importance of ICT in tourism in particular, but also in
overall economic activities. Information and communication technologies had penetrated the
tourism sector in the form of online portals and reservation and booking systems, and had
allowed the customization of tourist agendas by travellers themselves. The Internet had allowed
the development of significant activities, in particular in the airline industry.
The representative of Intoegypt explained that the overall mission of Intoegypt was to
assist in developing the local e-travel industry. Intoegypt had begun operations in October 2000;
they included both business-to-business (B2B) and business-to-consumer (B2C) activities. The
online shop had been launched in December 2001, focusing primarily on domestic travel and
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providing marketing and sales solutions for the travel industry. One of the first on the market,
Intoegypt had positioned itself as one of the most popular sites in Egypt. In cooperation with
suppliers, Intoegypt had assisted a number of international hotel chains in Egypt in promoting
their offerings online and at international trade shows. The functionalities of the Intoegypt
web site had progressed in stages, starting with property listings, then booking facilities and a
range of services. Cooperation between the Government and private sector had been
determinant in increasing penetration by ICT and e-commerce.
The following presentation by Magicalkenya described how it had become a regional
leader by using ICT in the promotion of tourism. Through a major joint project with the
European Union, Magicalkenya had developed and launched one of the continent’s largest
destination web sites - Magicalkenya.com, that had become the world’s most popular online
resource for Kenyan tourism. The creation of the site had presented a stimulating challenge, in
particular in terms of maintenance, funding and development. The web site was intended,
among other things, to change the perception of Kenya as a tourist destination based on “beach
and wildlife”, for which it was important to have precise, high-quality destination information.
The web site was designed to be user-friendly, allowing visitors to choose their own mode of
information access. The web site had become financially independent after one year of
operation, since, owing to its popularity, it had succeeded in generating advertising revenue. In
the near future, increased cooperation among all stakeholders in the tourism sector would
promote development of the tourism industry in Kenya.
The presentation by the World Tourism Organization recalled that in developing
countries, in particular the least developed countries, tourism was the most important sector in
terms of economic growth, foreign exchange earnings, investment and job creation, thus
demonstrating the strong correlation between tourism and poverty alleviation. Information
technologies and tourism were ideal partners when properly used. Information technologies
offered positive business development and relatively quick and low-cost access to the global
market for tourism entrepreneurs, in particular in the least developed countries. One of the
important indicators of potential was the capacity of newcomers in the airline industry to absorb
ICT, to such an extent that close to 90 per cent of their transactions were conducted online.
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ICT provided destinations with easier and less costly access to the global market than
participation in fairs, publication of brochures and videos, or even establishing official
representation abroad. Possible business models for the tourism sector in Africa were discussed,
with the aim of minimizing the risks associated with the development of web sites and client
acquisition. In cooperation with other international organizations, such as UNCTAD, the World
Tourism Organization had assisted its member States in their efforts to narrow the digital divide
by developing their capacity to benefit from ICT in the tourism sector. The World Tourism
Organization had made available studies containing guidelines, followed by seminars on ICT and
tourism held in different regions of the world. However, improved cooperation between all
stakeholders involved was needed to overcome the challenge of the digital divide in the tourism
In the discussion that followed participants asked how the new business models for
e-tourism matched the business models of the suppliers. Suppliers were geared to selling
wholesale to international distributors, and there was, perhaps, a need for change. However, it
would become necessary to differentiate the model of the portal depending on which suppliers
within the distribution chain were accessing. A major problem was foreign exchange leakage
owing to online payments winding up in accounts outside the destination countries. It was
suggested that initiatives within the banking sector should be taken to resolve that problem, and
to promote competitiveness and liberalization in the financial sector. The issue of environmental
sustainability was brought up, particularly concerning wildlife tourism. E-commerce could play
a role in correcting the imbalance in tourism receipts, which might largely stay outside the
country. It was suggested that the experience of countries in implementing various policies on
the issue should be examined. One way to resolve the problem was to diversify tourism
offerings and give tourists an opportunity to spend more in the destination country. National
policies would be effective only if local tourism offerings were developed in parallel, in
particular using ICT and e-commerce.
(c) E-government open-source software
Open-source software could be seen as a key element in the development of the software
industry. It might be anticipated that such software would have a triple impact on an emerging
software industry: generalized publishing of software code (dissemination of source code),
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which could have importance for computer professionals; offering a credible alternative to
proprietary software while accelerating the disappearance of proprietary architecture and
operating systems and tied UNIX; initiating with and around the Internet a forum for
consideration and discussion of the future of software. From that ideological and political
standpoint open-source software could form a harmonious part of a pluralistic vision, of broader
participation, favouring interactivity and intercreativity. The complexity of the information
society surely implied the emergence of new modes of government, new ways of thinking, new
means of strengthening democracy, freedom, governance and the responsibility of all through
information, communication and cross-fertilization of knowledge.
The Free Software and Open Source Foundation for Africa (FOSSFA), created in
February 2003, asserted that alternatives to proprietary software existed today. Reliance on
software imports did not help to build the capacity of local enterprises and an information
society. African open-source software offered an opportunity and an important resource for
generating employment and economic activity, in particular in creating software. The role of
Governments in that connection had been discussed. A fundamental principle was to maintain a
technologically neutral position. Governments could also legislate the use of open-source
software, in particular by public institutions. Government support for open-source software
could have a positive effect on global economic democratization, thus enabling broad social
In coming up with plans for bridging the digital divide, the cost factor must be
considered. The cost of software and user licences was a significant barrier. Further, their
purchase had not significantly contributed to building capacity in Africa. An action plan had
been presented, proposing that Africa should become a hub in the development of open-source
software for its own use. In that context Governments and the private sector had an important
role to play to make that a reality.
The context and goal of the South African e-government initiative had been described in
terms of a “meraka”. Meraka was a Sotho/Tswana word originating in the concept of the
common pasture. People might own the cattle and, depending on their economic model, the milk
and the land. However, their interest in the pasture was motivated by the need to look after their
cattle. The regional digital meraka initiative offered a “digital pasture”, and stimulated the
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optimization of an open-source software approach. The desired outcome was the transformation
of users from passive consumers to active participants in the optimal use of information
technology and the development of relevant solutions. Businesses, in particular small- and
medium-sized enterprises, would gain open content through free and easy access to training
materials that could be adapted and recycled.
The use of open-source software in government had implications for service delivery,
fighting corruption, the development of academic institutions and innovation and creativity, and
thereby contributed to economic and social development.
The Tunisian experience in e-government highlighted the fact that the use of ICT in
administration was both a consequence of technological reform and a realization of the benefits
offered by such technologies. One important issue was introducing ICT in the education sector,
another how to computerize and network government offices. Various projects had been
implemented, including, EDUNET, TRADENET and AGRINET. Information systems and
databases had been developed and, as a result of the above initiatives, had allowed the
Government to move towards tele-administration. A series of initiatives had also focused on
familiarizing the population with e-government, and more generally with ICT, based on
programmes aimed at developing the family computer and tele-centres in rural areas. Those
activities had been accompanied by projects aimed at adapting the legal environment to the
possibilities offered by ICT and e-government.
In the discussion that followed the effect of ICT on tax revenues and tax declarations
was discussed. The question of piracy of software was discussed, with the observation that
open-source software was also distributed under specific licences. It was concluded that the
choice of free/open-source software was a strategic response to improve interactivity,
collaboration and solidarity in the development of ICT on the African continent.