From Technology in a Wireless WSIS

Emmanuel.K. Bensah Jr. has 59 followers on Google Buzz

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Hammamet was a Blast, But It's Time to Go Home

The internet cafe -- Cyber Internet 35, rue Mokhtar Attia, 1000 Tunis--Tel:71.333.893 -- I am at is rather slow, as compared to the more expensive one at the hotel, wich runs like clockwork. a consequence, I am disinclined to write here too much, as I will probably end up paying around the same amount for what I would like to do.

All I can say is that Hammamet yesterday was a blast. When we left for the Gare de Tunis, it was getting to 10.30am. By 12pm, the train was taking off, with all seven of us on board. We had to get off another train, after travelling a good twenty-five minutes, before finally getting to Hammamet fifteen minutes later.

Shame on me for not following so much the history, but I suspect that is the place where Hannibal led the elephants on that abortive trip to conquer the Romans. I DID see many elephants--stone ones that is, and they were gargantuan, to say the least. Very life-like, and rather scary.

Hammamet is one of those places you just have to see, because other than the weather that was rather inclement--rain, and ice-cold wind--all of us enjoyed the place. Only problem is that the touristy areas are rather populated by Eastern Europeans, who pretend to be friendly when they want to get you to buy something, but are two drops short of rude when you tell them you're not interested, or rather diplomatically, "je reviendra".

They nknow you won't come back again, so they grunt something at you in their language. My colleague got a bag that was being sold originally at 90Tunisian dinars to 22 Tunisian Dinars! Talk about rip-off, and they expect deferential treatment when you refuse to buy? Please!

We were rather bemused by this young man of around twenty-three who had a chesire-cat grin on his face. "Ah, fantastic, bombastic!" when we told him we were all from Ghana, bar the very personable Tunisian friend of the family who was giving us a tour. Then he rattled out some cliched lyrics from some song, which promted visceral chuckles from all of us. He was humble, though, admitting that though he did not finish school "at least, I can give smile to people who come from all over!"

Or something like that.

Imagine the legendary Peter Sellers, of Return of the Pink Pather fame, emulating, or should that be feigning, a nasty Italian accent as Inspector Clouseau, and you get the picture of this young man.

I refused to spend, whilst all those around me pretended they were not spending:-) Honestly, women!! There was only one guy, and he was too young to relate to him.

The trip back to Tunis was a good one. We took a bus, and it took rather long. Almost two hours of travelling. God, I love long bus and train journies!!! I would have been in my element if it were not for the fact that I was SO fast asleep.

The warm bus, though endearing in the beginning, started to feel too warm, so I was compelled to open the window just a peak, to the annoyance of a few. But if there is something about the Tunisians, I got to give it to them that they can be very hospitable.

The example is that of the bus journey, which started off very full, with many people standing up. SOme of us found a seat, but three of us failed to land one, with the flurry of people jumping onto the bus, and seats. The eldest of my colleague's friends' family member, the aunt, decided that one of us should relinquish the seats for an old man.

I did.

The old man did not wat to sit down, cos he seemed to feel bad, but we insisted. He sat down, all smiles. Less than five minutes later, one of the young, hot-blooded males who had jumped to the back seat when we got on, gave up, yes, gave up, his seat for one of us. He stood up for a good ten minutes before he got down. He could have sat down till his destination, but motioned us to come and take a seat.

Not too long ater, a middle-aged man ALSO gave up his seat. It emerged that he was going to get down only about ten minutes later, too.

I was deeply impressed, and humbled.

One good turn DEFINITELY does deserve another. Respect definitely goes a long way. Granted, not everyone would have done the smae, but two people doing it was admirable.

I got home and landed so much in Jadeville that I couldn't spend long in front of the 'Net to make an update, so here I am.

Today has been another humbling experience. I spent most of the afternoon with a one of the members of Civil Society. A Nigerian, a graduate of the Universsity of Ibadan, who can quote Fanon and Shakespeare in one hour. A DEEPLY charismatic man, who spends a lot of time in Geneva in UN circles.

There are some SERIOUSLY great and interesting people in this world. Shakespeare aptly said some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have it thrown on them.

Well, if this ten nights in Tunis is anything to go by, the knowledge I have been exposed to just from listening to people has been immense. The so-called intellectual genuflection I referred to earlier, in my humble opinion, is apt.

I am such as small person when faced against such great minds.

Getting back home to normality is not going to be that easy.

Emmanuel.K. Bensah Jr. has 59 followers on Google Buzz

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Ghana Stand Could Have Done Better

As for the Ghana stand, my colleague and I were rather disappointed with them. The best they could do was showcase…our beleagured National Communications Authority, and annoyingly badly-performing AREEBA. Actually, not quite. Sudan did that very nicely for us. What Ghana also showcased was Ghana’s privatised “ONETOUCH” service. I almost forgot. Must buy the sim card at 30 thousand cedis before the end of November, once I get back to Accra. Obour, with his almost indefatigable energy, has had ONETOUCH co-opt his song “SHINE YOUR EYE” for the promo, where you are supposed to get 10 SMSs free, since early October.

Even the African Development Bank was giving out t-shirts—I know, cos the lady there asked me to come at 3 pm, and I was there on the dot!—yet we had nothing free to give out.

More later this Saturday. I am off with my colleague to Hammamet, a more beautiful and historic place to see.

Emmanuel.K. Bensah Jr. has 59 followers on Google Buzz

Taking Stock of WSIS: "Can do Better"--C+

So, it’s over. For a summit that went into the hundred thousands of euros, it was pretty disappointing. Did not attend ONE single workshop today. Most had been cancelled, or the people were too few to continue. Looked like many people needed to get out of Tunis the fastest way possible:-)

Couldn’t get out of bed AT ALL today. Terrible. I know I am rather lazy already, but this was taking the biscuit, as it were. Each time I tried to get up, sleep just overcame me. I was beginning very fast and furiously to get fed up with what the French call “la foule”, or the crowd at WSIS.

Since I am such a baby, I sleep with the tv on at the hotel. Snoring through "Hardtalk with Stephen Sackur" has just got to be laughable, no? He’s asking those tough questions to a former UN ambassador, or the Palestinian authority representative, and I’m just overshadowing his questions with snore…and more snore…

Behind the levity of these words lies, or sits as the case may be, a deeply disappointed young man. I wanted to watch the proceedings, as it were in situ. Instead, we were confined to watching it from the so-called Civil Society Bureau, et al, on erected large screens. The Swiss President, I hear, was rather impressive from the outset. He looked very charismatic, I have to say.

A female Nigerian acquaintance, of the good-looking kind, told me that there was a party tonite organised by the South Africans, and she was looking out to see whether I was there. Duh, you didn’t have my number. You could have called me, lady!! I am SO green. Yet again, it seems. At this rate, by the time I get back on Tuesday evening, I would have turned into a vegetable.

But enough about my brain.

Disappointment was written on many many many people’s faces. Especially given the fact that the Citizen’s summit was cancelled by the Tunisian authorities, made for an even mire lugubrious atmosphere: the sense of malaise about qou vadis with this expensive gathering was palpable. I personally was disappointed by the International Telecommunication’s Union's decision–one of the UN’s oldest UN agencies, est.1870s—that it was decided by the UN as a whole to have the summit in TWO phases.

A third one would have probably been more realistic, because at this stage, where does the role of ICTs for development go from here? Lost in a maelstrom of rhetoric or what?

The last UN summit I attended was in May 2001, when I attended the UN conference on Least Developed Countries. It was my first-ever proper UN conference. Held in Brussels, hosted by the European Parliament, I didn’t have to stay in any fancy hotel to observe one basic thing about the nature of these UN conferences—the amount of hot air around it. The difference, though, between that one and this is that, primo, it was agreed that there would be a review of the UNLDC3 in 2006. Will there be a review for this one? With the LDC one, it was also the third, with the first two being held respectively in Paris…and Paris:-)

There were a host of semantics there as there was here, with "deliverables" and whatnot. The difference with that one though, on the positive side, was that journalists and other civil society organisations obtained the opportunity to have their voice heard, and offer constructive solutions to the outcome. There was also a sense of closure about it all. I felt no closure around this.

What I saw was many people networking, some with fancier gadgets than others. Of course, the 100$-a-child laptop rocks, (even if the dollar sign was supposed to come before the "100", but come on, sue me!). It is a fantastic idea, but like another acquaintance said, $100 is rather expensive in many developing countries. Not using electricity, though, but a wind-up operation is even cooler. I REALLY like that. I actually saw it tested yesterday by the MIT people near the UN stand at the exhibition area.

I have to put it on record that I found the UN stand the most relevant and comprehensive. It at least tried to connect the ICTs, whereas most of those there—bar some of the governments—were just there to puff themselves up, especially the private sector. SO you have good gizmos, but how PRECISELY will that contribute to being used as tools for development. Didn’t quite click with me.

Anyway, many people went to the exhibition to get freebies, too. I thought I was the only cheap-skate! Even Senegal was giving free zip-drives, can you imagine!! With their flags all emblazoned over the drives, as it were. I got a free t-shirt from the African Development Bank stand. Others got luckier…

Seriously, though, let’s face it. It was great being here, and some concrete things, though small, went through, but it could have been a whole lot better. Consider this. Both the ITU and Japanese government disbursed circa 777000 odd euros – yes, you read right! – towards this UN summit. The UN Conference on LDCs in 2001 cost a vertiginous, or staggering, sum of 12 million dollars. I understand it was more than the GDP, or so, of a Caribbean country.

For the results that have come out, sobering indeed. Very very sobering.

All that said, I still think the world without the UN would be a far worse place than it already is, and so if expectations and hopes were dashed, people might just reflect that WSIS is a process and not an outcome.

Still, can do better.

Emmanuel.K. Bensah Jr. has 59 followers on Google Buzz

Friday, November 18, 2005

So, We Finally Voted…

…and boy, was it laborious. Democracy in Africa, I swear! No wonder we are so left behind, our democratic process is like the oil that cogs the wheels. I had to run out of there after 9.30pm. After everyone was elected, kind of, they were going to proceed with the voting of the President.

Poof! I was all handshakes, smiles, and out the door to catch the Tunis bus into the town centre 20km away!

Only to come back to see that BBC had contacted me about my humble reportage of the WSIS process, and I had missed it! You can read about here:

It hurts. It hurts…

Emmanuel.K. Bensah Jr. has 59 followers on Google Buzz

When Andy Warhol Laments : My Aborted Fifteen Minutes with the BBC

I called my very good friend back in Accra this evening after a nice piece of pizza this evening. It was with shrimps this time, and was this side of heaven. She said she had missed my nagging and I should "hurry on home". Cheers, J!! Nice to know I am at least missed by someone, other than my parents.

Didn’t I say I was that pathetic? Oh, sorry.

Now, today has just been one heck of a long day. In the morning, I attended this very interesting workshop, entitled, "Framing Global Governance Processes Around WSIS". Sounded right up my street, and it was. Not to mention that it was organised by my organisation’s sister organisation in Uruguay—Third World Institute.

We looked at WSIS and the future, and how it is a process—not an outcome, etc. Two academics talked a bit about the semantics around WSIS and tried to make sense to us what we were trying to get out of the UN summit. I bemoaned the state of the private sector, and how we should not seek to endorse it so much at this summit, when exactly a month later, we shall be battling with them at the World Trade Organisation Ministerial Conference in Hong Kong! Didn’t sound very coherent to me, but hey, that’s only small me…

We looked a bit at power relations as, let’s face it, you’ve got the power, you’ve got it made. I am not at all surprised that the US will STILL maintain control, by way of ICANN, of the Internet. Of course there is word out in the conference circles that ICANN will need to incorporate more of the role of civil society, etc. Who knows?

Look, I will not bore you too much to death, but I thought a discussion away from me trying to chase members of the opposite sex or…a battery(!!), was called for. SO this is the change, but I can feel your eyes glazing over already, so please bear with me…

The weather…OUCH! One of the reasons why I am in here at all is to escape the cold. I am not kidding when I tell you that despite a cotton jacket and trousers, I am still feeling cold. Was so tempted to take my dinner indoors this evening. There was a chill wind blowing, and I don’t know whether it was a metaphor to signal the tensions that have been caused by some tussles between Tunisian security detail and other civil society activists over the semantics of workshops entitled "expression without repression=", as one blog has put it ( , but all I know was that it was DEFINITELY cold.

I got a call from my friend/former neighbour in Belgium. She is South African, and is this side short of VERY personable. Not to mention seriously attractive. Steady on, she’s got a partner, and she’s living in a rather lush part of the outskirts in Brussels. Very green indeed. Oh, I’m not talking about the scenery—I’m talking about me;-) I do miss Belgium sometimes actually, and this bleeding cold weather is . No, I’m not on drugs, just getting intominimising my missing, as it were Jadeville, and feeling rather creative with my alliterative skills.

Getting back to the weather very quickly, it RAINED almost the whole day today. Yes, it did. Must be one of the reasons why it’s so cold, now. Yet, as befits Tunisian night activity, many people are outside even as it is midnight thirty-four!!

Oh, oh, oh. I missed my fifteen minutes of fame with the BBC. Here are the two emls they sent me:

1. ---------- Original Message ----------------------------------
From: "Kevin Anderson-Washington"
Date: Wed, 16 Nov 2005 14:00:44 -0000

>I was just reading your posts about the WSIS in Tunis. I work for a
>BBC World Service Programme called World Have Your Say. It's a global
>discussion programme. We're trying to get a few audio diaries from
>attendees at the summit. We'd like to talk about tech/internet issues
>where you come from and what is being talked about at the summit.
>We'd ideally like about five minutes of audio both today and tomorrow.
>We could do this one of several ways.
>1) If you have a way of recording audio, you could send it to my Gmail
>2) We could interview you via Skype
>3) We could put you in touch with one of our BBC World Service teams
>Let me know if you are interested and if so, how we might be able to
>Kevin Anderson
>BBC World Service and Five Live
>(w - UK) +44.207.557.0293
>(m - UK) +44.7796.102.155
>skype: kevglobal
>"The best way to predict the future is to invent it" Alan Kay
>This e-mail (and any attachments) is confidential and may contain
>personal views which are not the views of the BBC unless specifically
>If you have received it in error, please delete it from your system.
>Do not use, copy or disclose the information in any way nor act in
>reliance on it and notify the sender immediately. Please note that the
>BBC monitors e-mails sent or received.
>Further communication will signify your consent to this.


FROM: "Kevin Anderson-Washington" | Save Address

DATE: Wed, 16 Nov 2005 15:10:00 -0000
SUBJECT: BBC interview request update


Just an update. We don't need anything as complicated as an audio diary. We would simply like you to join our programme for about 15 minutes between 1900 and 2000 local time there in Tunis. I can provide you with a more precise time in just a little while. The issues will be the same, but we don't need anything as complicated as an audio diary. Just a couple of phone numbers - a landline and a mobile phone number for you.

thank you for your time,
Kevin Anderson
World Service and Five Live
http://www. b
(w - UK) +44.207.557.0293
(m - UK ) +44.7796.102.155
skype: kevglobal
"The best way to predict the future is to invent it" Alan Kay

I sent him a text message, and he unfortunately texted me back a few ten minutes ago that the programme had already aired!!


The day you decide to leave not checking your mails, then Murphy’s Law strikes!

Emmanuel.K. Bensah Jr. has 59 followers on Google Buzz

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Still at Palexpo Kram

We continue to deliberate over which sub-regional coordinators should be represented. Nigeria was not amused at the fact that a predominant number of the people there were francophone, plus the fact that the text of ACSIS statues was available ONLY in French.

Yes, the francophone/anglophone divide exists very much in Africa. It is a great shame. This is one of the reasons why it will take long for us to move forwrd. We started at around 5.15pm. It is now 8.18pm. How much longer?!!!

Emmanuel.K. Bensah Jr. has 59 followers on Google Buzz

Running Late to Vote for the African Civil Society on WSIS (ACSIS)

The title says it all. Oh, I posed at the Rwanda stand yesterday with no-one less than Republic of South Africa Thabo Mbeki. He is actually shorter in real life than he seems on tv.

You cannot imagine the security detail that trailed him. Surprisingly, he was VERY friendly, urging all those round to take a picture with him, too. I got to even shake his hand. But I was not in awe. Not when he is going round portraying South Africa and NEPAD like the panacea to Africa's problems.

Not on your nelly!

I have to go vote for the very very personably young woman at this ACSIS election now...

Emmanuel.K. Bensah Jr. has 59 followers on Google Buzz

Excerpts from the Roundtable: Russia Speaks...and Defining Indigenousness

E.Krikunenko speaks about her organisation: "all indigenous people of russian, hunting, reindeer breeding. They have no access to internet, because we have no electricity. One phone line for 200 people in the community. This is why access to ICT is so important for us. To get noticed, education...and the opportunity to promote our rights". It is being chaired by one K.Deer, who looks like a Red Indian.

Hey, isn't he that guy from The Xfiles' Season 2, who got beaten up by Cancer Man, when Mulder disappeared??;-)

Emmanuel.K. Bensah Jr. has 59 followers on Google Buzz

Intellectual Genuflection & How the CR-123 Taught me Humility

If you do not know what the CR123 is, allow me to explain very briefly. It is a 3V lithium battery that you use for your low-tech appareil photo, or camera. I specifically use "low-tech", because digital cameras being the rage now, it is very passé to see someone still angling around their low–tech camera—unless you happen to be called Emmanuel.K.Bensah. Ok, go on, laugh. I think I told you my Zire Palm 72 gave up the ghost just a few days before I got here, and didn’t have the time to do anything about it.

Well, today, I took my laptop along to the Civil Society Bureau (CSB) area at Palexpo Kram. My laptop said there was a device missing. The Wireless was supposed to be working, you see. I must have done something wrong, so I abandoned the whole idea and resorted to lugging it all the way around the place like a little kid I am. Honestly!!

Anyway, I sit myself at the cusp of historical change – smile! – cos I have finally found the battery I was looking for. The blasted CR123 was being sold literally minutes walk away from the hotel, yet this morning, shopkeeper after shopkeeper sent me going up and down the street like a madman. I almost thought this particular lithium battery was alien to Tunis! I cussed no-end, but I decided to persist tonight. I WAS NOT going to spend tomorrow morning sweating profusely walking up and down when I needed to attend a workshop at 9am on the role of institutions in the reformation of the digital divide.

Or something like that.

Anyway, it truly was a humbling experience. I had to go fifteen minutes drive away from my hotel to this place closer to the Palexpo, where the quintessential French chain of supermarkets is located. CARREFOUR it’s called. You can find their website here: When my colleague told me CARREFOUR was in Tunis, I could hardly believe my ears. If you have ever heard of BRICOBI, the do-it-yourself people that are even in Spain, well, back in Belgium, most of the GB shops ( were now being replaced by CARREFOUR. This revelation only went to confirm how UTTERLEY European this country is aspiring to be!

Anyway, at Carrefour, which is a HUGE department store, I thought I found what was the CR123, except that this was smaller. In my joy, I dismissed my initial reservations, and just picked it up. I have wasted a good 8 Tunisian dinars. Divide that by 1.35 and you get the dollar equivalent. Sorry, am getting tired again.

I thought you knew I am slow…

With regards to the workshops today, well, after the midday submission, I have to say that I was better inspired. I attended one on Regional perspectives and ICTs, where all the UN’s regional commissions (UNECA, UNESCAP, UNECE, ECLAC) provided an overview of their regions, and the extent to which ICT had empowered the region or not.

This session had the newly-elected Executive Secretary of UNECA there; UNCTAD Secretary-General Supachai Panikpadi, former monk, and former director-general of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) there; as well as His Excellency the President of the Republic of Rwanda, Paul Kagame, who has made magnificent strides for his country in, primo, making the country bi-lingual after the egregious 1994 genocide, as well as propelling Rwanda through very good governance, and avant-garde ICT empowerment.

The Rwandan story is rather humbling. I spoke to two Rwandans at the Rwanda stand yesterday, and chatted with them. They did not want me recording what they were saying, so I took notes and assured them I was not going to quote their names. I got a bag of fresh Rwandan coffee.

Good stuff!!

I have to say if ever you get the chance; go to the country they call the land of "Milles Collines", or a Thousand Hills. Anyone who thinks Rwandans are primitive and still fighting has not yet matured from their atavistic state.

Harsh? Well, so is assuming Rwanda is so backward that they have not moved on ten years after the genocide. They are an example of a country that has done it, and a testament to man’s capacity to re-deem himself after horrific events happen to him.

One more act of PR: Rwanda is the only country on the sub-continent—not sure about the world, but possibly—that I know that has more women in Parliament than men—circa 49%.

Now, intellectual genuflection was what popped into my mind in the wake of all these revelations, because I realise that the more I read and talk to people about WSIS, the less I realise I know.

I am really not worthy. I am but a small bee buzzing around on the…yes, yes…cusp of this historical change blowing through the information society.

One concrete development: 12 May will from hereonin be designated World Information Society Day.

Gosh, it’s midnight twenty-two now. Another day gone. Another pizza—of a normal kind, sissoula!!

Till tomorrow, or as that should be, till much later today…

Emmanuel.K. Bensah Jr. has 59 followers on Google Buzz

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

I am Humbled, BBC...More on A&C (Ghana)

Out of 12 pages of looking for "Tunis WSIS", the British Broadcasting Corporation decided to take a look at mine. Obviously, noone left a comment, but they were there!!! Or, rather, they were here...;-)

On the Ghanaian front, someone who has access to aandcdevelopment webmail :(16 Nov, Wed, 11:49:13 ) visited this site.

I now know that A&C Development FINALLY has a website, which you can readily take a look at here:

Why I never thought of going into PR beats me. Honestly...

Off to another workshop, which started late...only ten minutes ago...

Incidentally, the UN delegates deliberations have been beamed through to the Palexpo Kram,and so as I type this, I could literally give you a running commentary...but won't bother. Too jaded by it all really;-)

Microsoft is about to talk, but the CEO of KDDI will talk right now. Let's go:

No idea what company that is. The guy is Japanese; he is talking about "how to enhance" something or other "for developing countries".

PLease change the record!

Emmanuel.K. Bensah Jr. has 59 followers on Google Buzz

Reflecting the Eccentric World of...WSIS

For your info, I am writing two variants of my experience of WSIS 2005, Tunis. The one, for the more international audience is at this link here, and the one for the pan-african audience(though all nationalities are welcome!) is on this particular blog.

Thanks, Global Voices, for picking up on my feeds, nut honestly, I cannot for the life of me understand why people would be looking for links like these:

1. 15 Nov, Tue, 17:26:45 Google: wantto have sex in ghana in madina or east legon

In the words of Buffy, in one of those memorbale episodes back in Season I, "I think I speak for everybody when I go "huh?!" "

Ok, ok, so I'm a relic. Sue me!

Emmanuel.K. Bensah Jr. has 59 followers on Google Buzz

Early Start, My foot! Pure Hubbub

Couldn't get out of bed his morning. I ended up arriving later than anticipated. I''m currently at the Cyber Espace are, where a predominant number of us, clad in suits and whatnot, are standing up checking our mails and whatnot, whlst a minority sit down. The cyber-espace place is cleverly darkened, as if it were lit, stands to reason that we would all be feeling rather hot.

I am getting rather pessimistic about this meeting; it is not because BBC World, in its characteristically objective reporting from its correspondent in Tunis opined that the meeting may "run the risk of being bogged there will be too much communication anad little action", but the fact that there are TOO many things to attend to. All interesting, and mostly going on around the same time.

Not to mention the sheer number of people milling around. There are several varieties: the lost and confused kind; the lost and concerned; the lost yet determined kind. I fall somewhere among all three!!:-)

A meeting started at midday, called "ICT and the Global DevelopmentSystem: The Transformative Potential of ICT for "Development for All" ". Look at me! It's gone almost twenty minutes past, yet here I am typing this...I best be off. There's another at 1pm that is more relevant, so I might just wait for that instead of rushing to this one that ends at 1.30pm...

You see, this is the type of scenario many of us are facing. The stands, whilst very psychedelic and interesting, offer a showcasing of company's products--not to mention government ones--that is fine, but I reckon they are more distractions than anything. The only one I have found really useful was the UN stand that provided many publications on substantive issues around WSIS.

Ofcourse, knowing the voluminous nature of UN publications, I would need an extra suitcase to carry them all back to Accra...we'll see.

My colleague just called me to find out where I am...we have a rendez-vous that I am not looking forward to. I sincerely hope this meandering of minds and ideas becomes subsumed by concrete outcomes.

It's time for the UN to reclaim the world stage--yet again!! And, please not without "deliverables", and "programmes of actions", but RESULTS. Please, we SO need that...

Emmanuel.K. Bensah Jr. has 59 followers on Google Buzz

Watching Tony Blair, My Dinner Awaits!

The Prime Minister of the Republic of Tunisia, Mohamed Ghannouchi, has invited ALL participants of the UN WSIS to attend "a welcome ceremony followed by a reception" today from 6pm to 8pm at Palexpo le Kram.

This was the invite in the bags that everyone received upon registration the first day.

Ouch, my colleague has gone AWOL, so I am left alone trying to figure out which particular meeting to go. Flies, regrettably, abound in the area I'm's the toilets that are FAR too close for comfort! They could have used some breeze or something, cos it certainly sullies the area!

In any event, I watched Tony Blair at the Lord Mayor's banquet on BBC World yesterday evening. I taped most of it as I had to go out, but what I saw was quite funny. The script-writers must have been comedians. I found myself laughing at some of his cracks! Good stuff.

But then he went all serious later, and talked about the war on terror, globalisation's inevitability, and other foreign policy issues. I heard from the running commentary prior to the speech that Blair is thinking of how he will be viewed by historians, and right now he has to be in sync with Gordon Brown, chancellor of the Exchequer, but also his principal rival, as Brown is set to succeed him, according to the commentary from BBC, "next year by this time".


Later, when I caught the news, it was about how Brazil, India, China must do their best, alonside developing countries, to liberalise more trade, trade in services and whatnot.


I was SO bored. Same ole, same ole...And the World Bank has entered the fray, too. Pisses me off no end.

Anyway, look, I am looking forward to MORE social interaction, as it were. Who knows what can happen at a reception:-) Nudge nudge, wink, wink...

Fingers crossed!

Emmanuel.K. Bensah Jr. has 59 followers on Google Buzz

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

What, Do I, Like, Look French to You?

Ah stereotypes! Stereotypes, stereotypes, stereotypes. It is bound to run amok in a gathering like this. I hear Kofi Annan is in town. Obviously, the hotel is probably kept secret.

I am in the Civil Society area of the Palexpo Kram. Sorry I cannot bring you any piccies as my Zire Palm decided to give up on me a few days before I left. There was no time to do anything about it...

Pooh, so I am resorting to normal pictures:-( Talk about low-tech in a hi-tech place like this, where almost everyone with a laptop is checking out their emails whilst a meeting goes on. Yes, WI-FI, or wireless internet is in FULL swing, baby!

As for the taxi-driver, well, I had to go deliver something on behalf of my Dad to his acquaintance who works at the African Development Bank. Can you actually believe that there is a road called "Avenue de Ghana", that is one of the three streets that leads to the ADB? Wow...

Anyway, did that, left and caught a cab. He bemoaned the state of Tunis, telling me that "c'est un police d'Etat". Funny, my Dad's friend also said the same thing. You wouldn't think it to see it, though. I thought the place was so secure because of the UN status of the summit and the high number of dignatries--ouch spelling!!--attending.

Both two bemoaned that the police was too much, and what are the Tunisians afraid of? A policeman almost round every corner. Seriously. That bad. For foreigners, I think it's quite welcome, but I can understand why the denizens do not think the same way.

Oh, well.

The taxi driver was interesting. He tried to teach me how to say "welcome" and "bonjour" in Arabic. Sounded cool! Not that I could say it without chuckling or anything, but the language is seriously very elegant. He asked me where I came from, and I was not surprised when he associated football with Ghana. He said that he could detect an anglophone accent.

Conversely, two or three people right here during the past two hours have addressed me in French--and I have responded straight back at them, with a smile, in English, triggering a visceral chuckle from both of us. The anglophone accent and the stunted attempt at speaking French is so detectable:-), don't you think? I doubt any anglophone can ever pass the French test of speaking fluently with a francophone accent -- do you? Bar Jodie Foster, whom I heard, what, four/five years ago in an interview on Belgian television speaking IMPECCABLEMENT. Sexy.

Emmanuel.K. Bensah Jr. has 59 followers on Google Buzz

Monday, November 14, 2005

Eyeing the Opposite Sex...With a Long Kiss

Ok, so I do not think it is any secret that in a ny grand gathering like this, if you are a hot-blooded male, like myself, and very single, your eyes will be scanning the horizon faster than any ADSL connection you could think of:-) Forgive the forced humour, but I have to say it's been rather disappointing on the social interaction front here in Tunis.

Suffice to say, the women are GORGEOUS, but they have no time for any other race than theirs, which is a shame, but, then again, not surprising.

As far as gender equality goes, I think Tunisian guys are way off tangent. There is a stand for each country here at the World Summit on Information Society. Each country is represented, as is private sector, whatnot. I found my stand--Ghana, and I heard some horror stories from the ladies that the Tunisian men are "uncouth". They don't care whether theer is a ring on your finger or not, they will stop their cars and make signs to the women that they are keen to go to bed with them!! Can you imagine that...

I can't, frankly, cos as a guy, I have had a positive experience> Okay, so they exude some degree of machismo that is characteristic of the stereotype of Arab men, but, honestly, they have been very friendly.

Also, I hear that whilst there are mosquitoes here, the male ones collect nectar--huh?--whilst the female ones do the biting. Does black widow and queen bee come to mind?

Oh, I FOUND BBC World for myself on the tv this morning. I wasgetting fed up with watching French tv -- TF1 and France 2, which, though helped to keep my French fresh, was boring me to death.

Except yesterday. The Full Monty was on, as part of TF1's Cine Dimanche, as was that ever-so-sexy Geena Davis playing alongside Samuel L Jackson guessed it, the 1996 fantastic action thriller "Long Kiss Goodnight". I don't know how many times I have watched that movie, but I always get SO hooked with the film. From L Jackson's lines, to Brian Cox's about taking them to the zoo (after the shoot-out at the Central Station) to the bad guy's character, it is all so believable.

That film remains on my top 10 best films. I'd love to do the imdb link, but seeing as I am at the cyber-cafe at the Kram Palexpo, where security is tight even on the Net, not sure whether it will be possible. Let's try. {ouch, they have blocked the "START" so that you cannot browse any other programmes on the computer. Smart. Which means if this gets lost, it gets lost!!!} ok. Here's the link:

I also read in yesterday's Tunis paper that Geena Davis has an IQ of, what 140 or something, and that she is playing in a new role in the US as female president. The series is called "Commander-in-Chief" or something...

Gosh, that woman is SO good.

On a personal note, managed to track that gorgeous woman I bumped into at the airport Friday afternoon. She is working at one of the stands--the Rwandan one--and works for one of the World Bank programmes. She tried my number again, got through. I saved that number of hers faster than...chose your pick: blink of an eye/an ADSL connection/you could say "jack robinson".

Regrettably, she is at the stand most of the time, but I'm eyeing this member of the opposite sex with...dinner in mind.


Emmanuel.K. Bensah Jr. has 59 followers on Google Buzz

Sunday, November 13, 2005

What One Tunisian Newspaper is Saying about WSIS...The Eve of Day Two of Internet Governance Discussions

It's a cool, dry Sunday evening. It's almost 8pm, and I am sitting at the Internet cafe of the Hotel. I have in my hand one newspaper--Le Renouveau. It's subtitle is "organe du rassemblement constitutionnel democratique", and the redacteur en chef, or editor-in-chief is one Nejib Ouerghi.

Here are some of the headlines on WSIS in today's paper:

1. XVIIIeme Anniversaire du Changement--Le Chef D'Etat recoit des messages de felicitations de plusiers organisations et associations. Cohesion autour de Ben Ali et engagement a faire reussir le SMSI:: 18th Anniversary of Change. The Head of State Receives Messages of Congratulations from Many Organisations and Associations. Cohesion around Ben Ali and an engagement to make WSIS Succeed.

2. Reprise, aujourd'hui, des travaux de la Prepcom3. Le document politique et la declaration de Tunis, a l'ordre du jour: The Resumption, today, of PrepCom3. The policy document and the Tunis declaration top the agenda.

3. L'urgence de reduire la fracture numerique: The urgent need to bridge the digital divide

4. Les Jeunes Au SMSI:Une mobilisation remarquable, un engagement total: Youth at WSIS: a Remarkable Mobilisation, Total Engagement

5. Intel entend lancer un projet de modernisation par le tout numerique en Afrique du Nord et Moyen-Orient: Intel counts launching a modernisation North Africa and the MIddle East

6. Quatre secteurs seront cibles par investissement: l'entreprenneuriat local, l'education, laccessibilite au systeme digital et la specialisation des competences techniques: Four Sectors will be Targetted for investment: Local Entrepeneur, Education; Accessibility to Digital System, and the Specialisation of Technical competencies

...and many more.

Looks like Tunis is capitalising big-time, as one would do, on its status as the cynosure of the place where information society sits at the cusp of historical change.

And it certainly looks to be a big summit. Internet governance talks started tpday, but I stayed in the hotel most of the time, being fed French news and some French inanity left, right centre. It was only later in the afternoon that I decide it was time to listen to the radio, and check out a few good radio stations.

Of course good is relative.

I ended up, apart from Radio Mosaique that inspired yesterday's title, finding two or three other stations. There was Radio Tunis international on 98.2 FM. They surprisingly have a mosaique of languages. First, I heard English, where they interviewed around 2.30pm a civil society activist on the WSIS, then later French news, then later Italian, and some Italian music.

Talk about eclectic.

The other stations were playing some alluring and rather sensual Tunisian music, which sent signals viscerally to your body to shake some body stuff, y know:-)

Later, after having my bath, strolled down the boulevard that runs adjacent to the street that leads to the Hotel I am staying in, and I enjoyed the fresh air and psychedelic lights.

I went to one particular hotel -- Hotel Africa -- that is a towering edifice located right in the heart of the boulevard. AFter passing through the hotel security, where I was asked to take off my watch, several dinar coins and other metalliuc stuff on me, walked through the elegant hallway that made no bones that it was a five star hotel.

I just had to try the food here. SO up I went to the fifth floor. I knew it was fifth because I was here yesterday evening to an empty room.

It was empty again, but I persisted. I asked for Couscous and Lamb stew.


Couldn't even finish it all. For dessert, Tunisian patisserie, which was predominantly pistache and sugar baked together very elegantly. Didin't finish that either. My orange juice, like yesterday at another eaterie, was freshly-squeezed.

After about an hour, feeling a bit cut-off from the outside world as I sat all alone on the fifth floor eating, I left--with a very full stomach.

I needed to walk, so I walked plenty...found some papers, and here I am.

Earlier, met two civil society delegates from Zimbabwe who were doing some passive window-shopping. Passive, because the shops were mostly closed.

As I write now, shops are re-opening, and activity has begaun anew.I've been here almost two hours again.

Tomorrow promises to be interesting; I am definitely looking forward to it, but before I take leave of you, must note for posterity that the magasine I bought just a few hundred metres away from here had the alluring title: SMSi. Les Enjeux du Sommet de Tunis WSIS: The Stakes of the Tunis Summit.

Internet Governance is certainly one of those.

I hope to be able to blog from the Kram Exhibition Park tomorrow, despite the business of the place.

Emmanuel.K. Bensah Jr. has 59 followers on Google Buzz

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Tunis : A Mosaique of Breathtaking Frenchness and Beauty

"En Tunis, si tu oublie quelque chose, tu peux y aller et venire, ca restera au meme place". This is how I would begin a memorable period in a country I never dreamt of visiting – let alone for a UN World Summit on Information Society.

It’s getting to 7pm, or 19heures, over here in Tunis. I’m sitting at an Internet café specially prepared for participants of the WSIS, or SMSI in French. I am the only one here, yet I know that there are WSIS participants staying at the hotel. To my immediate left are transparent doors that look into and outside this place.

Goodlooking—nay, gorgeus-looking—women pass with their boyfriends, friends, etc, passing a poster that says “KILL BILL. Cette Semaine au Cinema”.

How long has the film been out again? I thought it was almost a year. Reminds me of the legendary questionable rights that Tunisians are supposed to have. When I say rights, I am talking about censorship.

I’m actually thinking of checking that film out. Maybe not tonite, though. I have to pretend to myself that I can do something serious whilst I am preparing for the Internet governance discussions to begin 13 November. It ends on 15 November. The following day, 16, is when the Summit ends, only to end on the 18. I get almost two days free time.


There are workshops, or ateliers, that I and my colleague are bent on attending, so I am not going to shirk that one.

The information society maybe lost to many people. In the beginning, even I couldn’t get my head round the utility of a conference round it, but now having back-pedalled and seen the bigger picture, I am beginning to think that it’s pretty cool being here.

Especially in Tunis.

We are treated like royalty. We, being those delegates going to the WSIS. These people are far friendlier than I ever anticipated or expected. Many of them after they ask me where I am from say “bienvenue. Tu es chez toi.” Alright so they are tutoieing me, that is not using “vous” since they do not know me, but I am not bothered. They seem to like me, and I certainly find them personable.

They have been very accueuillant, or welcoming, as they say. My French is upping the ante again big time. There is no CNN in my room. Just TF1, France 2 and a host of Tunisian/Arabic stations. I wish I could speak Arabic. Considering it’s a UN language. We sometimes forget don’t we that it’s spoken by a sizeable part of the world.

But a sizeable part of the world do not have signs contemporaneously in French and Arabic. Neither, as far as I know, have predominantly French influence in a country that is supposed to be predominantly Moslem.

There are many Peugeots here—the funk, latest ones—as well as the latest BMWs, even rovers. The buildings like white a lot—as they like blue, shiny faces too. Looks swell.

As I arrived into the town centre (rue de Marseillaise) near the Hotel Oscar, you could have sworn you were approaching Paris. I swear, man.

This is a gorgeous city. It certainly is not reminiscent of Africa, which in many ways is a shame. What happened to the dusty roads?

The security detail (men taking turns in the lobby and outside with their inimitable earpiece) treats you like royalty and you are sure that you will come to no harm.

When I stupidly forgot my suitcase at the badging centre yesterday, I was assured by security that they would find it and bring it back to me. Though they didn’t find it initially, when I was asked to return with the bus people (they did come to the hotel after I reported it), they asked me to tag along.

Within minutes, I found it not far from where I forgot it. It had been on the bus, but in all our haste to get to the badging centre, I forgot it on the bus after I helped a Rwandan delegate who’s bag got torn, leaving all contents trailing. God her colleague was just this side short of very sexy. The slender Rwandan physique, the smooth physiognomy, and that beautifully permed hair she kept on stroking. Wow.

I must have been driven to distraction.

Never again!

The sweat beads that trickled down my face as I pondered over the prospect of losing my suitcase was too great.

And so, when the friendly, congenial and gregarious security man who happened to be a police officer monitoring activity at the badging area late last night told me that "
In Tunis, if you forget something somewhere, you can go and come and find it there", I was inclined to believe him.

Just behind us read the gigantic sign "Aeroport Fret".

I was not lost in the irony.

Emmanuel.K. Bensah Jr. has 59 followers on Google Buzz

From Accra to Italy With...Delay and Trepidation

Suffice to say, I am now in Tunis, at this place called Hotel Oscar. The street name? "Rue de Marseillaise". For a country that is situated right between Algeria and Libya who have dubious histories of French involvement (remember how Nobel Peace prize winner Albert Camus refused the prize for his classic 'L'Etranger', which blazed the trail for existentialist thought, because of his perception of French imperialism. That was one of the reasons anyway).

So how does delay and trepidation come into the story? Very easily.

I wonder why people still fly with Alitalia. Last time I took it--in 2000--to come to Accra from Brussels, we weren't particularly impressed. There was, then also, a delay, and the serving of the food was late. This time, the food was on time, good, and very enjoyable, but the equipment looked like it needed to have "relic" parenthesised to it--and hey, if that word doesn't exist, I am coining it right now:=)

Seriously, we were supposed to take off at 23h45. Instead, it was around 30 minutes later that we took off, when most of the passengers were dosing in the airport lounge. There was an apology over the tannoy, but being warned about the weather in Italy--misty and cold as it was--did little to assuage fears that we would get there on time.

Thankfully, we did. Most were asleep within 15 minutes of the plane taking off, but had to be awoken to be brought food.

The trepidation, thankfully, was allayed. The delay too--as we miraculously arrived on time in Malpensa, Milan. The treatment of those of us of a darker shade, even with our visas already processed, was nothing to laugh about. Being bungled in a room with around seven others, excluding my work colleague, tantamount to a cell and asked to have passports kept for about twenty minutes when it was clear that the Embassy had issued a transit visa for all of us, was humiliating. But that's another story that deserves discussion on Trials and Tribulations of a Freshly-Arrived Denizen

BTW, went to the Exhibition parc today -- Kram it's called. Tunis is many parts of Europe, especially Paris, in a time warp!!