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December 12, 2003Swedish massage. The Swedish delegation summed up the Western world's attitude towards funding poorer countries' digital infrastructure this morning.
When asked whether she was in favour of the Global Solidarity Fund, Astrid Dufborg said: "Perhaps we can divide this into two questions. We are in favour of solidarity: but we have another position when it comes to the fund."
She continued: "We don't believe there is one kind of global fund that is appropriate for dealing with the whole issue [of the disparity in technology between rich and poor countries]. Creating a single fund would not deal with the issue. It would be more appropriate to have bilateral relations between the countries."
This is the Western world's argument in a nutshell. While poorer countries bandy the name "Digital Solidarity Fund" about the World Summit, the richer countries they have in mind for bankrolling the project are uniformly sceptical. The message coming out of Western countries is clear: we will look at the digital divide, but only through our existing aid channels. We don't rule out acting multilaterally, but with a small number of partners who will be of our choosing.
In Ms Dufborg's case, her country has joined with Ireland and Canada to fund the Global eSchools and Communities Initiative, an $80 million programme to provide hi-tech education in Namibia, Ghana, Bolivia and Andhra Pradesh in India.
The advantages of this scheme over contributing to a Digital Solidarity Fund are twofold. First, Sweden can keep a close eye on where its money is going and expand or downgrade the project at will. Second, eSchools is politically more valuable than a Global Solidarity Fund because it enables both technology and education ministers to answer their critics with one scheme.