Despite promises to the contrary, it seems likely that high-level attendance at the World Summit on the Information Society will be quite low, probably less than at the first summit in Geneva in 2003.
This article in Infotunisie.com on 14 October notes that only 30 heads of state have committed to attend the WSIS, compared to the 50-some heads of state who came to Geneva.
There are probably several factors on why high-level turn-out might be low:
0. There was just a major UN Summit in New York in September for the five-year review of the Millennium Summit.
0. The WSIS has had a low public and media-profile, so there isn’t much potential publicity for a politician who attends.
0. No substantive agreement is likely on internet governance or ICT financing.
The article notes that 17,000 participants from civil society, the private sector and government are expected to attend. I wonder how many will actually show up given these facts:
0. Travel to Tunis is quite expensive for participants from Latin America and Asia, and even other parts of Africa. Participants from several African countries will have to travel to Europe first in order to go to Tunis because of how flights are routed.
0. The hotels in the area are largely booked, and those that are available are very expensive, even by Western standards.
0. Getting visas to travel to Tunisia is a complicated process, with several countries not having local embassies.
If participation is low, it will be hard for governments to agree to anything substantive in Tunis. Indeed it is likely that the final document will ask the UN Secretary-General to make a recommendation by next year of a follow-up and implementation mechanism. Handing the responsibility to the SG has long been a convenient way for governments to avoid difficult political fights. The powerful governments can use less overt means to pressure the Secretary General while he can take the blame for any criticism of the UN.
For civil society this could be the worst possible scenario. The SG will have very little political support to propose anything innovative or progressive. And negotiations with his office will take place in secret.
Given this eventuality, what we should fight for is an outcome document that directs the SG to propose a follow-up mechanism we could agree to. I.e. multi-stakeholder, participatory, transparent, with real authority.