In late February South African civil society groups decided to boycott the World Bank’s planned Development Gateway internet scheme. Following a meeting with two Gateway staff, representatives of SANGONET, Jubilee South Africa, COSATU, SANGOCO, the Community Radio sector and the Churches wrote saying “We want to firmly and unequivocally state our intention not to participate in the World Bank Development Gateway project. That while the Development Gateway purports to promote local community organisations and their information initiatives, it’s true intention is to control the development information discourse to promote its own particular perspectives.” African civil society web organisation kabissa.org supported the letter in an editorial, writing “Fundamentally, what the South African organisations have raised is the issue of power and control. They are right to refuse to relinquish either. Sadly, too many organisations have been seduced by the smell of dollars associated with the [Gateway] initiative to say anything. The South African organisations here should, therefore, be congratulated for having the courage to speak out. We hope others will soon follow their lead.”
The Gateway’s new newsletter demonstrates some of the potential fears about the project: the first two have deliberately avoided any mention of criticisms of it (see Bretton Woods Updates 17-21), exemplifying the tendency to control information rather than include all perspectives.
The World Bank’s Board gave the project a lukewarm endorsement at a meeting in early March. Bank President Wolfensohn is now moving to raise funds for a new foundation, which will run the Gateway super-site and give grants for other initiatives. It is known that organisations which contribute over $5 million will get a seat on the foundation’s board but it is unclear how the remaining places will be filled or whether the board will be in place by the planned 1 July launch of the Gateway.