E-GOVERNMENT SPECIAL - DOES IT EXIST IN AFRICA AND WHAT CAN IT DO?

18 January 2002

Top Story

Government forms such a large part of many countries’ economies in Africa and therefore it is hardly surprising that there is an enormous level of interest in e-government. It has the potential to make processes more open, less corrupt and more efficient. In a continent in which functional government tends to be the exception rather than the rule, there is an understandable degree of scepticism.

 

In this special issue we present several different viewpoints. Richard Heeks looks at examples of what has already been done and how best to approach the task. Edward Addo-Dankwa describes a government led, agricultural, knowledge-sharing network. Equipment supplier Hewlett Packard (which has recently decided to focus on government as a market) describes why it thinks e-government is important. Kate Oakley casts a sceptical eye over the claims made for e-government and sets a number of criteria for successful implementation.

 

THE HOWS AND WHYS OF E-GOVERNMENT

 

African governments have been using information and communication technologies (ICTs) for more than 40 years. So what’s new about eGovernment?

 

The key innovation is computer networks ­ from intranets to the internet ­ creating a wealth of new digital connections in and around government. We can highlight four application domains for the new connections, each illustrated with an African example.

 

eAdministration. In Ghana, environmental decisions have been hampered by limited and scattered data. A new Environmental Information Network has helped link key institutions. Despite a steep learning curve, it has brought faster and greater information to improve the process of environmental decision making.

 

eCitizens. Greater Johannesburg Metropolitan Council wanted to open up the process of government. It created a Web site with full details of meetings, budgets and projects, thus reducing the barriers to government accountability. In ‘listening’ mode, it has used this site to elicit feedback from citizens; for example, views on the ‘eGoli’ restructuring plans for the city.

 

eServices. Cape Metropolitan Council is using the power of the web to improve the delivery of employment information to citizens. Details of available job opportunities are accessible via the web. If a relevant opportunity is identified, the job-seeker can download, fill in and return the job application form. This significantly reduces both the time and financial costs previously associated with this service.

 

eSociety. Uganda’s Council for Economic Empowerment for Women of Africa used ICTs to link NGOs promoting enterprise development for women. The links provide information on market prices, market opportunities, training opportunities, credit services, exchange rates, business trends, etc. The NGOs now make a stronger contribution to enterprise development: single-person enterprises have expanded to employ four or five staff, and income levels have risen.

 

However, let us not pretend that Africa is a continent brimming with wired governments. Every country faces the multi-point challenge of eReadiness for eGovernment. Those working for African governments can assess this by asking six questions:

 

  1. Is our data systems infrastructure ready: are the management systems, records and work processes in place to provide the quantity and quality of data to support the move to eGovernment? In many African countries, data quality ­ for example ­ is very poor, and there are few mechanisms to address that.

 

  1. Is our legal infrastructure ready: are the laws and regulations required to permit and to support the move to eGovernment in place? In many African countries, for example, digital signatures cannot be accepted.

 

  1. Is our institutional infrastructure ready: eGovernment can only be progressed if the institutions exist to act as a focus for awareness and to act as a means for facilitation of eGovernment. In many African countries, there is no equivalent of an eGovernment Office to help co-ordinate and lead and drive eGovernment initiatives.

 

  1. Is our human infrastructure ready: do we have in place the attitudes, knowledge and skills required to initiate, implement and sustain eGovernment initiatives? In many African countries, key gaps relate to business analysis and system design, and to project management, contract management and vendor management.

 

  1. Is our technological infrastructure ready: although there have been great strides forward, the fact remains that most African countries are a long way short of the computing and telecommunications infrastructure on which many Northern eGovernment initiatives are based.

 

  1. Is our leadership and strategic thinking ready: is there the internal authority and vision to drive forward eGovernment? Vision can smash through many operational obstacles to eGovernment, but it must be the right vision. Especially it must be a vision that integrates ICTs into a broader agenda of Œgood government’ reforms. Perhaps eGovernment ­ with its undue emphasis on the technology ­ is an unhelpful term. Instead the vision should be Œi-Government for Africa’: focusing on integrated, informed government rather than electronic government.

 

In summary, eGovernment is the future for Africa ­ a future that offers critical improvements to the efficiency and effectiveness of government; and probably critical future legitimacy for government.

 

It is not a question of ‘if’ eGovernment, it is a question of ‘how’ eGovernment. But, in terms of ‘how’, these improvements will only be delivered if the eReadiness components can be put in place; especially the leadership and integrated vision on which African eGovernment depends.

 

Further Information

 

For further information, and full details on understanding and building eGovernment for development, please refer to:

http://www.man.ac.uk/idpm/idpm_dp.htm#ig

 

Dr Richard Heeks is a Senior Lecturer, Information Systems & Development at the Institute for Development Policy & Management at the University of Manchester