Interview with Réseau Télécom on State of Play of E-Government in Africa.
Réseau Télécom: According to the United Nations E -Government Survey 2012, the United Nations ranked the best countries that have adopted e-governance, Seychelles, Mauritius, South Africa, coming in first place in Africa. What is your comments on the ranking?
AO: Some General Remarks:
In general, Africa has not been able to keep pace with other regions in the area of E-Government and e-participation. Only 11 out of the 54 countries improved their rankings in 2012. Seychelles stands out among African countries that have significantly improved its global e-governments standing, moving 20 places higher. The country moved from 104 to 84 in 2012, and has consistently made significant progress since 2003. However, it must be noted that the high literacy rate and relatively good infrastructure in Seychelles are major contributing factors to this good standing. The countries could also do better in the areas of online services and particularly e-participation.
Attention should also be paid to countries like Rwanda (8 places), Kenya (5 places) and Morocco (6 places) that are making steady progress.
Coming back to your question:
While South Africa and Mauritius are in the top three countries, these two countries actually dropped 16 and 4 places respectively. A longitudinal perspective on these two countries since 2003 also shows stagnation in relative progress in e-government in these countries since 2005 and 2008 Mauritius and South Africa respectively.
As you know, the EGOV Development Index is a relatively index. This means that even a drop in index from one year to another does not mean that the affected countries have not made progress individually. It only shows that these countries have not made progress when compared with their peers. However, a low relative index still indicates significant gaps that must be addressed by policy makers.
Given the importance of citizen participation and engagement in fostering good governance, I will like to point your attention to arguably equally important aspiration group of countries in Africa in the area of e-participation. Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia could provide good practices in how ICT may be used to better used to connect and engage with citizens in Africa. Egypt stands out in the area of e-participation; ranked in 7th place globally with countries like Canada, Sweden and Norway!
Réseau Télécom: What are the best experiences of e-governance that African states should emulate?
AO: There are many aspects to e-government development which makes it difficult from one country to simply emulate another. While some general patterns or good practices can be identified or abstracted from cases and reinterpreted in specific contexts, ultimately, the more similar the socio-political, economic and cultural contexts of the source of the experience and the targeted environment, the more feasible is such learning or knowledge transfer.
Against this background, it is clear that simply looking at the top countries in Africa in terms of the overall EGOV index will not suffice.
For instance, while in general, all countries should be able to learn from Egypt’s e-participation initiatives, cultural and geo-political similarities of other North African countries with Egypt could make these countries learn more easily from Egypt.
Note that even when technology initiatives are easy to replicate, legislative barriers may prevent their implementation in other countries.
Despite my points above, I would risk pointing out Rwanda as a good exemplar for other African countries in terms of having a clear and implementable E-government policy/strategy and being able to successfully address its development and underpinning good governance needs with e-government initiatives.
Réseau Télécom: What, according to you, is the first benefits of e-governance ?
AO: I strongly feel that e-governance must explicitly address good governance needs of countries or states and at the same time make basic and essential public services more accessible to the people, including vulnerable groups at the bottom of the pyramid. So no matter the number of online services available, if majority of the citizens are not aware of those services, neither consider them relevant nor think they have made life easier for them, these online services are not really useful!
Réseau Télécom: What are the prerequisites for better implementation of e-governance in Africa?
AO: The Political leadership at the highest level must see the urgency for harnessing current and new technologies for reaching the people not just for getting votes but to: better understand citizen needs; obtain the collective wisdom of the citizenry in government decision making and providing services most needed by all segments of the society.
- The Public Administration System of the state should be sufficiently reformed to be able to undertake and implement the desired changes.
- Enabling legislative and regulatory infrastructure to remove barriers to innovation and accelerate desired changes.
- Vibrant public, private with “non-state actor” partnerships ecosystem to collaboratively develop the necessary infrastructure and services. This is really important in African context, where Governments resources are highly limited.
Réseau Télécom: How do you assess the political will of African leaders regarding e-governance ?
AO: I would say in general poor. The political will in Rwanda and efforts by President Paul Kagame is a good model for other leaders to follow in the African region.
Réseau Télécom: What are the factors that affect e-government ?
AO: I will refer you to perquisite for feasible e-government program in Q4. The absence of any of the four elements would affect the implementation of e-government. In addition, ability to translate the articulated e-government policy and strategy into concrete viable program and initiatives is another major factor that has limited the successful development of e-government in Africa.
Réseau Télécom: Africa currently faces the problems of infrastructure and energy. Is it not an obstacle for the implementation of e-governance? How to deal with this situation?
AO – Infrastructural and energy issues will definitely affect the availability of e-government services, particularly those that can only be accessed through computers connected to the internet. However, given the mobile penetration rate in the continent, many governments in the region are aware leveraging mobile channels may address the both the reach and availability of government online services. There are also some innovative rural community solutions (e.g. solar powered Internet Café) that have employed solar energy for powering laptop and notebook computers and satellite dishes for internet access.
What are really required are simple innovations to address the negative effects of the major infrastructural challenges that must be confronted, while looking for long term solutions to these major issues.
Réseau Télécom: India and South Korea pledged to assist several African countries to modernize public administration through e-governance. How would you rate their involvement?
AO: I do not have all the data to rigourously evaluate the various initiatives these countries were involved. Usually, the involvement of these countries in ICT-related initiatives (e-governance or ICT4D) in Africa is within the context of some technical cooperation, bilateral agreements or others cooperation frameworks. Some of major challenges that these kinds of cooperation has faced in other regions include difficulty in effectively transferring the innovation or technology involved due to major differences in the originating (e.g. South Korea) and the destination (e.g. in Cameroon) environments. These differences include gaps in the availability of technical know-how and financial resources to operate such initiatives in the countries receiving the assistance. Overall, the success of these cooperation initiatives will be largely measured by its sustainability and how much it has met its original goals. For example, in the case of South Korea and Cameroon on the PKI initiative, success could be measured by the extent to which Cameroon has the capacity to operate the infrastructure sustainably. It should be noted that there are usually implicit commercial interest in most of the cooperation initiatives from the perspectives of the technical partner. So for the technical partner, the success could be being steps closer to the desired market in the region.
Réseau Télécom: African countries enter into agreements with foreign partners for the implementation of e-government. This has resulted in the implementation of e-governance infrastructure by these foreign partners. This is for example the case with Cameroon PKI provided by Koreans. Does Africa run the risk of its exchanges between departments re-routed by these partners through their infrastructure they have installed?
AO: Theoretically, these risks always exist. It could be very difficult and expensive to guarantee these kinds of risks do not exist. To minimize them, I would recommend the beneficiary party (e.g. Cameroon in this case) to seek third-party expertise (e.g. from another country with comparable expertise with Korea, if not available in the country) to carry out the necessary checks to minimize the risk. It is also important that equipments developed with major industry (open) standards are acquired to make such checks easier.
Réseau Télécom: Do African countries have local expertise to assess the reliability of materials and equipment made available to them by foreign partners for e-governance?
AO: Most countries may not have the capability to carry out this. However, as remarked above, this could be carried out with the assistance of third-parties.
Réseau Télécom: How can African countries and even some firms organize themselves avoid unpleasant surprises with espionage equipment and infrastructure at their disposal?
AO: Governments and Firms need to act proactively and collaboratively to develop the necessary capability to minimize these risks. For example, National or Regional Centre of expertise with capabilities to carry out checks may be setup with support from Government. This kind of centre may even offer services to neighbouring to sustain its operations. International organizations may also be able to provide some technical assistance in this regard.
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