The Challenge of Taking Baby Steps in E-governance in West Africa

Electronic governance is a global phenomenon but one with an unequal impact. At present, it has comparably gained more ground in developed countries as compared to developing countries. To address this inequality, we must find ways for developing countries to harness this innovation more effectively. That is the purpose of this research – to establish a better understanding of e-governance in five countries in sub-Saharan Africa in order to define appropriate approach to advance beyond the readiness to adopt e-governance.

This research study presents case studies on e-governance in five countries, namely Ghana, Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Senegal and Cameroon. The research defines e-governance as the use of information and communication technologies (ICTs) to continuously transform the internal and external relationships of governments, the public sector and other governance stakeholders in a manner that is citizen-centric, cooperative and polycentric. A conceptual framework was developed from a review of extant e-governance approaches and was used to assess each country by five interrelated components; objectives, policies, programs and projects, online presence of government institutions, and impact. Data was triangulated from interviews with selected country experts, review of policies on technology and governance, and review of online presence of government institutions.

Findings suggest that some substantial progress is being made by governments and civil society organizations to achieve the goals of good governance and transparency and efficiency in the delivery of government services. Government readiness to reform its public sector operations and pursue an ICT-led development agenda tends to be the major enabler or driver of e-governance initiatives. Though some measure of success has been attained, there is sometimes a big gap between what is on paper ‘as policy’ and what is being delivered in actual implementation. Egovernance policies tend to work in tandem with implementation agencies, which are empowered with a legal framework and requisite resources to enact the policies – the latter, resources, often tend to be missing. Further, there is also the challenge of poor promotion and marketing of e-governance initiatives. Poor promotion contributes
to a general lack of awareness and knowledge among citizens on e-governance initiatives. These findings suggest that adequate resources and contextually-relevant strategies are, therefore, required to promote e-governance initiatives to stakeholders in order to encourage participation, adoption and usage. Concerning the online presence of government, a majority of websites reviewed are informative in nature and offer little room for interactivity between government and citizens. Web 2.0 technologies are more likely to be found on websites of political parties and personal pages of politicians. In local government institutions, there is also low incentive to build a website - low levels of literacy, lack of local content in local languages and other infrastructural challenges make it challenging to develop citizen-centric services which are affordable and accessible.

Concerning e-governance impact, there is evidence of contribution of e-governance to the national development agenda. Aligning e-governance objectives to the development initiatives enhances the visibility of the use of egovernance initiatives to support national development agenda. However, in relation to the achievement of the MDGs, the contribution of e-governance to MDGs tends to be more about the potential impact which is also not directly measurable as of now. E-governance objectives often have less or no consideration of MDGs in their conceptualization. On e-governance and climate change/environmental protection, it tends to be that, the path lies in government demonstrating willingness to adopt green technology practices and also promote an eco-spirit among the citizenry. In effect, the case countries are gradually migrating from an ‘emerging presence’ towards a networked presence’ where every government agency is online, data is automatically shared between agencies, and citizens have adequate access to government services. The study proposes six steps to be taken to address challenges and sustain the progress towards citizen-centric governance; revision of current policies, ensuring sustainability, going mobile, interoperable platforms, e-governance education, local content production and multilingualism, and contributing to MDGs.

About AIDIP

The African Institute for Development Informatics and Policy (AIDIP) is a research institute which focuses on the conduct and dissemination of research and the advocacy and establishment of projects and policies concerning the adoption and usage of development informatics in Africa. Development informatics refers to appropriate design, localization, development, implementation and usage of information and communication technologies (ICTs) to achieve development goals. The primary goal of AIDIP is to extend the reach of the use of ICTs to the underserved and unreached. To achieve this, the institute would establish research and development projects of relevance to the developmental needs of the country and to the millennium development goals. Since the research centre would be primarily located in Ghana, it would also become an official data source for statistics and research in Ghana and thereafter other African countries. This would be done through the coordinating research activities and projects related to development informatics in both private and public sector agencies in Ghana. The institute would also support the research faculty and staff in Ghanaian universities and link them to other research institutes in other universities.

AIDIP seeks to become the foremost African forum for practitioners, managers, researchers and policy makers to share their knowledge and experience on the technology, adoption, localization, management and policy of development informatics in Africa.