What we today call information and communication technologies (ICTs) have been with us even here in Africa since the advent of radios, telephones and telegrams (telex) in colonial times and much later television, computers and smartphones.
The incident of the modern information technology (IT) has, no doubt, completely transformed our general approach to business; the way and speed at which we communicate; the way government businesses are transacted and also the way government services are packaged and delivered to citizens and, consequently, our lifestyle generally. With the advancement of IT, which is ever ongoing,the world can never be the same again.
E-government can be defined as: ‘‘the use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) to transform governmental service (in terms of its processes, procedures and structures) by making it more accessible, effective and accountable” (Dzidonu, 2007). According to Kitaw (2006), e-government is the use of ICT to promote more efficient and effective government, facilitate the accessibility of government services, allow greater public access to information, and make governments more accountable to citizens. E-government is “the use of ICT and its application by the government for the provision of information and public services to the people” (Global E-Government Readiness Report, 2004). More broadly, e-government can be referred to as the use and application of information technologies in public administration to streamline and integrate workflows and processes, to effectively manage data and information, enhance public service delivery, as well as expand communication channels for engagement and empowerment of people (UN, 2014).
E-government is aimed at transforming government administration, information provision and service delivery through the deployment and exploitation of ICTs. It can, therefore, be viewed as the use of technology to transform the processes and procedures of how government works to bring about improvements, how government interacts with and provides services to those who it serves (Dzidonu, 2007).
At the continental level, the Charter for the Public Service in Africa adopted by African Ministers of Civil Service in Windhoek, Namibia 5 February 2001 (The Windhoek Declaration, 2001) in its preamble referred to:
“modernizing administrative structures by mastering the new communication technologies, allowing to transform historically and politically motivated functions into sound business-like operations”.
Article 8 provides:
“The public service shall be organized along functional and decentralized lines designed to bring public management closer to the people and provide them with appropriate and accessible basic services.
“Physical proximity and accessibility can be achieved by the application of appropriate information and communication technologies (e-governance).”
Furthermore, Article 8 of the African Charter on the Values and Principles of Public Service and the Administration urged the administration to ensure the introduction of innovative and appropriate methods in the provision of its services and encourage the use of modern methods, particularly information and communication technologies, in order to improve service output (Article 8: 1 & 2).
Similarly, at the national level each country has its own arrangement aimed at enabling it to draw maximum benefits from the use of modern ICT for e-government.
E-government holds the potential to improve the way governments deliver public services and enhance broad stakeholder involvement in public service. It is an enabler of the effective, transparent and accountable institutions envisaged by world leaders (UN, 2014) and helps government to go green and promote effective natural resource management to stimulate economic growth. Apart from facilitating knowledge sharing, skills development, transfer of innovative e-government solutions, capacity building and sustainable development amongst countries, ICT makes the running of government business more efficient, faster and more cost effective. In summary:
• A common feature of e-government is the automation or computerization of existing paper-based procedures to enhance access to and delivery of government services to the citizens;
• It strengthens governments’ drive towards effective governance and increased transparency for better management of resources, for growth and development;
• E-government aims at integrating government MDAs in a manner that promotes their online interaction. (Akunyili, 2010);
• E-administration makes for greater efficiency with less costs to the end users.
The impact of ICT in the world today cannot be over-emphasized because it enhances productivity, growth and business performance, so no country today can hope to be globally competitive without leveraging the power of ICT.
The attainment of leadership positions in e-government remains a dream without the availability of the requisite institutional and infrastructural frameworks.
Governments spend billions of dollars on ICT infrastructure and services annually. However, this is in functional or ministerial silos and largely skewed towards hardware purchases and ICT infrastructure. In Nigeria, for instance, the realization that savings could be made if such infrastructure is shared by various MDAs led to the creation of Galaxy Backbone (GBB) Ltd. – a government company set up for the sole purpose of providing ICT infrastructures and services to all federal government MDAs. The “1-Gov.net” project introduced by GBB is to ensure that infrastructure and transversal applications are shared across MDAs, resulting in huge savings. This approach to providing shared infrastructure received validation from the highest level in 2013, with GBB winning the United Nation’s Public Service award for “the promotion of whole-of-government approaches in the Information Age”.
E-government development rests on three important dimensions: the availability of online services, telecommunication infrastructure and human capacity. (UN, 2014, 2).The state of e-government readiness in a country is a function of the combined levels of its economic, technological and human resources development (UN, 2003). A survey of e-government readiness ranking (UN, 2003) confirms that while North America and Europe, with the aggregate state of e-government readiness of 0.867 and 0.558 respectively, lead among the world regions, while Africa takes the rear in the ranking with 0.241, which is far below the world average e-government readiness (0.402). According to the survey it is only South Africa, Mauritius and Seychelles (0.515, 0.471 and 0.420 respectively) that are above the world average.
The situation slightly changed in 2014 as most countries improved on their 2012 ranking. However, the African average of 0.2661 remained far below the ever-improving world average of 0.4712. Still no African country falls within the first 25 in the ranking.
According to the UN E-government Survey 2014, no African country has attained a very high level in the e-government ranking. However, even though African states are still lagging in the race for automation of government business via the deployment of e-government, some progress has so far been made. Typical examples are as follows: five countries (Morocco, Tunisia, Seychelles, Mauritius and Egypt) are ranked within the high category, whereas about 20 of them (Algeria, Angola, Botswana, Cameroon, Nigeria, Tanzania, etc.) are ranked within the middle range. The rest are still within the low category, which is dominated by African countries.
In Morocco, for instance, in its efforts to bring state-of-the-art e-services to its citizens and include them in the decision-making process, the government developed an e-consultation platform through the website of the secretary to the government, where citizens can access legislative texts online, read and download them, and post their comments and concerns. This creates a transparent, inclusive and easy channel through which citizens can share their concerns and make their voices heard; hence enriching democratic governance processes in the country. The government, in turn, reacts to the citizens’ comments and provides feedback.
Similarly, in the small island of Mauritius the government has developed an online portal and telecommunication infrastructure. Their website offers citizens an exhaustive list of e-services segmented by target persons. Government has invested in infrastructure, communications and education, which raised the Human Capital Index of Mauritius and in turn raised its ranking in the regional E-Government Development Index (EGDI) from 93 in 2012 to 72 in 2015. The portal also offers citizens a platform for e-participation through chat rooms, a media library, blogs and discussion forums.
In Nigeria, the adoption of e-governance has three main target groups which can be distinguished in governance concepts: government (public/civil servants), citizens and businesses/interest groups. The realization of the transformative power of ICT has led Nigeria to adopt e-governance as a part of government policy. This has resulted in better public services delivery in a more efficient, cost-effective and transparent manner (Olaopa, 2014). Nigeria has also created a ministry specifically charged with the responsibility to regulate ICT-related issues.
Though no country has attained 100% perfection in e-government, the quest for e-government in Africa is being particularly hampered by certain factors which constitute impediments. These include lack of basic telecommunication infrastructures; poor, irregular power supply; capacity building and human resources; high levels of illiteracy (over 60%) and corruption. Many countries have had the budget meant for e-government development corruptly mismanaged by those entrusted with the project, thereby making e-government a mirage. There is also the problem of poor governmental policy formulation. ICT for e-government requires a heavy financial outlay, which many African governments cannot afford. They largely appear to have chosen to limit their level of participation to their financial capacity.
There is no doubt that the deployment of e-government in Africa has offered great opportunities for enhancing pubic administration and, in turn, social and economic development. Although it is too early to measure the full impact of ICT in Africa, there are indications that, with time, ICTs can serve to change things and be an innovative tool towards Africa’s growth (World Bank Africa Competitiveness Report, 2013). It can also be a strategic tool for transparency, competitiveness, performance, information dissemination, facilitate technology literacy, accessibility, functionality, executing, evaluating and expanding shared opportunities and networking. This makes for smart open government.