What are the implications for policy and practice of the integration of ICTs (Information and Communication Technologies) in local governance systems in Africa? What are the key drivers for the effective integration of ICTs? Using case studies from Senegal, Ghana, Uganda and South Africa this International Development Research Centre (IDRC) book analyses these issues. It finds that there is potential for growth by integrating ICTs in local governance, although building capacity is a key aspect of that potential.
The broad assumptions that decentralisation policies can influence good local governance and that the use of ICTs can greatly increase this influence have yet to be proven. Little empirical evidence exists, especially in Africa, of the effects of ICTs on local governance. There is no common assessment framework from which lessons can be drawn. This research aims to provide a more rigorous, evidential and outcomes-based analysis of the factors that can enable ICTs to enhance governance and reinforce democracy.
Lessons learned from case studies using ICTs for local governance in Africa show the following considerations:
- There is no single way of introducing ICTs in government. The process is dynamic and includes several stages: raising awareness; encouraging use of ICTs; and providing products and content that meets local demands.
- Participation is a crucial issue. Understanding the decision making mechanisms of community actors and attitudes towards change are important in identifying factors that underlie the adoption of ICTs by poor rural communities.
- The participation of women should be promoted through positive discrimination, specific projects and the use of tools and applications adapted to their needs and roles.
- Adaptable and affordable alternative technologies (satellites, wireless and mobile technology) are needed to ensure universal access to ICTs.
- ICTs can contribute to improving the living conditions of the population. It is necessary to assess both real change and the effects of ICT use on income levels.
- The national and institutional context is important to ICT project implementation and provides a relevant framework for studying ICTs and development.
There are still several unresolved issues in discussing the role of ICTs for local governance. These include: empowerment at the local level; the needs and priorities of citizens; the roles and responsibilities of the different stakeholders for sustainability; and the nature and level of people participation:
- ICTs pose a challenge in terms of control and freedom. They are capable of both reinforcing participation and democracy and enabling ubiquitous control that enhances the power of few people.
- The development of local content is pivotal to ensuring equitable access to ICTs. Linguistic diversity and widespread illiteracy are particular challenges. The use of local languages, the exchange of local cultures and the development of local programmes have to be supported by governments, businesses and civil society.
- Africa must develop business models for transforming local content to viable e-business and e-commerce solutions in order to make content development viable.
- The availability of the appropriate skills base is an important determinant of the growth of ICTs supply and activities. Sector reforms are needed regarding training and the existence of quality, sustainable facilities to ensure requisite human resource development.