The growth of new information and communication technologies (ICTs) has the potential to expand e-governance In African countries, mobile devices and data are increasingly becoming cheaper, more readily available and transmission speeds becoming faster, allowing for the expansion of e-governance.
E-governance is defined by the UNDP 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”.
The UN E-Government Survey 2018 showed that most African countries lag far behind their industrial and developing country peers when it comes to e-government progress. More than 30 percent of African countries are at the bottom of the world rankings on e-government capacity. Overall, Africa is the region with the least capacity to introduce e-government initiatives.
Not surprisingly, the African countries, which according to the World Economic Forum, has the most advanced information and communications technology sectors - Mauritius, Seychelles, Tunisia, South Africa, Cape Verde and Botswana, also ranks high in e-governance capacity.
Mauritius has consistently been the African country with the most advances in e-governance. The UN e-Government has since 2016 regularly ranked Mauritius as the African country with the most developed e-governance.
Mauritius is now also sharing its knowledge with other African countries, such as Ghana.
New ICTs offers African governments new ways to deliver services more effectively, give citizens new ways of holding governments accountable and offers new ways for citizens to participate in government decisions. By improving government efficiency, e-government boosts economic growth.
And by getting more citizens to access public services, access government information and engage with government, which boosts participation, accountability and transparency, and overall boost democracy.
The UNDP in a recent report argued that “ICTs are a catalytic tool to promote services to the most marginalised populations, while enhancing transparency and accountability”.
Furthermore, citizens have greater “access to new communication channels and thus having ‘louder’ voices in decision - and public policy-making processes”.
The UNDP calls the potential of increased citizen participate in government decision-making through e-governance as “e-participation”.
African citizens with access to the internet can now access government information, use online public services and pay online for public services. Cape Verde in 2008 introduced a Maison du Citoyen or Citizens’ Centre, a portal which brings together electronically information about public services from different departments which citizens regularly look for. This means that citizens do not need to travel to individual ministries looking for or to access the information. Citizens can apply for birth certificates, starting a company and pay for services online.
Most of Cape Verde government departments make provision for citizens to directly engage with government online. In Cape Verde, some government departments, such as the Health Department, hold online public consultations with citizens over policy.
The Department of Justice has online forum in which citizens can respond to draft laws. In the municipality of Tarrafal de São Nicolau citizens can engage with government on policy and services through an online chat.
Mauritius has prioritised turning the island into a Cyber Island, with e-Government as the driving force.
The government is focusing on delivering quality public services 24/7. It has established a government web portal as a central point for government services, information and consultation. It has also focused on creating a “joined-up government” in which departments and public services are integrated online. Mauritius has scaled up e-learning programmes for public servants.
Mauritius is working on creating an online performance monitoring system through which public servants can be held accountable by both government and citizens.
Morocco has an online government portal. Citizens can access government information, as well as post their views on government performance through the portal. In 2010, Morocco introduced a requirement that corporate taxes be paid online. The Moroccan parliament has introduced e-petitions, through online petitioning on bills, policies and regulations.
The Tunisian government is transitioning government from paper-based system to a paperless one. Public auditors are increasingly auditing information, data and services online. In 2011, the Tunisian government launched the beginning of an e-public procurement system for selected public procurement transactions, which would include purchasing and payments.
Seychelles have gradually turned core government documents into electronic form. In Seychelles, citizens can make online tax payments, register their companies and verify their voter details. Seychelles has an almost 100% mobile usage. Internet speed is relatively high and broadband cost lower than in many African countries. A number of the e-government public services are available for citizens through mobile phones. Seychelles have introduced a voter verification through mobile phones.
However, many African countries lack e-government strategies. Rather than cobbling together standalone e-government strategies, African government will have to put together e-government strategies that are linked to their country industrialisation plans.
Lack of physical, human capital and technical infrastructure undermines e-government development in Africa. Furthermore, African countries have high levels of illiteracy, and large numbers of citizens are too poor to access technology. African countries even if they have e-government facilities, often do not have special support to make it accessible to the poor, rural areas and women - the most marginalised in society.
In many African countries with government-wide online government portals, these often lack security. Many African e-government initiatives lack feedback mechanisms for citizens to monitor initiatives.
Access to the internet in most African countries is through mobile devices. However, the software applications, interfaces and products of many e-government systems of many African countries do not speak to those in mobile devices.
Some African countries have an online e-government portal, which is not integrated with the whole government. In many cases, the government departments and agencies are not linked to the online e-governmental portal.
African governments will have to invest in ICT and telecommunications infrastructure, human resources and systems that can interactively problem-solve users queries.
Many African e-government projects fail, because it was either donor driven, lack relevant data, human resource capacity and technology.
Many African governments are not participative, accountable or honest. The challenge is therefore to make e-government transparent, participative and accountable given the current lack of democratic governance cultures.
African governments also need the political will - often absent - to introduce e-governance reforms that will increase public sector efficiencies, citizen participation and slash corruption.
William Gumede is Associate Professor, School of Governance, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg; and author of South Africa in BRICS (Tafelberg).