ICT Policy Development Process in Africa

ICT Policy Development Process in Africa

Hopestone Kayiska Chavula (United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), Ethiopia) and Abebe Chekol (United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), Ethiopia)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61520-847-0.ch016
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Abstract

This chapter reviews the information and communication technology (ICT) policy development process in Africa and assesses to what extent African countries have taken on board ICT issues in their overall national development policies and plans. It is argued that African countries lag behind in technological issues hence negatively affecting the overall development of the continent due to their inability to recognize the critical role played by ICTs in overall national development issues. The chapter emphasizes the significance of mainstreaming ICT policies and strategies in the overall development process, so that African countries remain competitive on the global market. This is done by taking into consideration the development and implementation of the National Information and Communication Infrastructure (NICI) policy and plans in different African countries initiated by the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) after recognizing the little emphasis placed on the significance of ICTs in national development policies by African countries. The chapter assesses also to what extent these NICI policies and plans have impacted on ICT and economic development, and tries to propose the way forward for the continent.
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Introduction

Full and effective participation of a country in the emerging global knowledge economy through information network, is of fundamental significance if that country wants to avoid marginalization from the global information society and if it wants to enhance, essentially, the full participation of its citizens in all spheres of life and be able to address the current development challenges. ICTs can contribute to the integration of developing countries in the world’s digital economy, and they can create a conducive environment for the flow of information and knowledge as well as exchange and utilization of goods and services. This makes ICTs become an effective tool for development and poverty reduction, which could only be achieved if they become an integral part of a broader and more comprehensive national development strategy.

ICTs offer tremendous potential to raise standards of living and widen opportunities for individuals, communities, countries and regions. While many in Africa still remain directly untouched by the information revolution, one cannot deny the transformative effect traversing over the continent over the past few years, especially after the liberalization of the ICT sector in many African countries which led to the proliferation of investments in mobile technology. ICTs contribute significantly towards the delivery of health, education and agricultural services which are of paramount significance to the lives of the rural poor in Africa. Apart from these they also play a pivotal role in the provision of banking services and trade facilitation within and between countries.

The main objective of this chapter is to review ICT policy developments in Africa and to assess to what extent African countries have taken on board technological issues in their overall national development agendas and also to assess their impact on ICT development within the countries’ national development programmes2. It stresses on the significance of having ICT policies and strategies in the overall development processes in Africa. This is done by taking into consideration the development and implementation of the NICI policy and plans in different African countries initiated by the UNECA as it recognized that there has been little emphasis placed on the significance of ICTs in national development policies of African countries3. NICI formulation process provides the framework within which ICTs are mainstreamed into the national planning process in order to facilitate the achievement of national and sectoral development priorities and objectives. It is an ongoing process through the planning, implementation and regular evaluation of programmes and projects developed according to the needs and priorities of each country.

Policies and plans under the NICI framework could be defined as an integrated set of decisions, guidelines, laws, regulations and other mechanisms geared towards directing and shaping the production, acquisition and use of ICTs. The process is based on national development needs and priorities as determined by all the relevant stakeholders. It should be noted that very few studies have touched on ICT policy development issues in developing countries, hence having very scanty literature on the issue.

The chapter is divided into 7 sections. Section 2 gives an overview of the evolution of the economic development policy issues in developing countries, stressing on how the role of ICTs has not been showcased in most of the countries’ national development policy plans in Africa and their effects on ICT development, emphasizing the significance of ICT policy to development among African countries. Section 3 gives an overview of the ICT development initiatives in Africa including the NICI Process and Plan and what led to its development and how it relates to the overall national development policy formulation process in the different African countries, as well as its significance, goals and objectives. Section 4 outlines the NICI policy development process framework and Section 5 gives the policy implementation process in selected countries supported by the best practices from the selected African countries. Section 6 presents the different challenges faced and lessons learnt as well as future trends. Finally, Section 7 makes some conclusions and offers some policy recommendations.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Economic Reforms: In most developing countries these reforms were initiated by the World Bank and IMF with the objective of liberalising their economies – moving away from an environment with greater state activities to the one that relies on the private sector. Most macroeconomic policies focused on liberalisation of international and domestic trade including liberalisation of agricultural prices and marketing, removal of agricultural subsidies, reduction in trade tariffs and removal of non-tariff barriers to trade, liberalisation of the exchange rate system, liberalisation of the financial sector and interest rates and provision of investment incentives.

Broad-Based Participatory Process: A participatory approach where various and diverse groups are consulted which enriches the policy itself and further validates what the government is doing. This process also ensures “a people-centred, inclusive and development oriented IS for all”. It also serves as a mechanism for generating and stimulating debate on IS issues that help to raise greater awareness from the country’s perspective. Even though some countries undertake broad national consultations, there is room for improvement.

The National Information and Communication Infrastructure (NICI): The African Information Society Initiative (AISI) provides the roadmap to guide African countries in addressing the challenges of the emerging globalisation and the information age by developing and implementing NICI policies and plans within the wider national socio-economic development objectives, strategies and aspirations. NICI provides the framework within which ICTs are mainstreamed into the national planning process in order to facilitate the achievement of national and sectoral development priorities and objectives. It is an ongoing process through the planning, implementation and regular evaluation of programmes and projects developed according to the needs and priorities of each country. NICI is: An exercise for developing national ICT policies and strategies and implementable programmes; A guiding framework for integrating ICTs into national development programmes; A mechanism to implement the global vision of the African Information Society Initiative (AISI) at national level; A national response to facilitate the digital inclusion of Africa and its integration into the globalisation process; A monitoring and evaluation tool of the role of ICTs in national development – SCAN-ICT – an initiative to monitor progress and achievements in the Information Society; A coordination mechanism between various stakeholders and funding agencies

Policy Document: The policy document provides details of the government’s policy commitments in relation to what needs to be done through the exploitation and development of ICTs in the country. It is actually an implementation plan guided by the Government’s policy commitments, which serve as a guide of the government’s socio-economic development plans. It is based on the review and analysis of the country’s national socio-economic development frameworks, policies, strategies and provisions as well as the ICT development in the country.

ICTs: For the purpose of this chapter ICTs are envisage to include hardware, processes, and systems that are used for storing, managing, communicating and sharing information. These tools can be either manual or computerized (digital). This definition of ICTs extends to older non-digital devices such as analogue radio and television. Beyond hardware, i.e., computers, wireless devices, telecommunications towers, etc. ICTs include computer software and associated systems such as management methods and practices, or the so-called application layer. However, a useful working definition is “electronic means of capturing, processing, storing and disseminating information”.

Policy: A policy is typically described as a deliberate plan of action to guide decisions and achieve rational outcome(s).

Digital Economy: This is the economic situation whereby the various economic activities use ICTs to fulfil the intended objectives in pursuing national development endeavours. In short a digital economy is an economy that is based on electronic goods and services produced by an electronic business and traded through electronic means.

Regulations Regulations: Are the rules, procedures, administrative codes etc. set by authorities or governmental agencies to achieve their objectives. The regulations are therefore applicable only within the jurisdiction or purpose for which such regulations are made.

Harmonization of National Regulatory Frameworks: This entails the coordination among economic players at country or regional levels in order to avoid duplication of programmes and projects hence minimize costs.

E-Strategies: These are the plans, policies and strategies aiming principally at assisting countries to deploy, harness and exploit ICTs for development, through the NICI process.

National Socio-Economic Development Process: This is the process whereby a country’s economic development strategies are formulated and implemented.

Telecommunications: The science and technology of sending and receiving information such as sound, visual images, or computer data over long distances through the use of electrical, radio, or light signals, using electronic devices to encode the information as signals and to decode the signals as information.

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