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Uganda & Kenya: In Search of e-Governance

Good governance is a slightly abstract concept that describes the process of nondiscriminatory government policies, checks and balances to political power, respect for human rights and effective civil society. This process that has become an important ingredient economists point to leading a country to high economic growth. Development experts also claim good governance is responsible for creating higher levels of human development.

Governments have heard this. Pushed on in no small parts by grants, corporate and development programs, many countries began leveraging new technologies to increase access to government services. They’ve tried various methods to simplify procedures for citizens, expand transparency and make information available to everyone.

The blog Abugidan Info from Ethiopia draws the parallel between increasing peoples’ access to information and a more healthy political culture.

…the importance of the undeterred flow of information in the sphere of politics and governance and in improving socio-political life can hardly be exaggerated. Let us look at it this way. As in the marketplace, the impact of its lack is catastrophic, especially to the development of democracy and strengthening of respect for human dignity. In today’s society, that deficit is characterized by exclusion, inequality, the arrogance of power and problems pertaining to peace and security, stereotyping as political strategy, poor economic growth and uneven development and subjugation that eventually gives way to societal polarization and conflicts. With Internet today’s reality of our world, IF ONLY governments get their cues from a longstanding Syms’ ad, “An educated customer is our best customer”, the world would have been a much better place!

Governments’ use of information and communications technologies can only go so far, says Tanya Gupta, a blogger at Governance Matters from the World Bank. She argues that many e-government programs concentrate on providing better services to citizens while they should consider issues relating to political culture.

The first is increasing participation.

Large sections of most developing countries -typically the lowest income populations- are disenfranchised, lacking political participation and voice. In fact, studies have found that greater economic inequality yields greater political inequality, thus creating a vicious cycle where the poor cannot use the political system to improve their economic situation…

This suggests that e-government can strengthen democracy by contributing to increase political participation among the poor.Unfortunately this is where we get stuck. Empirical data shows that participation is not typically an important part of e-government programs in poorer countries even though they are the ones who most needed it.

Next, she outlines the importance of openness and transparency.

In spite of many good examples of open government/ transparency, the fundamental change in mind-set that is required for a truly open government has not really taken place anywhere. In order for this to happen, each civil servant will need to relate in a very different way to data that he/she produces.

…In this process, as much data as possible should be released, withholding only confidential and personal information. To achieve this, more investment would be needed in building a better search engine and modifying social networking apps for government.

Finally, she identifies collaborating amongst diverse groups and accountability:

Although closely linked, transparency/openness and collaboration alone will not bring about accountability. Holding public servants and politicians accountable for their actions requires a robust civil society, strong judiciary and legal framework, a free and active press among other factors. However citizen watchdogs, human rights organizations, non-profits and others that track governance related actions and data can certainly use technology to demand accountability.

Case study: Uganda

Uganda’s government began working earnestly with ICTs in 2006, when the Ministry of ICT began overseeing e-government programs across state-run institutions. The country’s private sector took off some years ago, but the government is still implementing a framework to drive e-Government infrastructure initiatives, like creating communication networks and file sharing amongst all 28 ministries. The government’s strategy also includes providing access to communications, which it hopes to accomplish through school-based training.

If I had to generalize, I’d say the Ugandan blogosphere is largely unimpressed with the government’s efforts in the ICT realm. (If you have anything to say on Uganda’s effort, please reply below.)

Kato Mivoule, from Uganda, writes Mivule Tech-Africa and blames the political culture of the government.

Despite the IT infrastructure, Uganda is still reeling back and forth from forces of corruption that are in no doubt hampering the would be robust ICT industry in East Africa

…from nepotism, favoritism, power fights, mismanagement, greed, ICT in Uganda is yet to deliver, especially when it comes to helping the poor in Africa alleviate poverty,diseases, and illiteracy… Current ICT Leadership in Uganda’s ICT ministry are so full of themselves that all they are concerned with are contracts for themselves and bogus middleman IT companies that would rake in profits to their bank accounts… The people of Uganda benefiting from ICT is still a dream…

This post is admittedly a little old (from November 2008) but the issues remain relevant. It comes from Lilian, who writes From Uganda To You:

A presentation from the Ministry of ICT just confirmed my fears about their ignorance or complacency about IG issues. The presenter was just limited to the role of governments in IG yet what we wanted to hear what the Ugandan government has done as far as Internet governance is concerned. To make it even worse, he could hardly even talk about the three main bills (e-signatures, cyber crime and e-transactions). He simply put it that they were being tabled in parliament for “approval” and knowing the way in which our parliament operates, this may take forever to be finalised!

She points out that Uganda has an internet penetration rates of less than five percent, but the number of people accessing online through web-enabled phones is quickly increasing. “Looking at these figures, I’m not exactly hearing what the government is/has done to make IG a success in Uganda.,” she writes.

Right now, I’m seated in an Internet cafe and I’m wondering how safe it is for me to work from here! That is in terms of protection of my information. All I know is that the Cyber crime bill is is waiting Parliament’s approval. So between now and then, I do not know what happens in case someone hacked into say my email account (just in case I forgot to logout) and used my private data for their own use.

[The bills remain under consideration.]

A comment from BSK argues.

That is pretty serious; i hope those people do really show some seriousness soon. Otherwise, such things as growth of ‘e’ and ‘m’ commerce (particularly given that we soon will have functional mobile money transfer systems in the region) are going to be affected big time, and the expected surge in use in the next few years could be fertile ground for all sorts of scam and fraudsters. I agree, we probably be seeing more of the mobile web, especially in the next 2 years with expected falls in bandwidth costs, and uptake of wimax and 3G.

Test Case: Kenya

E-government services on the Government of Kenya’s webpages are easy to access and, it seems, to use. Kenyans may search jobs online, track the status of their national ID and passports. Students can locate exam results and follow up on their higher education loans. Business people can submit tax returns online and apply for specific permits and reports online. Finally, anyone can log a corruption complaint through an anonymous feedbox.

Many of the services provided, the government claims, can be done online or through SMS messaging.

The blog from Jellyfish Cool Man reports that the government is even expanding its efforts, including publishing ministry procurement details and digitizing health records. What makes this task easier is that most middle-class Kenyans are already online.

…all [these] developments indicate a country intent on modernizing it’s activities. The desire for this is driven by the need for efficiency, eradication of corruption, need for socialization and most importantly a voracious need for information which will greatly boost literacy levels and hopefully lead to innovation and a more civil society. Kenyans need to have a positive attitude, realize that they have a beautiful country, intelligent people and sufficient natural resources which they can utilize to provide a high quality of life equivalent to any advanced nation on Earth.

Kenya offers an interesting case study because some of the most interesting political watchdogs don’t come from the government. Rather, the country’s robust civil society has begun using technologies to keep watch on issues like corruption and government procurement, not very different from United Kingdom-based groups trying to hold those in power accountable.

Kenya’s governments have long tried to shake off corruption allegations. The group Transparency International currently ranks the country 147 out of 180 in its index tallying the perception of corruption, sharing space with Russia, Syria and Bangladesh. (Uganda is 126.)

Recently US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told an audience in Kenya although the government in Nairobi is slow to act, people should not give up complaining about corruption via social marketing sites like Twitter and Facebook.

The group Mars Group Kenya has exposed a number of high-priced and high-priced scandals on its “Leadership, Governance and Accountability” portal during the last few years. The group began in December 2006 to help publicize its reports on government corruption, hoping its website and forum would become a place to debate and publicize the importance of governance issues.

Recently it has found itself the target of claims it is trying to destabilize the government and Parliament proceedings regarding espionage charges.

Nonetheless, the group has friends in Kenya’s blogosphere. A Nairobian’s Perspective calls the group Kenya’s online ombudsman.

…True to its adage “watching out for you” Mars Group Org has been relentless in ensuring it watches out for Kenyan Civil Liberties and freedom.The website frequently publishes reports on corruption such as Ndungu Land Commission Report, Kroll Report, extracts from Wiki leaks,Githongo's Dossier on Anglo Leasing etc…The blog also has an interactive column where members of the public air their opinion, media clips are uploaded,a cartoon column gives corruption a human face, and of course subscribers get regurlar email updates.Mars group is right on -on its spotlight on corruption. While very little is known/atleast available online with regards to Mwalimu Mati [the group’s director] one thing is certain ;he is a true defender of public interest Kudos to him!

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