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What ICT can do to governance in Africa; Stephen Williams reviews Gianluca Misuraca's book, "e-governance in Africa: from theory to action".

Published by the Africa World Press.

$29.95. ISBN: 1-59221-579-3.


This book starts with the premise that integrating ICT into governance processes can greatly enhance the delivery of public services to all Africa's citizens. Not only can ICT improve the performance of governance systems, the book argues that it can also transform relationships between stakeholders and influence policy-making processes and regulatory frameworks in Africa. However, author Gianluca Misuraca accepts that the potential for ICTs to complement effective government remains unexplored and unexploited in academic research. To reconcile this, he draws together case studies from Ghana, Senegal, South Africa and Uganda, to describe various local governance/ICT projects executed by civil society organisations, academic institutions and government authorities.

Misuraca argues persuasively that the benefits of e-governance, specifically for local government, are the promise of enhanced democratic processes--although he is careful to recognise that there are those who argue, equally coherently, that the cost of "migrating" government administration to an e-governance platform, in a context of competing demands for very limited financial resources, simply cannot be justified.

The jury may still be out regarding the merits or otherwise of these seemingly opposing views, but the different case studies presented here provide a broad spectrum of experience from across Africa.

The Senegal case study examines a 1996 project that sought to deploy ICTs to decentralise government and empower local authorities in the process. The author concludes that, despite initial gains, there was no significant impact on the decentralisation of governance. He appears to ascribe this disappointing conclusion to a lack of training with regard to reorganisation and communication skills rather than any inherent flaw in the theory that ICT can assist local decision makers make better planning decisions.

There was a different set of challenges in Ghana where the case study was concerned with applying ICT to traditional governance. This had the aim of improving the effectiveness of the governance of Ghana's traditional rulers and their collaboration and coordination with central government. On the basis of this case study, Misuraca believes that traditional leaders, who still retain a powerful influence in Ghanaian society, need to grasp a better working knowledge of modern instruments of public administration, such as ICT, to secure the benefits of the trust that people have in traditional institutions.

The Uganda case study looked at pilot projects in four districts of the country's administrative system. The project's purpose was to promote the facilities and capacities for adopting data management and communications to deliver enhanced local government administration services.

Interestingly, there was clear evidence that the implementation of ICT resulted in savings in administrative expenditure; freeing funds to be used for other more pressing economic activities, and complementing central government's poverty eradication action plan.

Finally, the South Africa case study looked at Cape Town's attempts to create a "Smart City", harnessing ICT to streamline local government administration and promote business development. This was the most ambitious project to be examined by Misuraca; indeed, the Cape Town project is one of the most ambitious local government/ICT-enabled projects undertaken anywhere in the world, merging seven municipal authorities into a single administration with 28,000 employees serving a population of 3.2 million citizens. This project, the author explains, has provided Cape Town with a single, integrated system. To date, the emphasis has been on getting the basic processes right across the organisation, giving the city a robust, stable platform for further development.

Misuraca, though, hesitates to suggest that any broad-brush conclusions can be drawn from these four case studies, but he does call for the increased training of ICT specialists, a forging of alliances between the private and public sectors, that Africa should aspire to develop ICT research and manufacturing industries, and--as an additional approach to capacity building and institutional development--encourage the frequent exchange of information, experiences and lessons learned between Africa's policy makers and regulators, including the cross-border use of local experts and professionals.
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Title Annotation:Special Report: Telecoms
Author:Williams, Stephen
Publication:New African
Article Type:Book review
Date:May 1, 2008
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