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e-Government Across Africa 2014

On August 14, 2014 the president of Kenya, Uhuru Kenyatta, launched the e-procurement platform for all government tender applications. The e-procurement programme is aimed to alleviate the long queues, inefficiencies and corruption during the tendering process.

A similar feat was achieved by Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) when it launched the iTax – an online tax return. The system allows employees to file their yearly tax returns through an online portal rather than the manual way.

e-Government service is an initiative by governments to bring their services closer to the people, building on efficiency and transparency by leveraging online tools and platforms. But a recent survey on e-Governments globally ranks African countries at the bottom of the pile.

The Current Scenario

The United Nations recently released a survey, E-GOVERNMENT SURVEY 2014: E-GOVERNMENT FOR THE FUTURE WE WANT showing how e-Government initiatives are being applied in various regions of the world. 

And Africa is lagging behind. The continent scored lower than any other region in the world. Africa had an average e-Government development index (EGDI) of 0.2661 compared to the global average of 0.4712.

The report denotes: “Tunisia and Mauritius are the two highest-ranked countries in Africa, with Egypt, Seychelles, Morocco and South Africa following closely behind and showing progress as compared with the 2012 Survey. However, Africa as a whole exhibits a regional digital divide with most internet activity and infrastructure concentrated in South Africa, Morocco, Egypt, Mauritius and Seychelles.”

The report ranks Tunisia (EGDI 0.5390) at position 75 globally and top in Africa, while Mauritius (EGDI 0.5338) is second ranked at 76. The majority of African countries score the lowest rankings globally. Angola, Nigeria and Cameroon finish at the bottom in the African region.

The Republic of Korea, Australia and Singapore lead the pack globally in e-Government services with a score of 0.9462, 0.9103 and 0.9076 respectively.

But there are pointers to improved e-Government services across the continent. The United Nations reports that all its member states, including African countries, now have official government portals.

E-Participation

Kenya (ranked at 119) and Morocco (ranked at 82) globally stand as the continent leaders in terms of e-participation. It is where the government welcomes public discussions on various issues through the use of online tools.

Uganda’s UReport is an example of government engaging its citizens through the internet. UReport is a platform that allows Ugandans to speak out on what is happening in their community and it is mapped out. Citizens can engage even using simple technologies as text messaging. The topics are also discussed on various radio programmes.

“Promoting a clear idea and understanding of e-participation by integrating both online and offline communication tools and channels will help reach groups that are difficult to reach. Governments should encourage issues-related participation and provide consistent feedback on consultations to citizens,” the report said.

“Motivating engagement depends more on a sense of belonging to a political community with shared traditions and values than simply civic duty, as it does on linking these directly to the pressing issues of sustainable development.”

Kenya and Morocco have made it to the top 50 countries globally who have initiatives for participation by the public through online means.

Kenya’s Open Data initiative was a first in the East African region, with government bodies releasing their data online, for developers and other external bodies, to make sense of the data. Kenya, Tunisia, Ghana and Morocco are the only countries that have initiated an open data system to their public in the continent.

Data sets would include information on population numbers, health provision across the country, public expenditure and much more government information previously held under lock and key.

The Setbacks

But even with the mixed scores on the continent, there is great need for education on some of these platforms.

The iTax platform in Kenya has been grossly underused by the public. KRA saw a high number turn out at its offices once the iTax system was operational. Most people did not know how to use the service and they needed assistance. It has now set up customer service centres to help users.

The Kenya Open Data is seemingly underutilized too. According to a blog post by one of Kenya’s innovation hubs, the iHub, most Kenyans were unaware of the great opportunity to understand government information on the platform, with the complexity of data being the number one hurdle.

“Due to the fact that traditional media is still very influential, we suggest popularizing applications built on the open data platforms through traditional media to increase awareness. This is even more necessary in areas of high population where amenities such as water and health services are unreliable or inadequate. Media houses can also play a big role in not only popularizing the portals but in helping to disseminate the information provided,” the iHub report recommended.

Jesuit Hakimani a social research firm found out that only 14% of Kenyans interviewed are aware and use the Open Data to get more information from the government.

The recent online breaches by hacking bodies in Kenya have found the government officers flatfooted. In July, the hacker group Anonymous accessed the Twitter accounts for Kenya Defence Force (KDF) and posted using the account for more than 24 hours.

Inasmuch as it was just a Twitter account, such actions can water down the public confidence in embracing e-Government.

“Government organisations are not prepared,” Bethwel Opil, the East Africa channel sales person for Kaspersky Lab told IDG Connect, in regards to online security. “The weakness is usually the employee. The manager of the account did not apply easy security measures. And this will paint a very bad image for the government.”

What needs to be done

The UN report still ranks Kenya as one of the top countries with the highest score on data publishing. It is the only low income country in a group of top 50 governments which publishes data online for is citizens.

Greater education needs to be conducted to ensure that citizens know what is available for them.

Bethwel Opil appeals for training for government employees who deal with information online and also using certified and original software for any e-Government initiative:

“From the backend where the data sits, it’s an issue of one running genuine software, having strong firewalls and end security products. It also requires internet security,” he said.

“Data will be used by the public and there needs to be protection with end point user and the data they are interacting with.”

The UN survey also suggests that the data should be even closer to the people using the mobile devices that are popular in Africa.

“In Kenya, it is reported that 99% of internet users access it through the mobile channel. Based on these facts, in their e-Government strategy, policymakers should consider: (i) deploying SMS services for immediate outreach to mobile users with feature phones; and (ii) planning for mobile web and mobile apps for the next wave of mobile users with smartphones and tablets,” the report advised.

Another issue that Opil points at is that data needs to sit in the country and not in foreign countries. This will help the government to be flexible in controlling the various platforms. The closer the data the faster users can get to it.

“When information sits outside the country, definitely you need to spend a lot of bandwidth to access it,” Opil said.

Currently the government of Kenya, through its ICT ministry, is in the process of hosting government websites locally. According to Telecommunications Service Providers Association of Kenya (TESPOK), having hosting services locally will impede cyber attacks and make services much faster for government.

“Some of the organizations expected to host their content locally for efficiency in service delivery are stakeholders such as mobile operators, network infrastructure operators, banks, academic and research networks, security experts, media houses, government institutions such as the KRA and county governments,” Tespok said in a statement.

Eventually, great internet access for all will enable government bodies to dispatch their services online, having great confidence that the citizens will use and interact with them. The current rankings might mean Africa is down, but not out.

 

Vincent Matinde is an international IT Journalist highlighting African innovations in the technology scene

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Vincent Matinde

Vincent Matinde is an international IT Journalist highlighting African innovations in the technology scene.

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