Networking & Communications

Harry Hare (Kenya) - ICT East Africa: Lack of Policy Plans Results in Poor Policy Outcomes

Many parts of Africa are to-date faced with low access to Information and Communication Technologies. For more than a decade now, policy makers and regulators have been grappling with the challenge of crafting apt policies that would provide an enabling environment for the development and usage of ICT albeit with very dismal success.

Tanzania was the first country in the East African Community (Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi) to put in place a blueprint to guide the adoption and development of ICT. That was back in 2003, when a vision for Tanzania to become "a hub of ICT infrastructure and ICT solutions that enhance sustainable socio-economic development and accelerated poverty reduction both nationally and globally".

Then later it became fashionable to have a national ICT policy as every country in the region tried to out-do the other. The breadth of most of the existing policies is impressive. Most of them say all the right things; need for leadership, infrastructure, legal and regulatory framework, use of ICT in productive and service sectors, and universal access. These are the critical issues that countries need to address to get ICT to work for them.

One of the red flags in most of these policies, other than the over ambitious policy statements and objectives was the lack of a clear and practical implementation plan. Apart from Rwanda, who went with the UN Economic Commission for Africa's National Information and Communications Infrastructure (NICI) Plans, none of the other East African countries spelt out how those good objectives were going to be met.

Another issue that one picks up quickly is the narrow focus of ICT as an industry thus placing efforts on the development and strengthening of ICT-service provision industries (telecommunications and ICT-enabled services) instead of adopting a conscious policy towards promoting ICT as an enabler to socio-economic development.

With more than 85% of the population living in rural areas outside the major cities, focusing on ICT as a sector would only have impact on the urban population, which already has access to ICT anyway.

African countries would only achieve the development goals by taking a crosscutting approach to ICTs. They need to go back to the drawing board and redesign their policies and adopt an approach that would ensure ICT is mainstreamed within all sectors.

This in addition to practical and clearly articulated implementation plans that are time bound and measurable. It is for instance almost impossible to measure the impact that the existing policies. As a matter of fact, it can be argued that the development of the sector is as a result of policy failure akin to the telecommunication policy failure of the 90's that created the communication haves and have nots, or what is now referred to the digital divide.

Harry Hare is a a Director at African eDevelopment Resource Centre, a training and consulting firm based in Nairobi, Kenya and the publisher of CIO East Africa. He has two more posts on African IT scheduled this Summer:

  • 20th July - eGovernment/mGovernment
  • 17th August - Mobile applications development



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