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UN survey finds African governments need to prioritize online service delivery

July 9, 2014  »  ICT Policy & StatisticsNo Comment

Progressive governments are the cornerstone of sustainable development. The prospect of e-government, or using technology to provide more information and better public services, provides a great opportunity to improve African societies.

The UN defines e-government as, “the use and application of information technologies in public administration to streamline and integrate workflows and processes, to effectively manage data and information, enhance public service delivery, as well as expand communication channels for engagement and empowerment of people.” The applications can come in the form of online services, big data, social media, mobile apps, or cloud computing. Not only can e-government make administrations more efficient, it can stimulate economic growth and promote social inclusion.

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A bi-annual UN E-Government Survey assesses the e-government development status of the 193 UN Member States. The report finds that most e-government initiatives are inclined toward mobile government and social media strategies rather than fundamental changes to legislation. Few African governments offer a suite of online services for citizens. In fact, nearly one-third of African countries are in the bottom 10 percent of the world rankings. That, however, is changing, and there are dozens of successful African examples of e-government initiatives.

African e-government rankings:

  • Tunisia, ranked 75th globally, is the top African nation for overall e-governance (Mauritius isn’t far behind)
  • Morocco and Kenya are regional e-participation leaders
  • Africa has the lowest regional average of e-government development
  • Six African nations have e-government index values above the world mean (Tunisia, Mauritius, Egypt, Seychelles, Morocco, South Africa)
  • 30% of African countries are in the bottom 10 percent of the world rankings
  • The authors suggest African countries should focus on building human capital and on bridging infrastructure gaps
  • Tunisia climbed 28 places since 2012; Mauritius 27 places; Morocco 38 places
  • Libya saw the biggest improvement in the region, moving 70 places from 191st place to 121st place
  • South Africa, Seychelles, Botswana, Namibia, Ghana, Rwanda, Zimbabwe, Swaziland, Angola, Nigeria, and Cameroon saw gains
  • Kenya’s rank remained steady at 119
  • Cape Verde, Gabon, and Algeria fell in position

Deeper analysis:

  • Morocco has a comprehensive government portal (sgg.gov.ma) where citizens can access legislation online and post comments. The government transparently presents responses to these comments.
  • Mauritius has an online portal (gov.mu) listing more than 100 e-services. Investments in infrastructure have helped citizens get involved online.
  • Low- and middle- income countries with relatively low levels of Internet use (Ethiopia and Rwanda) and relatively high online service scores may need to invest more in securing telecommunication infrastructure to fully optimize the benefit of e-services.
  • The ICT sector is a key part of Rwanda’s Vision 2020 plan. A land administration system, mining portal, and “green” ICT initiatives are being developed.
  • Ethiopia has a high level of online service delivery (better than a number of European nations). A national strategy will implement more than 200 online services by 2015 as part of a shift from agriculture to ICT economy.
  • Ugandans can speak out on what is happening in their communities using a free SMS-based system.
  • 23 African nations deliver online information on environmental issues.
  • Africa lags other continents in creating an entity to oversee its e-government strategy.
  • 14 African countries have an online e-government portal with no links to ministries.
  • Only 3 African online e-gov portals (6%) indicate security features (global mean is 27%).
  • Based on word that 99% of Kenyans internet users access the Web through a mobile device, policymakers should consider SMS services for those with feature phones and mobile apps for those with smartphones and tablets.
  • Kenyan-developed Ushahidi functions as a citizen reporting platform that boosts social inclusion.
  • In Cape Town, South Africa, service delivery issues can be reporting using the Lungisa platform. More than 1,000 cases had been resolved as of October 2013.
  • Of low income countries globally, only Burkina Faso provided downloadable forms.
  • 61% of African countries provide online services in more than one language.
  • 4% of African countries provide online services for the disadvantaged groups though 19% provide RSS feeds for these groups.
  • Special online services for women are only available in one African country. Youth have the option for services in 7 nations.
  • In Ghana, 47% of youth surveyed cite a lack of information as a primary job search challenge.
  • Kenya, Tunisia, Morocco, and Ghana are the only African countries with an open government data portal. Kenya is the only low income country globally with such a portal. Kenya’s is lauded for providing a section for web developers to integrate the data.

Every African government can take steps to improve its online service and data availability. Despite a general improvement in African e-government services in the past couple of years, the reality is that most African nations hardly have an easy-to-navigate online government portal. Better platforms (online and SMS-based) need to be part of national ICT policies. Furthermore, such platforms should provide not only open data, but should also encourage e-participation. Online security should not be overlooked either.

P.S. Just this week Nigeria announced the intention to launch a new e-government plan in September.