African governments have mixed successes at implementing digital systems
African governments have traditionally been very sluggish in adopting digital tools and operating systems.
Sometimes at even the most basic level, emails to a ministry must be followed up with stamped and signed letters, as most services still operate in analogue forms.
The slowness of African governments to adopt digital systems is a key barrier to effective governance and also a major inhibitor to the growth of the private sector.
James Claude, CEO of the Global Voice Group, a data-driven consultancy for governments, says that African governments have had mixed successes at implementing digital systems.
Some of the more developed African economies have seen their governments implement digital tools to assist them with revenue mobilisation, revenue assurance, identification and oversight of key sectors.
“We are living in the age of digitisation, with numerous services shifting from traditional analogue systems,” he says. “The adoption of technology varies from one country to the other depending on their different profiles and varying priorities. This can be seen in the desire of different African governments to adopt digital solutions.”
Claude lists Kenya, Rwanda, Ghana, Uganda and Tanzania as countries that have “all chosen to implement digital tools in the last 10 to 15 years”.
There are currently digital ID systems in Ghana, Kenya, Lesotho, Mozambique, Nigeria, Rwanda, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda and Zimbabwe. A notable regional effort was the East African Community’s (EAC) decision to introduce its biometric passport in 2020.
In Kenya, the phasing out of the old generation passport commenced in September 2017 in line with the digitisation of services aimed at improving efficiency and enhancing security as part of Kenya's Vision 2030 agenda. Rwanda, as well, started developing its modern ID system in the late 2000s with the enactment of the law governing the registration of the population and issuance of the national ID card in 2008.
Claude says that introducing digital identification systems is the bedrock upon which governments can gradually move towards a range of digital services.
According to Claude there are five foundational pillars for digital transformation: creating an enabling environment; effective policy and regulation development; digital infrastructure; human capacity and digital literacy; and digital innovation.
One of the main barriers that African governments face is financial constraints. Implementing new technologies can be expensive as the development and maintenance of the technological infrastructure can be pricey.
If a government does not have the funds required, they may opt to implement a solution that does not necessarily solve their challenges, which could be detrimental in the long run.
Hence the need for governments to develop revenue mobilisation strategies that would help them to raise their own funds – which are not dependent on external support – and that can be reinvested in the country itself for the creation of an optimal digital environment.
Digital literacy is also a “clear obstacle”, Claude says. With low levels of digital literacy outside urban centres in many African nations, the impact of digital tools implemented by governments is diminished due to slow and ineffective adoption by many citizens.African Business