African countries are becoming increasingly aware of the need to keep pace with developed countries on the e-government front. Initiatives in this area are being backed and enabled by international organisations, such as the World Bank, which are encouraging African nations to begin to digitise their government systems, to improve accessibility and optimise their processes. In March 2018, Sierra Leone became the first country to use blockchain technology in an election process. Created by Swiss company, Agora, the system made it possible to lock voting transactions to verify ballots and protect against electoral fraud.
African governments need to organise their administrations to display greater transparency. The introduction of e-government procedures would help lessen the risks of corruption, by automating the administrative system and linking the different departments together. Automation also helps shorten turnaround times and lowers error rates.
Reasons from outside the continent
In addition to internal needs (transparency and optimising procedures), we are also seeing a real desire amongst foreign investors to pour money into the continent. According to the McKinsey Global Institute, digitisation is expected to generate gains of between 148 and 318 billion USD by 2025, in six key sectors: financial services, education, health, commerce, agriculture and public administration. Players from outside the continent will need to have access to information on procedures in those countries where they want to operate.
The digital transformation of African administrations is therefore also a pathway to economic opportunity, making it easier for foreign investors to do business. A good example here is Tunisia, which ranks third amongst African countries in the global e-government development index (EGDI). Thanks to the support structure for creating businesses available on the Tunisian industry portal, investments have been pouring in: the “El Gazala” technology park’s residents include global heavyweights such as Alcatel, Microsoft, Ericsson, STMicroelectronics and Huawei.
Impediments to the development of e-government
But the digital divide between city and country dwellers is growing, as it is between coastal and inland areas. Urban and coastal areas, which in many African countries are synonymous, are where most of the continent’s digital infrastructure has been deployed.
This digital divide also exists between countries. A first set of nations includes Tunisia, Mauritius, Egypt, the Seychelles and Morocco, which are the most advanced in terms of e-government. A second block includes the least advanced countries in this area, such as Guinea, Niger and Somalia (17 of the world’s 20 least advanced countries in terms of EGDI are in Africa).
And, finally, in addition to the inter- and intra-national digital divide, one of the major issues is citizens’ disinterest in or lack of awareness of these e-government programmes, despite the progress made by the stakeholders involved in their development (United Nations), due to a lack of infrastructure and most households’ inability to access the web. In 2017, only 23.3% of households in Africa had Internet access, compared to 84% in Europe.