i have made a few corrections to the original post below (apologies), and have also provided links to IICD and InterAccess for easy access to their sites.

Earlier this month, the Dutch ICT company InterAccess and the International Institute for Communication and Development (IICD) signed an agreement to "promote innovations in the public sector and increasing the knowledge on e-Governance in five African countries" namely, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia.

Shaking hands on it!
In reporting this partnership, IICD observes that:

Traditionally most governments in Africa are centrally organised. Over the last years this changed and responsibilities and authority are decentralised. Nevertheless, the gap between civilians and governments is still large. Especially in sparsely populated rural areas citizens have little to no access at all to governmental services. ICT can contribute to solve this deficiency.

i would agree with much of this, except to caution that most governments in Africa are still highly centralized. Talk of decentralization is rarely in step with actions on the ground. Moreover, while ICT can help close the gap between citizens and governments, realizing this potential requires keeping government websites up to date on relevant tools and content. i am currently reviewing some of the sites that have been set up as part of e-governance initiatives over the last few years, and will report findings here shortly.

Defining e-governance

May 25, 2006

i have spent some time today–Africa Day–researching the meanings of e-governance (also known as electronic governance) on the internet. Here are some of the more interesting ones that i discovered:

E-governance or electronic governance may be defined as delivery of government services and information to the public using electronic means…[Bangolore IT]

"Delivery of…information to the public…" OK, OK, but how about information from the public to the government? This is a bit too didactic/authoritarian for my democratic instincts, i said to myself and promptly left the site.

Next stop, the 72-page final report by UNESCO and COMNET-IT on a "Global Survey on On-line Governance." Hmm, "On-line governance"…"e-governance" mean the same thing? Perhaps so! And their definition? Well they were not as explicit as Bangalore IT, but you can get where there coming from in the following extract:

on-line governance…exemplified by government-led initiatives for the electronic provision of information services, and of public input to the process of government…

Aha! "public input to the process of government.." If you add that to the Bangalore IT definition, you get:

E-governance or electronic governance may be defined as delivery of government services and information to the public, and of public input to the process of government using electronic means."

Much better! But, could i be missing something? So i continued searching, and landed on the E-Governance Institute's (Rutgers University) page. They also did not have an explicit definition, but you can deduce what they mean from their mission statement:

The E-Governance Institutes mission is to explore how the internet and other information technologies (IT) have and will continue to impact on the productivity and performance of the public sector and how e-government fosters new and deeper citizen involvement within the governing process.

Yep, there's that two-way theme again, with the business concepts of productivity and performance thrown in: IT technologies helping governments to deliver services in businesslike ways to the public, while at the same time fostering 'citizen involvement' in government.

Next i googled the search phrase "e-governance definition" and got 89,700 hits. Here are some (slightly modified) extracts from the top pages:

  • The concept of electronic governance chosen by the Council of Europe covers the use of electronic technologies in three areas of public action: 1) relations between the public authorities and civil society; 2) functioning of the public authorities at all stages of the democratic process (electronic democracy); 3) the provision of public services (electronic public services).
  • e-governance is defined as the application of electronic means in (1) the interaction between government and citizens and government and businesses, as well as (2) in internal government operations to simplify and improve democratic, government and business aspects of Governance (International Institute for Communication and Development).

Some people tried to distinquish between e-government and e-governance, thus:

Egovernment is the efficient delivery of government services using the Internet. Egovernance is using the Internet to facilitate effective decisionmaking in the community. Two different things entirely. Government officials frequently are not able to make the distinction.

i think this is mere splitting of hairs. Yes they are different functions, but is government not part of the community? And should government not be directed primarily at good governance? Steven Clift makes this point as well here.

So, untill a totally new theme jumps up from an as yet undiscovered source, i'll go with the following definition:

e-governance is the application of IT to promote democracy and effective government services, thereby enhancing the capacity of all stakeholders– including individual citizens, interest groups, NGOs and business organizations –to meet public and private needs and challenges.

Achnowledgement

May 20, 2006

I'd like to acknowledge the Private Sector Development Blog for motivating me to start this journal, after reading a post titled "African economies can overtake Switzerland." It is short enough to be quoted in its entirety here:

When battling with jet-lag most people take sleeping pills, watch TV, or toss and turn in bed. Economists, however, put their sleepless nights to better use. The IFC’s Chief Economist, Michael Klein, tinkered with the Doing Business database in the middle of a sleepless night in Johannesburg and created a hypothetical African country which adopted the best African practice on each of the Doing Business indicators. (For example, he borrowed Botswana’s credit policies, the hiring and firing practices of Uganda and Mauritius’ tax system…). The result was a country that would rank 15th on the overall ease of Doing Business. So, Africans, learn from your neighbors and Switzerland will soon be behind you.

i'm not obsessed with the idea of Africa "overtaking" Switzerland or anything of the sort of course. Rather, i resonated with Klein's simple yet practical message: African governments can learn from each other to create enabling environments for investment in their respective countries.

My intention with this blog is to track not only what African governments can learn from other other, but also to raise awareness amongst public administrators and development practitioners about what is happening elsewhere in the developing world in terms of e-governance opportunities, resources, actions and results.

Your comments and suggestions are welcome.

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