Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Improving governance through ICT

How to achieve improved governance using the evolution of information AND communication technology (ICT) was the crux of a three-day workshop recently organised in Dakar, Senegal. WILLY EYA and REMMY NWEKE who were there report:

In Africa, how to achieve improved governance has remained a mirage. The consequence is that the people are weighed down by poverty, diseases and all manner of deprivations.

The picture is gloomy but many believe that it is not for lack of policies to change the situation but more for the failure of leadership across the continent.

At present, optimists are unanimous that to overcome the hurdle, the people need to get involved in their affairs.

The development has provoked the need for more interaction among those in government and their subjects.

With the evolution of Information and Communication Technology (ICT), efforts are increasingly being made on how to bridge the gap.

Already, the adoption of ICT has brought about a revolution and transformation in how people interact, live, earn a living etc.

It was in the light of the above development that the PANOS Institute West Africa (PIWA) organized a three- day regional workshop on Media and ICT issues in West Africa.

Titled, "New Technologies, New journalism, Improved governance," the event attracted about 50 participants including journalists and members of the civil society.

The workshop, which held at Dakar Senegal, provided participants opportunity for assessing the use of blogs by media and citizens in West Africa.

It is interesting to note that with the appalling poverty and underdevelopment that have become the lot of most developing nations at present, the focus of world powers has centred on how the people could be integrated to play a role in the development of their constituencies.

So, the workshop was essentially aimed at promoting blogging and new interactive communication tools for improved governance in West Africa.

Participants brainstormed on how to strengthen productions on ICTs by journalists in West Africa and the emergence of citizen journalism.

A major challenge at the event was how to tackle the legal issues of online productions and the regulation of ICTs in the sub-region.

According to a guideline paper by PIWA, the profession of journalism and the production and dissemination of information in general were undergoing changes due to the continuous development of E-communication technologies.

Since the advent of the Internet in the early 90’s, the barriers of information were drastically and instantaneously removed at a global scale.

The position of PIWA was that information disseminated online by local media has become immediately accessible from one end of the world to the other.

PIWA noted that progressively, online information production technologies have been democratised while being professionalised in such a way that individual journalists or citizens have become online producers just like institutions in the sector.

From the workshop, participants were made to know that the world has moved from complex multimedia content production instrument such as web Editor, Golive or DreamWeaver to simple content management systems.

Director, PANOS West Africa, Mrs. Diana Senghor explained that the world has reached the age of web 2. 0 with the possibility for individuals who know how to use the computer to create a good personal website and multimedia blogs that are accessible to the entire planet in a matter of minutes.

Beside production she said, access to information also developed among other things to the possibility of getting produced by various national, regional and international sources by means of different subscriptions offered by Really Simple Syndication (RSS) feeds.

"Interaction with the audience, readers and internet surfers in general has also expanded with options for any individual whether known or unknown to send online comments whether moderated or not, from any region of the world" she said.

At the workshop, it was established that from mobile telephones to the internet, through fixed-line telephones, information technologies are not only encouraging public communication space but are at the service of public governance.

The relevance of the policies implemented and the regulatory systems proposed are then becoming some matter of interest for the media as the fourth estate of the realm, and more basically, for the citizens that are co-responsible for national and regional public interest.

A major aspect of the workshop was on legal issues of online production in West Africa.

Part of the arguments were hinged on the legal constraints for online production by journalists or citizens and the existence and adequacy of West African laws regarding the continuous multiplication of online contents and the complexity of regulating online interactions.

The import of the workshop was indicative of the fact that democracy, and indeed governance can easily be facilitated by information and communication technologies.

As it is, people are increasingly being aware about the potential they cover for economic and social development.

The enforcement of ICT policies in the different countries as well as the organization of the various phases of the United Nations word summit on the information society from 2002 to 2005 are some clear signs of the state of things.

As the days go by, the need for West African countries and indeed the entire continent to join the global trend in ICT sector becomes more paramount.

In his paper, "citizen journalism: content, issues at stake for journalists," a university don, Dr. Abiodun Salawu x-rayed the emerging trend in the ICT sector.

Salawu who lectures with the Ajayi Crowther University noted that the evolution of ICT has democratised the journalism profession.

He explained that citizen journalism has further given people the opportunity to exploit the right to free speech.

According to him, the concept has given the people more room for interaction and participation.

From the discussion, the evolution of citizen journalism has made everybody a potential journalist.

With an ordinary mobile phone, a lot of information which may not even be available to a core journalist can be disseminated to the public.

From reactions of participants at the workshop, it was obvious that for West Africa not to be left behind, she must flow along with others in the new technological trend.

In the sub-region, the development of blogging has received a boost with the acceptance of ICT.

The development has been strengthened by the massive roll-out of the Global system for mobile communications (GSM) which has already pushed up the need to improve on value added services such as the Internet.

Blogs have grown into what some experts categorised as push-button, publishing, a concept that has simplified its module of ownership and publication.

To own a web log, a blogger requires a computer system connected to the Internet. The blogger is opportuned to make a choice out of the several free and open source software (FOSS) templates.

What it means is that programmers will have access to the codes and can change same at will.

Creating a web log lasts for less than10 minutes depending on the skilfulness of the potential blogger and the speed of the Internet access.

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