‘…building a people-centred and inclusive information society, putting the potential of information and communication technologies at the service of development and addressing new challenges of the information society.’
UN Global E-government Readiness Report 2005 The basic message in this Report is that there are huge disparities in the access and use of information technologies, and that these disparities are not likely to be removed in the near future unless a concerted action is taken at the national, regional and the international levels. If disparities in ‘real access’ to ICT are to be removed in the collective global march towards an information society, Governments have to build an effective use of ICTs in their development plans. The onus lies, collectively, on the national Governments, the private sector and the civil society, on the one hand, and the international organizations and the donor community on the other, to come up with new initiatives for ICT-led development, which ensures that every body, regardless of their socio-economic background, has an equitable playing field. An inclusive mode of governance demands that all citizens of a state have equal access to opportunity. The new imperative of development is to employ ICT applications across the board for promoting access and inclusion.
Connecting people by making investments in the technology is comparatively an easier job than bringing and keeping them online. The key to encourage citizens in developing countries to use the Internet would be to provide them with compelling content and services that meet their primary needs. E-government is an unlikely key for bridging the digital divide. The notion that technologies can prescribe their own course of action is mythical: the responsibility for technological outcomes lies in the social order individuals, groups and institutions through which lives are organised. There is, however, synergy to be created between technology and social context. This is not deterministic synergy it will vary by context and will therefore entail adaptation of the technology
and social context. If there is no prior experience of using computers, then there is probably no relevant social context. In some aspects, this may make it easier to introduce new technology, as there will be no old values or context to change; however, a context has to be created. If the existing context for information is informal or non-paper driven, automation may be difficult. In both situations, new rules will have to be learnt and accepted. When leapfrogging, one must be careful to identify both technical and social considerations, ensuring that the technological is not embedded to the detriment of the social. Further, one should not assume that there is only one way to leapfrog all social contexts will have one or more different leapfrogging solutions.
By most measures, developing countries continue to struggle with the implementation of viable e-governance strategies. African countries are particularly far behind in terms of pursuing e-government. Human capital development general education and IT skills training is a prerequisite that both public sector employees and citizens must meet before e-governance can have any significant impact. High system development costs, rural connectivity issues, and other resource shortages, such as stable electricity, continue to challenge developing countries. In many cases, these barriers prevent the establishment of even the most basic, timely, and pertinent web presence. However, governments such as India, Brazil, Chile, and the Philippines and, to a lesser extent, South Africa, are developing and mastering certain aspects of e-governance. In some cases, their efforts reflect past experiences and tough lessons learned from costly, less successful projects. It is still unclear as to what extent their efforts will be truly transformative, since large portions of their populations continue to have little or no access to necessary technologies. Societal readiness for interactive government
may make slower progress in these countries then in developed countries with more comprehensive online access. As such, truly interactive e-governance remains a goal for developed and developing nations alike. It is possible, however, that as developing countries continue implementing e-governance strategies, that those with advanced foundations, like India, will address citizen needs in ways not yet seen in developed countries, the aim should be to provide the citizens with convincing content and services that meet their essential needs. Perhaps the future is connected for the “Have the not” but keeping them connected would be the real challenge.
Published in Spanish
El gobierno electrónico y los países en desarrollo: el papel de la tecnología y el derecho Chapter 9 in
Gobierno, derecho y tecnología: las actividades de los poderes públicos