13.03.2004 Feature Article

The Digital Revolution and Ghana’s Journey Towards e-economy

The Digital Revolution and Ghanas Journey Towards e-economy
13.03.2004 LISTEN

Introduction Today, we are witnessing a new revolution that will shape the knowledge society of the 21st century “Digital Revolution” driven by the accelerating convergence between the Internet, broadcast media and Information and Communication Technologies (ICT), this revolution indeed affects all aspects of our life- the way we learn, work and communicate with each other as well as the way governments interact with civil society.

New opportunities are opening up to those who can make effective use of information technology but at the same time, the digital revolution risks to exclude others from reaping its fruits, thus increasing the existing inequalities between those who have access to ICT and those who lack it. The digital divide reflects, in a large part, other social and economic divides- not only between industrial and developing nations, but also within countries. Bridging the digital divide has therefore emerged as a key challenge for development- and as the only hope for the marginalized part of the world to benefit from the opportunities offered by the global knowledge economy. ICT and e-economy ICT includes the full range of electronic technologies and techniques used to manage information and knowledge (As defined by United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). ICT are basically information handling tools- a varied set of goods, applications and services that are used to produce, store, process, distribute and exchange information. They include the “Old” ICT of radio, television and telephone, and the new ICT of computers, satellite and wireless technology and the Internet. These different tools are now able to work together, and combine to form our “Networked World”- a massive infrastructure of interconnected telephone services, standardised computing hardware, the Internet, radio and television which reaches into every corner of the globe.

On the other hand the e-economy also described as post- industrial society, knowledge economy, innovation economy, online economy, new or digital economy defines a new socio-political and economic system, characterised by intelligent space, which is made of information, instruments of access to and processing of the information and capacities of communication (Carley, 1999) The digital economy is a complex and emerging phenomenon, related to microeconomy, macroeconomy and the theory of organisational and administration (Orlikowski and Iacono, 2000) Its analysis now is relevant because, the digital economy will explain the economic growth of the coming decades. According to Zimmerman and Koerner (1999, 2000), the digital economy is based on the digitalisation of information and the respective infrastructure of ICTs.

It is therefore unambiguous that there is a direct functional relationship between the level of ICT Infrastructure development and the e-readiness of a nation. The industrial or the western world –Sweden, United States Of America, UK, and the rest, which have successfully focused greater attention, resources to develop their ICT infrastructure have had their economies fully digitalised. For example Sweden, considered being the most advance ICT nation in the world. As a result it has really transformed their economy and brought greater efficiency in all sectors of their economy. The Journey towards e-Ghana Ghana's journey to the digital economic or e-readiness status has been very slow and has not moved at the rate that can propel this economy to the knowledge based economy. In August 1995, Ghana became the first West African nation to have full Internet connectivity. This was made possible due to the cooperation amongst organisations like Network Computer Systems (NCS), Pipex International, the Ministry of Transport and Communication, Ghana Telecom and British Telecom. Also, Internet host sites have increased from 6 in 1995 to about 253 in 1998 while Internet subscribers increased from 10, 000 1998 to 40,000 in 2001.

Despite these developments, Ghana is nowhere near achieving digital economy status because the ICT infrastructure, which is the prerequisites for such a transformation, is poorly developed. A case in point is Ghana Telecom. A state institution, which is supposed to play a very crucial role in our quest to digitalise Ghana, is saddled with a whole of managerial, financial problems. Also, a closer look at government ministries, agencies and public organisations reveal that only a handful have installed computers and majority still continue to use the manual type of typing. The question is how many of our MPs; Ministers of state, and managing directors of state institutions have taken the pain to have e-mail address?

On the business front, how many of business firms are taking steps to develop their IT infrastructure? Almost about 95% of business firms are not even aware of the information super highway and even if they are aware, pragmatic steps have not been taken to take full advantage of that. How can firms carry on a successful business in this small and fragmented marketplace? How can a financial institution do banking business in this contemporary information society with literate customers without having thought of going digital? How can we allow our children to be educated without full access to the Internet, which can open so many opportunities to them? How many of our schools in Ghana have full access to the internet and even going a bit higher in the educational ladder- the universities, what steps being taken to make learning much easier with Internet? I can mention so many institutions playing vital role in the economy but still have not embraced this new channel like the tax administration, CEPS and others. How many of our regions in Ghana can boast of full access to the Internet and monitoring the activities of the District Assemblies. The obvious answers to these entire questions would be in the negative and this explains why we as a nation are so many miles away from making Ghana an e-economy. This does not mean we have lost the fight but it has just begun Current Developments In the midst of this glooming picture frantic efforts are being made by the government and other private organisations to march Ghana forward towards the realisation of creating an information society, which is the propeller of economic development.

In the first place, the completed Kofi Annan ICT centre, which was put up with the support of Indian Government, is a plus for Ghana. This is the state-of-the-art centre, having all the facilities. But the question is how accessible is this centre to the majority of Ghanaians? Indications point to the fact that it is too executive and very expensive to most people. The very motives of having such centres are to facilitate information flow both within and outside the country so that work processes become more efficient and less costly. This means that a second look should be given so that more people can have access to it.

Another refreshing and encouraging news is the fact that the long awaited ICT policy of the nation-, which is the road map, and plan towards information-rich, knowledge-based society is said to be ready. This policy document to me is very significant because we as a nation have to have focus and direction in ICT. What is very significant about this is the fact that the National Information Technology Commission (NITC), which would be the body to advise government on the implementation of ICT policy is going to chaired by the President or his vice. I see this as positive in the sense that it demonstrates the importance government attaches to this technology, which is fast changing almost everything in the world.

It is important to note that all nations, and businesses, which have successfully developed their ICT infrastructure, the initiative has always come from top managerial level and as such received the full support.

Also, The announcement in this year's budget statement that the government would be putting up six ICT centres throughout Ghana and twelve senior secondary schools would be hooked to the Internet be given a very serious attention and every effort should be made to realise it. Our school children no longer need to study in the traditional way and the earlier this policy is adopted and extended to other schools the better for us.

The choosing of Ghana as the venue for the International Conference on ICT infrastructure in developing countries is a moral booster and we should exploit every opportunity that come along it to make a strong case so that Ghana becomes the ultimate destination for investment in ICT. What needs to be done? Creating digital opportunities is not something that happens after addressing the “core” development challenges; it is a key component of addressing those challenges in the 21st century. The unmatched potential benefits associated with the adoption and implementing to the full ICTs are making many developing nations to rethink, refocus and re-directing efforts towards this paradigm shift in order to take advantage of the new “technology wind” blowing across the globe, and considering the lightening speed of its advancement, we as a nation has to swift.

In the first place if the full implementation of this policy needs some legislative and regulative framework which without any hesitation and bureaucracy, our honourable members in parliament will do this nation good by passing that bill or act in the shortest possible time. As far as this issue is concerned there is an overwhelming consensus among members. When this is done it becomes a national policy for implementation.

Secondly, the government should encourage and provide the necessary support to private individual both home and outside to invest in ICT infrastructure. Waiving tax on imported items meant for that purpose could do this.

Also, every effort should be made as a matter of priority and urgency to ensure that all our tertiary institutions of learning have state of the art ICT facilities to promote effective learning and research. If Ghana intends to achieve a desirable e-readiness status in the shortest possible time, then much attention should focus on our educational institutions so that graduates from these institutions will come out well trained in this new technology and can help to implement in their places of work. For example in the developed countries, surveys have shown Internet use is associated with higher education. This means attention be paid to improving literacy rates.

Furthermore, encouragement should be given to individuals and businesses to own PCs and do well to automate their business process because without high accessibility to the Internet, any infrastructure development in this respect would not yield the desired results. The training of information professionals should be given priority. Trained information professionals will be able to utilise the Internet more efficiently and will be more effective in acquiring, organising and disseminating information.

One important thing we should not look sight off in our journey to information society is that government effort would be severely hampered if there is no IT thinking at the highest managerial level. There would be some managers and directors in both private and public institutions who will be sabotaging the efforts of government due to lack of knowledge and interest in IT because it will either make them redundant or render them inefficient when such a policy is implemented and for that matter they will go all out not to implement it. So IT thinking should permeate from the top to the down and this calls for intensive education for leaders to fully understand the enormous benefits of ICT. It is only when heads of organisations fully appreciate and support this initiative that we can march forward. Expectations The former Prime Minister of Malaysia said “It can be no accident that there is today no wealthy developed country that is information poor, and no information rich country that is poor and underdeveloped “ (Nagy, 1991 pg.57)

This statement is definitely undisputable. It is there fore incumbent upon us to devote substantially all efforts and resources to make Ghana an information society. One of my expectations is that I want to see e-Ghana whereby all our educational institutions have full access to the Internet. This will enable students and lecturers to have full access to variety of information located worldwide.

I also expect that by going digital and paperless economy, every government institution will computerise it operations to bring efficiency and cost reduction so that the people they serve will feel satisfied. Most importantly, this initiative should enable us to develop a nationwide database, which will be accessible to all organisations especially the Police, Tax Collecting Authorities CEPS, VELD and others.

We are also looking at the day when a company can file his tax returns using the Internet and at the same time difficult for any company or business to evade tax due to the IT.

That day when all government institutions would be fully computerised (e-government) and e- parliament; when majority of Ghanaians will have access to the Internet, will surely test Ghana's journey to the new economy. Conclusion ICT is changing almost everything that we can think off, and can offer Ghana the opportunity to “leapfrog” several stages of development by the use of “Frontier” technologies. The Digital Revolution created by ICTs, has the power to transforms production process, commerce, government, education, citizen participation and all other aspects of individual and collective lives. It has the potency to facilitating inward investment by international business, as they will prefer to locate business in countries, which most effectively provide the reliable communications links that are essential to their global business interest. It will also facilitate local business through increased export and regional cross border trade. As a result, we should remain focus on this initiative because the potential cost of inaction is greater than ever before.

I have a firm believe in ICT as an enabler of development and as a key determinant of the competitive advantage of nations. In this respect the government, private sector and other stake holders should work hand in hand to bring this vision to fruition- a vision that will bring the benefits of ICT to every village, to every citizen, to every business and revolutionalise the way government operates. The industrial revolution which occurred between 1750 and 1830, which transformed most of the developed nations from primarily agricultural and rural economy to a capitalist and urban economy, from a household family based-economy to industry-driven one, which we could not get on board with the wheel of industrial age eluded us in a brightest day light we cannot afford to let this great opportunity slip by. We have to grab it and the time is now Ghanaian ICT professional both within and outside the country can play significant role to make Ghana's vision a success. It is therefore crucial that Ghanaians with the requisite IT skills should come and contribute because national building largely depends on we Ghanaians because our preparedness and commitment will somehow invoke others to come to our aid. Appropriate training for information professionals is immediate requirement.

The information revolution is real and an information economy has already emerged, accelerating economic and social change. Information is crucial and is the central resource and basis of competition.

Information Technology has to be elevated to management thinking level and it should now define government and business strategies but a mere supporting tool

I end with this quote: “Leave nothing for tomorrow which can be done today” (Abraham Lincoln, 1879-1965) Thomas Kwaku Obeng e-MBA Student Division of Industrial Marketing and e-Commerce, Luleå University of Technology, Sweden Website: Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.

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