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20.03.2004 Feature Article

Facts and Hypes of Information and Communications Technology: A rejoinder

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I read with pleasure the article written by Yeboah Stephen which appeared on Ghanaweb on March 15, 2003. I must say it is very interesting and a thought provoking one. One has to reiterate that it is very healthy in our quest to finding solutions to our developmental woes and to challenge some of the perceived fundamental issues and benefits underlying ICT.I therefore congratulate the writer for that nice piece.

These “gymnastics” are very healthy for development. However, the writer is entitled to his opinions but such attempt should not be seen as a “fact-twisting exercise” and also not be seen as “giving a dog a bad name and hanging it”. It is also undeniable that “facts are sacred but comments are free.” Some of us have been good apostles of ICT and have on many platforms articulated our views on it. This we have continued to do till now. It is therefore imperative that some of these comments should not pass without attention. It is in this light that I also put in this rejoinder in order to straighten some records as far as ICT is concerned and to allay some fears put forward by the writer.

In the first instance, the writer captioned the article as “facts and hypes of………….” I have some reservations about this headline. According to Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary hype is defined as “to advertise something a lot and exaggerate its good qualities, in order to get a lot of public attention for it”. It goes on to say that it is an attempt “to publicize or promote, especially by extravagant, inflated, or misleading claims, something deliberately misleading; a deception” If this definitions fits into what the writer wants to say, then I deem it rather unfortunate. I do not think ICT has been “over advertised.” As with many developmental tools, it needs to be given the right exposure, benefits put forward and challenges identified in order help potential practitioners or users to be conversant with all the intricacies involved. It happens in many if not all disciplines and continues to do so. Further, there have been nowhere academicians, policymakers; practitioners etc have oversold this new paradigm .The writer can come out with facts if he has them. This indeed helps to create the necessary awareness and to provoke further research in such promising areas.

I do not in any way doubt the academic credentials or professional achievement of the writer but however, the argument that “I wouldn't have been able to write this article if I am not working in this “new” frontier. It is also the insight and the know-how I have acquired as a Technology Architect, working in cooperate America that has compelled me to write this article about the facts and hypes of the limitations of ICT in a developing economies such as Ghana.” I deem this to be a hollow argument in the sense that practising and earning a living from ICT do not indicate that one knows everything about it. One would have been involved in ICT for a while but that is not the indication that one knows everything about it. For instance, some of us have been practising and researching into ICT for sometime but we cannot claim full knowledge in this area. The argument that he has been working in Corporate America is neither here nor there. It may be interesting to share that United States of America is not the only country sitting on ICT capabilities. For instance, Sweden has maintained its number one position as the world's strongest IT country for the fourth consecutive year, according to the 2003 Information Society Index, compiled by IDC/World Times. Studies by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) show that Sweden is among the leading countries in terms of Internet penetration, e-commerce and corporate use of ICT. The Economist Intelligence Unit, which is affiliated with the respected British weekly magazine The Economist, also named Sweden the country with the highest "e-readiness," in 2003. The same study indicates that Swedish companies are foremost in the world at using the Internet in communications with other companies to do business. This is the country some of us find ourselves in and therefore know to some extent what ICT can do for a nation.

I further debate my friend on the issue of trying to create the impression that, people perceive ICT as the only panacea to our developmental woes. He tries to link it to other “previous technological breakthroughs starting from steam engine invention to sending man to the moon.” One may be wrong to think that a technological breakthrough like ICT can solve all the developmental problems on this our planet and especially to issues relating to developing countries. Once again, if a technological breakthrough could solve all our problems then there would have been no need to embark on further research. J.J Rousseau, the French Philosopher of blessed memory postulated that “man is born free and everywhere in chains”. Some of these chains among others include the challenges of humankind. We will continue to be entwined in challenges as we continue to be humans. This then behoves on humankind to find ways of solving them as they arise .One of them is more or less ICT.

More so, I do support the assertion that “the most of the world's problems are man-made mainly political, economic and cultural. In order to solve these problems they should be tackled with careful planning using complicated and sustainable interventions”. The question then is how can we tackle these problems by the use of carefully planned and sustainable interventions? Doesn't the writer think that ICT is an enabler and if carefully planned can act as one of the sustainable interventions? If it is not deemed as such, what are the perceived potent enablers?

It may also be interesting to point out that ICT is not only Internet and its applications. Internet usage is part of it as ICT goes beyond this. We have other ICT tools like the satellite and wireless technology. ICT can be used to inform and educate (teaching and learning), health delivery, make accurate weather predictions; improve production, create employment and host of others.

I do not think that “the problem may lie in the fact that we are so desperate for a quick fix that to our problems of poverty that we just jump at anything that promises glimmer of hope”. It should be noted that what Ghana as a country is practically reaping from ICT for now cannot be farfetched. We are witnesses to the explosion of mobile communication in Ghana. One reason is that mobile has often been identified as the first competitor to sluggish government owned fixed line telephone system such as Ghana Telecom. Instead of waiting for years for a fixed line, and sometimes paying so much for installation fees, residents in Ghana can now get a mobile connection on demand and need only to pay for the card that activates their handset. Our universities can now link up with libraries in other foreign universities. This is a testimony to what ICT can do. This allows some faculties in our Ghanaian Universities access other databases of information outside their premises which hitherto could have cost them millionaires of cedis to acquire. Employment creation by ICT and its related activities are clear on the wall. With the coming in of foreign companies such as Affiliated Computer Services, Rising Data Solutions and other call centre- operating companies have provided some jobs for Ghanaians. Their remunerations are somehow better than many indigenous firms. With all the challenges in Ghana, our local ICT entrepreneurs such as Dr. Nii Quaynor of NCS, Chinery-Hesse of SOFT, Leslie Tamakloe of InternetGhana among others are contributing something meaningful towards our economic development. These are some but few but modest examples of what ICT can do for countries such as Ghana. The issue has been that ICT as an enabler if used properly can contribute something meaningful to the socio-economic development of a country. For instance, how could we have managed the teeming crop of potential university going citizens who want to learn outside the four walls of the classroom if our universities do not make use of distance learning? Don't you think the e-mail is making it possible for a least two users in Ghana to share knowledge, engage in planning activities, or problem solve without frequent face-to-face meetings and therefore limiting the traffic jams on our roads and reducing accidents?

It needs to be noted that Computers(hardware and software) ,accessories and peripheries will never be cheap and will continue to be unaffordable until we have developed our human capabilities to produce some of these things for ourselves or have the purchasing power to afford. Nobody will do it for us and we have to devise the appropriate means and environment to get ourselves out of this quagmire.This does not mean that ICT is a hype.Though it is a luxury to carry on ICT activities in Ghana as the chunk of the population cannot afford ,it is also pertinent to note that in a society such as ours we cannot wait for everybody to become rich before we embark on such a venture.This, therefore does not debar us from catching up with the world in our own small way. As this is not a rocket science, at least, what we can do with our limited resources will go a long way to enhance productivity.The multiplier effect of such actions can trickle down to the rural and urban poor.Remember that potential investors also look at the e-readiness of a country.We all know the importance of foreign capital in our developmental efforts.If the necessary grounds are not preapred how then can we attract this ubiquitous foreign capital?

The issue of India and its strides in ICT development cannot be overemphasized as my friend indicated . Much has been achieved by India in this realm.The writer rightly pointed out that “ India started planning for the benefits they are reaping now in the seventies, when military dictators were making “coup d`etats” in most of the developing countries including Ghana”. My question is: wouldn't it pay for Ghana as a country to start from somewhere so that we can also reap the benefits accruing to India now? This is exactly Ghana as a country should strive to achieve. I do not think it is late for us to do something.

The writer indicated that “the twenty first century belongs to nations who have clear national agenda. What then is a clear agenda? An agenda minus ICT? Presently, the present and government in its good wisdom has set up a development agenda which consists of five priority areas. They are infrastructure development, modernisation of agriculture based on rural development, enhanced social services and reducing vulnerability, good governance and private sector development. Presumably, education and health belong to the enhanced social services whilst ICT belongs to the infrastructure development. I have followed the budget statement, publications and other official releases of the government and there has not been any instance where one of these priority areas be given consideration over others .They are all being pursued simultaneously. Other hand, there have been no instances where ICT has also been given priority either. It needs to be noted once again that, it will be developmentally suicidal to pursue any developmental agenda without considering ICT as among the priorities. Any priority set if different from what the current government has selected to pursue cannot succeed without the enabler-ICT. Though ICT is expensive, a country in its modest way should develop the ICT infrastructure and create the enabling environment for it to flourish and therefore need to develop it in relation with others. It has also been established that policies specific to ICT infrastructure development, diffusion and use will not on their own lead to stronger economic performance and social development but rather they should be part of a comprehensive set of actions to create the right conditions for growth and innovation.

It is also worth mentioning that though we have our problems as a country, there should not be any attempt to pursue any development agenda without critically looking at the right mix. We cannot afford as a country to neglect ICT. One cannot neglect this hard core development tool by looking at the other so-called “priority areas” and go for ICT later. The world will definitely not be waiting for us if we solely rely on “old” ICT such as radio, telephone and television. We should therefore consider the blend-old and new (computers, satellite and wireless technology and the Internet).

In conclusion, the Ghana will be on the path of prosperity if we can blend ICT development into our development agenda. ICT is bound to stay and further developments in this area will even stun the world. I do appreciate our challenges as a nation but the advice is clear on the wall: any country which chooses to leave behind ICT entirely is bound to face problems in its developmental pursuits. According to OECD on Report on seizing the benefits of ICT in a digital economy (2003), it stated among others that the recent slowdown has laid to rest several myths regarding the new e-economy. One therefore needs not to fear. Robert Ankomah Opoku e-Commerce Research School, Division of Industrial Marketing & e-Commerce, Luleå University of Technology, Luleå, Sweden. http://www.geocities.com/opokurob/mypage.html Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.

Robert Ankomah Opoku
Robert Ankomah Opoku, © 2004

The author has 8 publications published on Modern Ghana.Column: RobertAnkomahOpoku

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