Monday, January 20, 2020

World knows about Botswana’s ‘network e down’ debacle

In case you haven’t noticed, for three successive state-of-the-nation addresses now, no Botswana president (which means only two) has raved about the wonders of e-governance. The 2019 Social Progress Index shows that there is really no reason for Botswana to rave about e-governance.

From a total of 149 countries which were surveyed, Botswana is ranked 97th for the Access to Information and Communications dimension and 133rd for the Access to Online Governance indicator under it. Even without the SPI having to make this pronouncement, e-governance is clearly failing to do all the wonders that the nation was promised. Network e down (Setswana for “the network is down”) has become the second national anthem in both the public and private sector. While citizens have been promised that they could interact with government officials online, that is actually still more aspirational than realistic. The result is that as they have over the past 53 years, most citizens still visit government offices and join long, slow-moving queues towards a service point whose network is prone to giving out periodically. This is certainly not what the national leadership promised.

A decade ago, President Ian Khama said that for Botswana to prosper in the 21st century, Batswana needed to become innovative users of ICT, and have a high performing government that is providing convenient and efficient electronic services

“e-Government can help us achieve both of these objectives, and the 2011-2016 Strategy provides us with a pragmatic roadmap for getting there,” said Khama adding that over the next five years, Botswana would spend around P800 million on “an ambitious, but very achievable” e-government endeavour.

However as a University of Botswana study shows, the achievement of those objective is being frustrated by the following factors: low level of the internet penetration, telecommunications infrastructure constraints, lack of institutional framework supporting e-government, lack of allocated budget for e-government deployment, privacy and security concerns, digital divide, limited IT skills and training, cultural inertia over moving from paper based to e-based service and lack of citizen awareness and participation.

Interestingly, Botswana is ranked first, of all the 149 countries, in terms of Mobile Telephone Subscriptions. This confirms research from Nielsen, a premier United States global information and measurement company, which says that Botswana has the highest rates of Internet access in Sub-Saharan Africa, beating Nigeria and Kenya. Much of such access is on social media platforms but the downside of that development is that the use of some platforms – like Facebook and Twitter, has become a serious law enforcement challenge.

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