Feature Article of Thursday, 18 March 2004
Columnist: Opoku, Robert Ankomah
Ghana and ICT: Strides, Challenges and the way forward
Where Ghana is coming from
The speed with which Information Communication Technology (ICT) is developing and its impact on socio-economic activities cannot be overemphasized. ICT, according to UNDP, has been defined to include the full range of electronic technologies and techniques used to manage information and knowledge. It is imperative that Africa is not excluded from the technological revolution. It is a stark fact that the use of ICT has been integrated into virtually every facet of commerce, education, governance and civic activity in developed countries and has become a critical factor in creating wealth worldwide. Unfortunately in Africa, ICT has barely taken a foothold. Computer illiteracy and lack of access to ICT are widely recognised as an increasingly powerful obstacle to the economic, civic and political development of Africa. According to the UN ICT Task Force, nowhere is the digital divide more pronounced than in countries of the African continent. Africa is the most unconnected in an increasing connected world. This is where Ghana as a country finds itself.
Lifting Ghana from the ICT doldrums
However, development of ICT has been argued to provide leapfrogging opportunities for developing countries such as Ghana. According to the Data Development Group of the World Bank, ICT infrastructure in Ghana is progressing as compared to other low-income countries globally and above the 1.1% average for the Sub Saharan Africa. The government of Ghana both past and present and other agencies have over the years made several strides to develop the ICT infrastructure so as to bridge the digital divide between Ghana and the developed world. Prominently featuring among these initiatives is the development of a national fibre optic network called Voltacom Project by the nation?s power hub; the Volta River Authority.
The Ghana?s National ICT Development Policy (ICTAD), developed under the able chairmanship of Prof.Clement Dzidonu has been passed by Parliament to be implemented. The ICT policy referred to as ICTAD has four year rolling plans and an operational life span of between 15 to 20 years. The 14 priority areas of the Policy referred to as the ?14 ICTAD? would concentrate on promoting rapid ICT physical infrastructure development, modernize agriculture and facilitate development of the private sector.
The Kofi Annan ICT Centre of Excellence which is a joint Ghana/India project was commissioned in December last year with the responsibility to produce the human capacity needed for the emerging ICT Industry in Ghana and the Sub-region.The Multi-Media Centre located in Ghana House (the former GNTC Building renovated by the previous government) is also to serve as an incubator where new private companies in the industry can be nurtured and later relocated to the Technology Parks business Centre which is to be set up in the Free-zone area of Tema. The present government plans to expand telecommunication industry by a credit facility arranged for Ghana Telecom from Alcatel Shanghai Bell Company Ltd (Sinosure Facility). This is to help Ghana Telecom to acquire more switches to undertake a massive expansion programme throughout the country including the wiring of second cycle schools and colleges to facilitate the deployment of ICT facilities. Over the years, the government and other agencies like Abdus Salam International Centre for Theoretical Physics (ICTP) and the Government of India have helped to train over a thousand professionals in ICT and its related areas with the aim to providing the requisite knowledge and skills to support ICT activities in Ghana. Some Ghanaians like Prof. F.K.A Allotey ( a distinguished Ghanaian scholar of international repute), Prof.Clement Dzidonu, Dr. Sam Somuah, Kojo Yankah of Yankah and Associates, John Mahama(former Minister of Communications), Ashim Morton of Ghana Classifieds, Leslie Tamakloe of InternetGhana, Kwami Ahiabenu of AITEC-Ghana, Kofi Kludjeson of Celltel, Dr. Gershon Adzadi of Ghana Civil Aviation Authority, Dr. Amos Anyimadu, Dr. Quaynor of Network Computer Systems, Chinery-Hesse of Soft Ghana, Kweku Nsiah of Ministry of Communications, Yaw Poku Ansah of Office Automation Systems, De-graft Johnson of Persol Limited and others but to mention a few have been very instrumental in trying to put Ghana on the ICT map of the world. Further Ghanaians like Yaw Owusu, Dr. Walter Alhassan and others are in their own small ways championing initiatives such as the Ghana Technology Park. This project is proposed to be the first UN-financed technology centre in Africa. Efforts by non-Ghanaians like Gregg Pascal Zachary of International Computer Science Institute, Ahmad Farroukh, MD of Spacefon, Amar Hari of IPMC Ghana and Mark Davies of Busyinternet cannot be overlooked.
Not withstanding these, various investments in ICT infrastructure by existing Internet service Providers (ISPs) and Telecommunication companies such as Ghana Telecom, Spacefon, Kasapa Limited, Celltel Limited and Millicom Ghana Limited are helping to improve their service delivery and consequently cover the whole country. Others too, for instance, IP Planet Network Limited and Ecoband Dot Net (Internet connectivity and Solution Providers) jointly launched the Vip SAT; InternetGhana has launched the Digital Subscriber Line(DSL)which has the potential of providing a high speed access to the Internet and multimedia capabilities and One Dial Communications Limited is also trying to create Information Technology (IT) Villages at specific places comparable to the Silicon Valley in California(U.S) with the possibility of attracting companies from within and outside the country to site ICT and other related industries.
A Wide Area Network called the Research and Educational Network (REN) was also established in 2000 with the help of the World Bank INFODEV project where Ghanaian Universities and local research institutions such as CSIR and Ghana Atomic Energy Commission were linked to serve as nodes for the broad network. This network among other things, is to create an enabling environment for the use of ICT, foster information exchange among local scientists and to facilitate the interactions and collaboration between researchers in institutions and the world,
Recently, Ghana signed an agreement with Microsoft Corporation under which the largest and richest ICT Company in the world would provide resources to improve ICT education in Ghana. To recap, it is important to note that Ghana in 1995 became the first country in the Sub ?Saharan Africa to have full internet connectivity.
Though Ghana is not yet there as far as ICT infrastructure is concerned, it has been able to chalk some successes in attracting some foreign investors to the country. Some of them are Affiliated Computer Services (a Fortune 500 company and a global leader in IT and Business Process Outsourcing), Data Management International Inc., Rising Data Solutions, Global Response, Busyinternet, AQ Solutions and Supra Telecom. Most of these companies operating in the country have recorded an average of 50% in revenue and profits. Others U.S companies like Cincom System Inc.a call centre and Convergys Corporation are expected to open offices in Ghana.
Problems and Challenges
However, despite these massive investments in ICT infrastructure and ICT capacity building, Ghana still to a large extent is digitally isolated from the Global Village because it lacks the critical drive and strategies to harness the full potential of ICT for the socio-economic development of the country. These have been some of the challenges facing the full ICT deployment in the country.
Ghana Telecom, the national carrier that is supposed to be at the forefront of ICT development is certainly struggling and has failed to keep up with the times. For the past three years, the carrier has faced a number of challenges. These range from Voice-over IP and international traffic termination issues. This has led GT?s international revenue dropping, by as much as $15-$30m per year. Other factors such as bad debt, which is estimated to be as high as $40-$45m annually, in addition to bad management are hampering efforts to operate this critical organisation more efficiently and competitively. Mr Albert Kan-Dapaah, Minister of Communications and Technology had clearly indicated that Ghana needed about 800 million dollars to improve telecommunication infrastructure to support the development of Interconnect Communication Technology (ICT) industry. He further postulated that investment in the telecommunication sector had been declining thus delaying infrastructure expansions and slowing the deployment of value added advanced communication and technological services.(Reference: Ghanaweb?s Business News of May 27,2003).
The problems of Ghana Telecom are furthered compounded by the array of legal battles it has found itself to deal with. Telekom Malaysia has been throwing legal challenges to the national carrier and the Ghana government from all corners. The most recent has been Telekom Malaysia's writ of summons and a statement of claim filed at the Fast Track Court of Ghana against Ghana Telecommunications Company Ltd (GT), a company that Telekom holds 30 percent investment in through G-Com.
The Voltacom Project which was perceived to be one of the key and cheapest solutions to aid ICT deployment is still not fully utilised. This national asset, which is not fully operational at this stage except delivering some services to VRA which currently owns and operates a fiber optic ring between Accra, Tema, Kumasi and Takoradi of about 600 km. Though the government decided in 2003 to privatise Voltacom, nothing concrete has come out of this.
Another issue worth considering is the high cost of Internet usage. Though there has been an upsurge in Internet Cafes and Communication Centres all over the country some prominent Internet Service Providers such as Africaonline, InternetGhana, WWWplus, Network Computer Systems(NCS) among others continue to charge between US$25 ?US$50 per month for a dial up services with an unlimited access. Corporate account for internet access attracts a subscription ranging from US $40 for limited access to US $ 200 unlimited access. The high infrastructure and subscription costs unmatched with quality service by service providers have been a major drawback to the use of ICT in education, research and development.
Another issue has been how to address interconnection issues with special reference to fix to mobile operations, development and delivery of fundamental economic issues for regulators, which includes competition policy, costs and pricing and finance for regulators. There have been instances where Ghana Telecom and Spacefon have engaged in a lot of tussle about connectivity issues. Up till now, Spacefon, a GSM operator is the only mobile phone operator that is living to its slogan as ?Communication for the Nation?. It has deployed its services in all the ten regional capitals and most key cities and towns across the country. Ghana Telecom has failed with its ?One Touch ?in its provision of an alternative to Spacefon and others.
Another major identifiable challenge facing the development of the full potential of ICT for education, research and development in the country has been the brain drain syndrome. The effects of the brain drain can be argued to have contributed not only to lack of medical and other critical professionals in the country but also ICT gurus. This has resulted in the lack of the critical mass of ICT engineers and scientists relevant for undertaking ICT related projects professionally. It has also been found out that the most talented people in the area of Science and Technology, if they have not left Ghana for more attractive environments often pursue private agendas, shunning the ?civic space?.
Above all, one critical hurdle has been the lack of enabling environment and the political will to do things. It is interesting to note that Ghana governments have been described in certain circles as a ?bad virus? to ICT development. Also, Gregg Pascal Zachary in his forward looking paper ?Black Star : Ghana, Information Technology and Development in Africa? made it clear that ?cynicism about the potential for policy to make a difference is widespread and even when the policies are correct; government faces the difficulties getting things done?. Ghana can now boast of National ICT Policy document but more needs to be done. Some of the questions that need answers and reflection among others are: Do we have the political will, resources both money and human to embark on the 14 ICT AD priority areas? Do we have the right government, leaders and policy implementers who will defy all odds to create the necessary structures for ICT to take off and to make this dream a reality?
The way forward
However, the solution towards bridging the divide will require a mix of the following strategies:
One key solution is to create the necessary awareness in all the organs of government namely the executive, legislature, judiciary and the Press. For us to pull everybody along on the ICT development continuum, it demands the full awareness of our ICT development agenda. All the organs should be put into known the benefits of ICT and how the new ICT Policy document can impact the development of the country. The executive should be prepared to sacrifice and prioritise this sector among others on our development agenda and to implement the agenda to the core; the legislature should fully understand the concepts and all the implications of ICT and be prepared to sell this agenda vis- a- vis their political manifestos; the judiciary should be prepared to react swiftly to legalities concerning ICT and the Press should be up and doing in the selling of ICT opportunities and creating the necessary awareness among the citizenry. Much is actually expected from the executive to lead this crusade and to drag all citizens both local (young and old, politicians of the other divide, etc) and foreign towards this development. The zeal with which the current President has been identified in dealing with ICT issues should be manifested in all the executives and other stakeholders who matter.
Based on the recent comparative studies on dynamic industrial clusters in developed and developing countries, it is paramount to create an open and supportive and economic environment or Habitat including a good investment climate, economy and social infrastructure to support entrepreneurship, a culture to encourage innovation and allow failure. In addition to national policies that allow free and open entrepreneurship and national e-government services, regional and community level leadership is necessary to encourage innovative application of ICT to public services, health, education and all aspect of community life. This then requires the efforts of all the citizenry in the maintenance of rule of law.
There should be an aggressive human capacity building through training workshops, seminars and courses in collaboration with local and international institutions. Once again, these platforms should not be perceived as talking shops, holiday making ventures and a means to earn some per diem. Ghanaian workshops and training session have been branded as such. However, there should be the conscious efforts to select and support well meaning Ghanaian executives and staff from the various ministries and agencies who actually matter, prepared to learn and impact but not on the basis of seniority or otherwise to attend conferences and courses. We are all witnesses to some conference participants who end up sleeping because of their handicaps in the subjects and themes. The responsible sector ministries should continue to attract the qualified personnel and be prepared to seek the necessary advice (transcending party lines), learn and implement ideas.
The call for improvement of the sector based on development, expansion and modernisation of communication infrastructure to achieve universal service and access to basic and value added communication service cannot be over-emphasized. As the Honourable Minister of Communication, Mr. Kan-Dapaah rightly put it,? the need for this improvement is even more imperative now. The world economy is experiencing the impact of rapid globalisation and emerging information age, which is bringing about a new global economic order? (see Ghanaweb?s ?s Business News on May 27, 2003).This then demands swift and cost effective methods to place Ghana on a competitive position. One of the projects that should have aided Ghana in this regard is the Voltacom. This project, one of the landmarks in our ICT development history with the aim to provide lower-cost basic access with reasonable basket of important services such as Internet and voice communication is no more discussed and talked about. It is on paper that the government had the intention to privatise this brilliant idea. Investors were invited to send in proposals and to tender but nothing has been heard about it. For us to move forward as a nation with the vision to develop its ICT potentials, this project should be given a second look as soon as practicable.
Some specific institutions in Ghana responsible for development of scientific and technological capabilities, research and development and the provision of essential services such as Kwame Nkrumah University of Technology (KNUST),Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), The Ghana Atomic Energy Commission, the public and private Institutions and the Kofi Annan Centre for Information and Communication Technology need to be strengthened and be focussed on demand driven initiatives in order to provide products to meet local needs. The departments of Computer Science in our Universities are nothing to talk home about though they should be the source for producing the needed ICT professionals for the country. These University departments (for public and private universities) and responsible public institutions should be made centres of excellence. They should also manage and co-ordinate activities of their research and educational network and should be at the forefront of developing innovative ideas for the efficient utilization of ICT infrastructure in area of distance education and virtual laboratories for teaching and research. The academic environment should therefore be made attractive in order to attract the ICT gurus.
The universities and the research institutions should as be at the helm of picking or selecting outstanding young Ghanaians from the entrepreneurial and policy background who have the potential to become future leaders on the ICT development in the country. The selected individuals would then continue to work together in diagnosing current problems, searching for strategy to create a unique cluster in Ghana, learning from case studies, interacting with industry leaders at home and abroad, formulating road maps and milestones to materialise the goals, and creating international networks particularly with the Diaspora community to support their plan.
The dilemma Ghana Telecom (GT) finds itself needs to be given a second look. As they control the affairs of this organisation for now, the Telenor team should concentrate on fixing management issues and instilling a new culture within the company in order to erase the suspicion of Ghana Telecom?s staff and the Ghanaian Public. I must say that the destiny of ICT development in Ghana to a larger extent behoves on this carrier and it could be a disaster it the Telenor team fails Ghana this time around. With the voice-over IP, the management should continue to work with the National Communications Authority (the regulator) to come up with a clear decision and react accordingly. The bad debt issues can be tightened as well. With a relatively strong mobile operation (the second largest in the market), GT used to have a potential growth engine. However, their performance of late in telecommunication delivery has been very dismal and services continue to degenerate. Attention should also be directed at developing ?a value for money service? in all their areas of operation before Ghanaians give up finally on them.
It is also an established fact that the government alone cannot find investment capital for the development and this call for Private Sector support and investment in the industry. Industry and financial leaders from Ghana and the Diaspora community could be invited by the responsible sector ministries to provide the industry?s view point for the ICT development strategies from time to time and to discuss the how business community can lead in creating business environment to encourage entrepreneurship. Our banks should be re-orientated towards this new paradigm.
The role of NGOs in capacity building and societal application of ICT is crucial and cannot be downplayed. Young NGOs leaders could be invited to work on a specific non-profit business model to utilize ICT for social development in the areas of empowerment of the rural poor and the farmer through community information centres and creation of jobs through ICT.
There should also be a programme that aims art creating and promoting innovative and sustainable business models addressing the needs of the massive bottom ?of- the pyramid market, in the areas of rural communication infrastructure, e-commerce, e-learning and health , etc.
Successful ICT industry development is characterized by regional clustering of small, innovative firms with professional skills, mutually interactive and dynamically created by spin-off mechanism like what is found in the State of Andhra Pradesh in India. Supporting infrastructure such as venture capital funds, incubators, outsourcing services, academic/industry collaboration mechanism are essential elements of dynamic country specific ICT clusters. Government needs to encourage the formation of these clusters and venture capital made available with ease (emphasis) for promising ICT entrepreneurs.
The press should also continue to play its role as the watch-dog, disseminator of policies and programmes and to offer constructive criticisms where and when due. Conscious effort is needed this time around to propagate the current achievements of Ghana in terms of ICT and to sell Ghana as a safe haven for investors other than focusing on political and ?anti-development? issues. Ghanaians and foreigners who are contributing to ICT development in diverse ways need to be recommended and their experiences shared with the young through these media.
Furthermore, excellent lessons for developing countries such as Ghana can be found in India?s late start and mission-like approach to programmes for ICT exploitation. Briefly, these are:
1. ICT should be seen as an enabler, as a tool to benefit the whole of society and not only the elite and the urban areas.
2. While the country?s educated elite must be facilitated to partake of the opportunities in global ICT ?based trade and to create wealth for the country, others must be proactively helped to use and benefit from ICT;
3. new cities and towns should be planned so that the non-transport, non-polluting characteristics of ICT can be fully exploited.
4. the government should promote, prime and facilitate but not itself undertake the development of ICT applications to informatize society and promote innovation;
5. quality of education should be continuously improved and this is aided by intensive and extensive use of ICT;
6. political leadership is crucial to the successful realization of goals; and promulgate facilitative programmes. Use of ICT helps to involve people in social and national decision making and governance.
To end it all, progress though dismal should not be an excuse for complacency. The gap between developed and developing countries persists and also policymakers should recognise that ICT sector not only is an economic engine but also an enabler of social and political progress. Though the progress we make will be thwarted along the road, we should re-organise quickly and move ahead. To the potential investors, let us share this statement from the Sambou Makalou, CEO of Rising Data Solution. ?India is today?s news with increasing competition for labour. Ghana is tomorrow?s news. We wanted to be there (Ghana) at the beginning. Be a leader not a follower.?
Robert Ankomah Opoku
e-Commerce Research School,
Division of Industrial Marketing & e-Commerce,
Lule? University of Technology,
http://www.geocities.com/opokurob/mypage.html Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.