Feature Article of Friday, 26 March 2004
Columnist: Yeboah, Stephen
I have been overwhelmed with the varied responses I have received on my article ?Hypes and Facts about Information and Communication Technologies? published on Ghanaweb on March 15th, 2004. It confirms my belief that the debate about ICT has only begun, and hopefully this debate can be sustained in a positive way and somehow influence whatever policy we as a nation come out with. My sincere appreciation goes to all those who took time to read my first article.
The second part of my article is meant to reiterate some of the issues raised in my first article whiles expanding on some of the points. I stand by the statement from my first article that most of the problems in the world are socio-political in nature and not technological. The ex-Soviet Union was arguably one of the most technologically advanced nations on the face of this planet. Yet we all saw what happened in the nineties. I lived through that era while studying as a student in Moscow Power Engineering Institute. Before I continue, there is a need to dispel some of the assertions raised by Robert Ankomah Opoku in his rejoinder published on March 20th, 2004. First and foremost, his inference that "practicing and earning living in ICT do not indicate that one knows everything about ICT" is indeed misguided. I did not in any part of my article state that I know everything about the subject. I made reference to my experience in the industry for audience to know where I was coming from.
Secondly, Mr. Opoku's response misconstrued my point about the relevance and application of ICT in Ghana. I did not imply that it is not necessary. I stated emphatically that the benefits of ICT cannot be denied. However, I questioned our preparedness as a nation and also cautioned against buying into some of the promises of the proponents of ICT. ICT is just a tool and when used properly and effectively can enhance national development. However it shouldn't be used as band aid or panacea for a quick fix. No amount of information in the world can fix our problems until we put our house in "order".
Secondly, Mr. Opoku's response misconstrued my point about the relevance and application of ICT in Ghana. I did not imply in anyway and anywhere in my previous article that ICT is not necessary. I stated emphatically that the benefits of ICT cannot be denied. However I questioned our preparedness as a nation and also cautioned against pouring our ?limited and borrowed? resources into this technology at the expense of basic infrastructure, with the promise that we will be at par with the rest of the developed world. Finally, I as well cautioned against the hypes and promises that proponents of ICT are preaching. Unless anyone reading this article did not live through the 90s, some promises of ICT are purely hypes.
Mr. Opoku highlighted the development plan of the present government with the presumption that ICT falls under infrastructure development. My question is, if so, do we have a comprehensive plan for ICT, what needs to be done, what strategies are best, based on our limited resources or do we jump into the bandwagon and sing to the tune that ICT is the ?next big thing? that will solve our socio economic problems? To say the least, the optimism and utterances expressed by some of our policy makers about ICT make me wonder what our plan is. .
Any national development strategy that attempts to position a nation?s economy to take advantage of the ?ongoing revolution? must definitely take a comprehensive view of the enabling roles that ICT can play. Harnessing ICT for national development requires a strategic framework that will take advantage of the various roles of ICT in Education, Agriculture, Financial Institutions, Manufacturing industries and Government. ICT is not purely a world of only opportunities. Like any other innovation, it is one with intense competition and uncertainties by all measures. There are issues with uncontrolled software and hardware costs, unrealized benefits and increasing technological dependence on the developed world. Simply put, ICT investments are not automatic. For us to realize any benefits will require complementary investments in human capital, organizational and social learning. Widespread adoption of an effective use of ICT will require the willingness to make changes to our way of doing business and thinking. Again, such an approach needs to be initiated by us as a nation taking into consideration our peculiar situation strengths and weaknesses. Even when success is not far fetched, careful attention needs to be given to expansion and the challenges that will be encountered in the sustainability phase.
While we are thinking of bridging the so called "digital divide", without careful planning, we risk creating another form of dependency on the developed world. ICT, like any other investments should and must be subjected to cost/benefit analysis and most importantly placed in the context of other priorities for national development. ICT is not built on a vacuum. It is built on existing infrastructure and it is imperative to have sustainable and affordable supply of electricity and other essential ingredients of ICT. Currently almost all the software and hardware are developed and manufactured in these countries. Prices are therefore driven by them and many developing economies including Ghana are priced out of some of the software and hardware market.