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ICTs and Local/Democratic GovernanceFor democratic governance, ICTs have the potential to empower previously disadvantaged constituencies like low-income women, ethnic minorities, the youth and the physically challenged.
Information and communication technologies (ICTs) have been touted to present Africa with several opportunities as far as development and governance are concerned. According to Nigerien media scholar Gado Alzouma, ICTs are expected to create wealth for rural traders and craftsmen by exposing them to a world-wide market via the internet. Education will also improve and spread because of new opportunities for African institutions to collaborate with other educational institutions across the globe, whiles taking advantage of the vast amount of information available on the internet.
For democratic governance, ICTs have the potential to empower previously disadvantaged constituencies like low-income women, ethnic minorities, the youth and the physically challenged.
In countries like Ghana, where the media is largely urban-centered, rural communities will be able to highlight through citizen journalism the issues that most intimately affect them, presenting these issues from their own perspectives. A phenomenon that has been referred to as “hyperlocalism”. Citizen journalism or open source journalism refers to a situation where ordinary citizens, with no professional journalism training or affiliation to conventional media organizations use internet tools like blogs to practice journalism. Allowing them to focus on issues that may have been ignored by the mainstream media.
ICTs can also be used to provide public access to information which is a vital aspect of any democratic system. Known as E-Governance (Electronic Governance), ICTs are harnessed by the government in providing government services and information for public usage. Through this citizens are empowered and enabled to make informed choices.
Advocacy groups are now able to network with organizations with similar goals world-wide. This enables these groups to compare strategies, discuss challenges and share solutions. The power of networking makes it difficult for authoritarian governments to put a lid on dissenting voices. Recently in Burma, despite the bloody crackdown on activists by the military regime, citizen journalists were still able to get news and pictures to the outside world via their mobile phones and blogs. It is heartening to note that in spite of the huge challenges in providing fixed line telephony for the continent, Africans are able to communicate, due to the tremendous growth in the use of mobile telephony.
Additionally, it has been observed that the internet now plays a unifying role for diasporic communities. People living outside their home countries, have the opportunity to stay abreast with developments back home, and also participate in debates on blogs and online forums.
Undoubtedly, ICTs have enormous potential in strengthening democratic values and nurturing more pluralistic societies. However for the full potential to be realized certain challenges must be addressed.
One of these is the much talked about “digital divide” which refers to the uneven distribution of ICTs across the globe. However there is also a “digital divide” within nations, with the male educated elite having greater access to ICTs. Deliberate attempts must be made to ensure that poor people, women and otherwise disadvantaged constituencies are given the necessary education about, and access to ICTs. Otherwise these new technologies will only serve to consolidate the position of the elite in African societies, at the expense of ordinary people.
Author : George Ferguson Laing
Selected article of Haayo Call 3
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