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The Gambia : What ICT and democratic governance mean in practiceWith the advent of ‘the information revolution,’ the importance and impact of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) is being felt in all sectors of modern societies. From sports to business, politics or otherwise, ICT has increasingly added value to the quality of human life in today’s ‘information age’ in Africa and beyond.
Many countries on the continent are seemingly busy trying to implement what is known as the -‘E-governance’ project, an idea of making governments more accountable, transparent and responsive to the needs of their citizens by using ICT tools.
The tiny West African country of the Gambia is also struggling to add its name to the list of countries that have become ‘information-rich-societies’ in the ‘global village.’ Unknown to the majority of its 1.4million citizenry, the Gambian government launched its E-governance Project in 2005. The project was sponsored by the Economic Commission of Africa (ECA). One of the main aims of the project was to make ICT work in favor of democratic governance and economic development of the country.
But what does ICT and democratic governance really mean in practice for the common Gambian?
The West African country is led by a President who came to power through a military coup in 1994 and later transformed himself into a civilian leader, a President who does not believe in real democratic governance. Even though he allowed many democratic institutions like an electoral commission, a parliament and the judiciary to exist, he never gives them the much-needed freedom to operate. He appoints, harasses and sometimes dismisses members of such bodies in the country. All the supposed democratic institutions which should have provided checks and balance on his too much executive powers only exist in theory. The net effect is that the common man/woman in the Gambia is left wondering if he/she is really living in a democratic environment or not.
In the Gambia radio and television services are very popular and most effective in reaching out to the masses. This is due to the fact that about 68% percent of Gambian society hardly reads newspapers and so rely heavily on the electronic media particularly the state radio, ‘Radio Gambia’ has a nation-wide coverage, for their source of information. The only television station in the country is the ‘Gambia Television Service.’ It is established, run and firmly controlled by the President and his clique. Aside these, there is a cluster of commercial and community radio stations dotted across the country.
It is against this backdrop that the e-governance project is being implemented by a government that is intolerant to dissenting views and did not even allow the independent media and journalists to work freely. President Yahya Jammeh’s government believes in controlling information instead of its free flow. Since assuming power in 1994 and subsequent re-elections, Jammeh closed downed many private radio stations like the famous ‘Citizen FM’ and ‘Sud FM’ as well as the Banjul-based ‘Independent Newspaper.’ He also arrested and harassed scores of journalists just because they disagreed with his political philosophy and style of governance which he branded “African democracy.”
Many independent-minded Gambian journalists were also threatened and forced into exile. In realization of the need for effective use of ICTs, most of these journalists started their own on-line newspapers and radios to provide the much-needed impartial information on the country and the way it is governed. This has gone a long way in enabling the people to have relevant information to challenge the none-democratic nature of the present regime.
Source : Momodouh L. JAITEH, Gambian journalist.
Article produced in the framework of Haayo Call 3.
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