The following article appeared originally in the Financial Times on Friday 13. August 2010
Sir, I fully agree with the view of William Wallis about the dangerous times for democracy in Africa (“Perfidious donors betray Africa’s democrats”, August 10). I believe that sub-Saharan Africa needs a transformational governance approach beyond mere elections (votes) but also participatory decision-making processes (voice). Supporting systems that would enable segments of the population to voice their concerns, hold the elected officials responsible, claim their lights and fulfill their responsibilities as citizens should be a growing priority for donor agencies. This can be achieved beyond supporting elections through fostering participatory information and communication channels, which can be backed by the proliferation of new information and communication technologies (ICTs).
As Mr. Wallis states, mobile phones and the internet make it harder to silence critics and rob the central bank. But this is not all. Let’s not forget that ICTs include vibrant community broadcasting radio and television, which is where, due to the omnipresent digital divide, most citizens in developing countries receive their information. In addition, the transformative power of ICTs can provide farmers in rural areas with market price information, foster access to education through distance learning, and provide information about health services.
It would require a holistic approach beyond investment in ICT infrastructure and hardware to include the necessary enabling environments (such as free and independent media), capacity development (training) and content applications. Taking this path, this systematic approach could transform the digital divide into the digital provide. Fostering access to information and knowledge, and subsequently enlightening political discourse through increased participation, the transformation of vote into voice would lead to the more stable and sustainable social, economic and political fabric that is desperately needed for progress.