Harnessing Social media and mobile apps for efficient governance

September 13, 2015

While the benefits of social media impact in governance have been observed in highly developed economies, there is still much skepticism about its applicability in the Sub Saharan Africa countries. In South Africa and Nigeria the two biggest economies in the continent, electronic governance has been used as an application of information and communications technology to government functions and processes so as to bring about efficient and effective governance. Unlike the comprehensive planning, political and technical support that e-governance projects in developed countries have, many of the e-governance projects implemented in Sub Saharan African countries do not have such an advantage.In addition, they largely depend to a large extent on existing budgets and external funding which are extremely limited and will even be worse now that this past week World Bank announced that it has exhausted the funding kitty for African countries as most of the cash was directed towards tackling Ebola that ravaged parts of West Africa in 2014 and early 2015.With the rise of the Sub Saharan Africa middle class as per capita incomes increase, Internet usage has surged by 2,000 percent for the last 15 years according to Internet World Stats, making e-governance solutions more plausible.

African countries are estimated to have close to 70 million Facebook users which is among the highest according to web statisticians data for 2014.The availability of low-cost handsets on the market has helped propel the adoption of smartphones and it is expected that the smartphone uptake will rise by 90 percent this year. Although Africa has the lowest overall Internet penetration rate in the world, mobile Internet use is high, making the African market a viable one. According to data I have obtained about Digital Consumer Report, 79 percent of regular Internet users in Africa access the Internet on their mobile phones. Hence, there is clear potential for the development of e-governance platforms on mobile phones as more Africans access the Internet via their mobile phones. Despite the fact that Internet penetration through computers is low averaging below 15 percent, mobile Internet penetration has reached 80 percent in some countries like Kenya, according to Africa’s Digital Consumer Report. Furthermore, the trend of Africans’ frequent engagement with social network sites demonstrates that this is an area that should be given due consideration in e-governance policy formulation and implementation. Using web analytics data that I have, Contador Harrison has found that Facebook was a popular upstream site that online users visited prior to their visit to official government websites.

Over 80 percent of Facebook users in Africa access the social media site through their mobile phones. Thus, these social media sites constitute an important channel through which updates and announcements can be made by the government.In fact, Facebook was the third most popular site that online users visited preceding their visit to Google and Yahoo, the two most visited websites across the continent.The two are most preferred search engines in Africa.It is important to note though that the adoption of new technologies may not necessarily bridge the divide that exists within many African societies, there is a huge differences in the level of access between males and females,urban and rural areas, and among people with different education levels as well as people of different ages and social backgrounds. However, as the availability of mobile Internet connection becomes more widespread in the continent, African governments will need to consider various strategies to educate the citizens on the value of ICTs and the use of e-governance initiatives to achieve better accountability, increased transparency and improved governance. Community and industry partnerships can also support this move by developing mobile phone applications to accelerate the development of e-governance initiatives as is happening in South Africa,Tanzania, Nigeria and Kenya. For now, it remains to be seen how Africans will harness the power of social media and mobile technology for more effective, accountable and efficient governance.

Contador Harrison