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Smart Development: How ICT Can Improve Citizen Services

As history has shown, rapid economic development does not necessarily translate into better citizen services. Citizen-centric “smart development” provides an intriguing solution.

For centuries, agriculture was the cornerstone of East Africa’s economic activities. Today, newly discovered natural resources are set to become a powerful driving force for the EAC’s economic development. There has been a revolution in productivity and growth acceleration forecasts are as bright as they have ever been.

Yet even in the midst of this boom, many East Africans remain without access to basic services. While cities like Addis Ababa, Nairobi and Kampala are advancing at a blistering pace, rural and far-flung areas lack power, sanitation, healthcare and clean running water. Policies such as Kenya’s Devolution aim to address stark income disparity by decentralising service delivery, but their success will rely on the efficiency of their implementation.

Modern history is full of accounts of nations whose economies have rocketed only to see living standards of their citizens remain the same or even fall. Acutely aware of these past failures, some African nations are choosing to focus not just on development but on “smart development” – the use of information and communication technologies to tackle service delivery problems.

Rwanda’s long-term development plans for example outline a vision of an information-rich and knowledge-based economy. And this ICT-focused approach is reaping rewards for its citizens – an eLearning pilot programme has seen the Rwandan Government deliver over 200,000 laptops to schoolchildren while also providing more than 2,200 schools with wireless connectivity, servers and original content. The Kenyan Government is also committed to delivering eLerning curriculum to all students in primary school through a similar program.

There is still, to be frank, much work that needs to be done before claiming success, but the decision to emphasise the centrality of ICT solutions in delivering real developmental change lays the groundwork for a grand metamorphosis. The next step is in normalising the use of new technologies in all levels of public service so that development happens on the ground. Using new technologies to make possible citizen-centric organisations, governments can provide necessary services, respond to problems as they happen, and operate with transparency and fiscal responsibility. The result: sustainable developmental programmes that serve ordinary citizens while lowering costs and instances of graft and corruption.

The first of these can be seen in the Huduma centres (Huduma Kenya) that strive to provide e-citizen services in  centralised location, reducing the need for people to spend time and money moving from one agency to another. While the centres provide greatly improved service levels, the next step would be to allow for citizen self service portals that negate the need to even visit the Huduma centres.

By taking advantage of the collaborative, innovative and analytical potential of mobility-based technologies organisations, governments can improve economic stability and quality of life for citizens.

Next week, SAP will be participating in The Connected Kenya Summit, arguably the most important interaction between the Public and Private sectors on matters regarding Innormation and Communication Technology. Please be sure to follow the proceedings via the live feed on their website Connected or on twitter @connectedKE

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