eGovernment in Africa: Promise and Practice

Richard Heeks


eGovernment has already arrived in Africa, though it is essentially an imported concept based on imported designs. There are growing numbers of e-government projects, some of which are contributing to public sector reform and delivering gains of efficiency and/or effectiveness across a broad agenda. However, this positive picture must be set alongside significant challenges. eGovernment is only slowly diffusing within Africa because of a lack of 'e-readiness for e-government' that can be charted along six dimensions. There is widespread recognition that this challenge must be met by strategic building of national infrastructure.

Where e-government projects are introduced, they mainly end in failure; either partial or total. To address this tactical challenge, stakeholders must be sensitised to the large gaps that often exist between project design and African public sector reality. These large 'design-reality gaps' can be seen to underlie failure. They arise particularly because e-government concepts and designs have their origins in the West; origins that are significantly different from African realities. Some best practices are outlined that may help to close design-reality gaps and, hence, may help to improve project success rates. This will only happen, though, if they too are appropriate to African realities.

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Educator's guide

Synopsis questions

  1. Why are African governments undertaking public sector reforms? [Introduction]
  2. In what ways can e-government contribute to public sector reform in African countries? [part A]
  3. In what ways is e-government in African countries similar to, and in what ways different from, e-government in industrialised countries? [parts A & B]
  4. Why is e-government diffusing only slowly in African? [part B]
  5. Why do most African e-government projects fail? [part B]
  6. How can the problems of e-government in Africa best be addressed? [part C]

Development questions

  1. What specific problems do African governments face? Can e-government address these problems?
  2. Can you provide alternative explanations (alternative to design-reality gaps) for the failure of so many e-government projects in Africa?
  3. Discuss or debate the following proposition: "Failure of e-government projects is just as much a problem in industrialised countries as in African countries."
  4. Is investment in e-government projects in Africa an inappropriate use of funds?
  5. Is it either helpful or valid to try to generalise about e-government projects across a whole continent?
  6. How true a picture of ICT use in Africa is portrayed in industrialised countries?