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Technological innovations as new change-makers of democracy & governance in Africa

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DEVDISCOURSE 13 MAR 2020

After significant improvements in the post-cold war period, the world is again witnessing global erosion in democratic norms since 2005.

The latest report of the Freedom House titled Freedom in the World 2019 – Democracy in Retreat, has revealed that between 2005 and 2018, the share of ‘Not Free’ countries rose to 26 per cent, while the share of ‘Free’ countries declined to 44 per cent. Furthermore, the authoritarian states across the Middle East and North Africa continued to suppress dissent during 2018, and even the few democracies in the region suffered from self-inflicted wounds. However, some African countries such as Angola, Ethiopia, Cameroon and Tanzania have shown significant breakthroughs and improvements. The report also suggests that while authoritarian countries in North America continued to suppress democracy, several nations in the Sub Saharan Africa have shown improvements on various parameters. Almost similar trends are shown in the citizens’ perception about democracy in their countries in the Global Satisfaction with Democracy 2020 released by the Centre for the Future of Democracy at Bennet Institute for Public Policy University of Cambridge (USA).

Interestingly, the countries showing improvements in democratic parameters also have a very high growth rate in internet penetration. For example, 22.3 per cent population in Angola had internet access in 2019 which shows 23,493 per cent growth between 2000-19. The corresponding figures for Ethiopia are 18.6 per cent and 204,972 per cent; Cameroon 24.2 per cent and 30, 542 per cent, and Tanzania 38 per cent and 20, 024 per cent. It is pertinent to mention that the internet is not merely a mode of communication but it comes with a lot of facilities and opportunities besides creating an innovation ecosystem and new jobs.

Technological Innovations and Democracy in Africa

The increasing penetration of the internet has led to a manifold hike in the number of android mobile subscribers in Africa. This has facilitated direct interaction between the governments and their citizens through interactive websites and social media. The governments can reach out to their citizens regularly and also within seconds for crisis management. There is absolutely no need of the middlemen.

The internet-based services have also facilitated the election process, increased participation of citizens in the democratic processes, right to expression, freedom of the press and strengthen other parameters of democracy. Today, the internet can play a significant role on all the fronts where citizens feel disconnected from the political process by ensuring direct discourse. Besides, the technological innovations are also playing a key role in forging and improving international, sub-regional, Pan-African and global associations. According to the recent data, nearly 400 million out of 1.25 billion population of the continent is online. The investments are pouring in from around the world such as Google’s first Artificial Intelligence (AI) lab in Accra 20 new venture capital funds with an aim to invest in African tech startups were launched in 2019, with total capital into hundreds of millions of dollars are a few examples. Besides, the women-led tech startups are also rising in African countries with Sub Saharan Africa has 27 per cent women Start-Up entrepreneurs. The percentage of women Start-Up entrepreneurs in Uganda is 34.8 per cent and 34.6 per cent in Botswana. The World Economic Forum (WEF) had selected the top five Start-Ups that are reportedly shaping the African cities. They are Max.ng, Twiga Foods, mPharma, Life Bank, and Sendy.

Technological Innovations and Governance in Africa

There have been a number of technological innovations both at the level of governments and also at the level of private organizations to facilitate the ease of living. A number of Start-Ups and Spin-Offs are regularly launched in the African market to facilitate the citizen’s centric services directly to the people.

South Africa’s Connect, is the national broadband strategic plan, which aims to deliver affordable broadband access to 90 per cent of the country’s population by 2020, and 100 per cent by 2030, to reinforce a dynamic and connected knowledge economy that is more inclusive, equitable and prosperous. In 2019, the top nine countries of Africa – Nigeria, South Africa, Egypt, Kenya, Morocco, Tunisia, Ghana, Cote d’Ivoire, Cameroon and Tanzania collectively had 411 tech hubs. This shows rising Start-Up and innovation culture in the continent. According to a report of the venture burn, Africa’s tech Start-Ups can tap millions of dollars from new funds launched in 2019.

The Bottom Line

As the fourth industrial revolution is knocking the door, African countries have no option but to innovate and adapt quickly. The technological innovations are providing huge opportunities but also they have a cost attached to it. These technologies are fast replacing and will continue to replace most of the job opportunities created by the third industrial revolution. The fourth industrial revolution is not only reducing the jobs opportunities for the youths but also making the existing middle-age population unemployed.

Therefore, the need is to invest in the areas which could generate future jobs, train the youths besides providing mid-career training to the working population. There is a need for a new kind of entrepreneurship and transition facilities for existing businesses. WEF has suggested five broad areas for African leaders to work on – breaking traditional approach, inclusive, democratize information, create a new playing field for new business models, making collations for innovations. Besides, there is a great need to address digital disparity among the African countries to ensure a vibrant democracy.

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