Imagine yourself living in Glehyee Zorpea, Yarwin Mehnsoloh District, Nimba County or in a town that lacks access to Information and Communications Technology (ICT).
Then imagine the frustration and agony that people living in that area experience as a result of the manual and old ways things are done, while their countrymen in other parts of the country continue to benefit from ICTs. Now, imagine you live in a setting blessed with modern ICTs that are used to improve your life. Can you feel or see the divide?
I believe that life without ICTs is incomplete, no matter which continent or country you may reside in. The importance of ICT cannot be overemphasized and therefore, should not continue to be at the bottom of our list of national priorities.
If we are to achieve economic development, we must embrace ICTs and take maximum advantage of their applications to our society.
Today, I write not as a Lecturer in the field on Information Technology, but as a passionate Digital Rights Activist, who understands the meaningful contribution they (ICTs) can make to our economic development programs.
Put succinctly, any nation that prioritizes the effective use of ICTs, positions itself to achieve a high gross domestic product (GDP), something that is an indication that the lives of a nation’s people are improving.
Pause for a second! Then take a look countries (Ghana, Nigeria, South Africa, Kenya, Rwanda, and others) that leverage ICTs to drive national economic development.
You will find that each of these countries have achieved not only economic development, through ICTs, but also level of modernity that compares to developed countries.
The use of ICTs in any nation presents a lot of possibilities and benefits. For example, rural dwellers are provided a medium via the Internet to gain knowledge and also be connected to other parts of the world simply through the click of a mouse or the use of a mobile device.
Rural dwellers in many cases are denied access to opportunities that are normally available to urban dwellers. ICTs have the potential to bridge the gap and allow rural dwellers the opportunity to participate in governance and other socio-economic issues.
ICT studies have shown that it (ICT) can have a positive impact on nations’ efforts to reduce poverty and improve the lives of people. This brings me to another point.
The Government of Liberia has adopted a pro-poor agenda. One of its many efforts to bring relief to the struggling masses, especially students, is the implementation of a digital registration platform to ease the registration process at the University of Liberia.
This is a commendable move which is greatly appreciated by students of the University of Liberia. But the Government should not stop there; it should use ICT in a broader way to improve the lives of all the people.
The areas of e-commerce, e-health, and e-education are still at embryonic stages. In the area of e-government, the Government has made some strides and must continue to do so for good governance as well.
ICTs cut across all sectors of our nation. The areas of education, agriculture, health, finance, security, and other sectors, rely on ICTs as a catalyst for sustainable economic development. Without ICTs many of the sectors within the government structure will not be able to communicate with each other.
With ICTs, our education sector could benefit from e-Education which allows e-learning and online learning. In the health sector, ICT facilitates the provision of healthcare through telemedicine. The business sector stands to benefit from e-commerce and e-banking.
The government itself can experience the impact of ICTs through e-Government thereby improving service delivery to the people as well as its governance mechanisms.
In the area of agriculture, farmers can experience the benefits of ICTs through e-Agriculture. These are just a few of the areas and ways in which ICTs can impact our nation.
In a country afflicted by poverty, there have been many efforts made by past governments towards its alleviation, if not eradication. Most recently, the Government of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf worked vehemently to fight and reduce poverty through its Poverty Reduction Strategy mantra.
That fight made little use of ICTs as a driver to achieve the goal of reducing poverty. The result is a country almost 173 years old with tremendous natural resources, yet faced with an extremely high level of poverty.
Now, a new government is in place, with an agenda that is intended to be pro-poor. Unfortunately, early signs indicate that very little emphasis will be placed on ICTs integration in Liberia. The allocation of $300,000 USD for a student registration system at the University of Liberia is commendable.
While this initial act by Government is much appreciated, the amount is insignificant, considering the size of the University of Liberia. More funding needs to be provided to the nation’s highest institution of learning to allow students to enjoy the benefits of modernized pedagogy.
To achieve his pro-poor agenda, President Weah and his lieutenants or advisors must strive not only to improve the lives of Liberians through ICTs, but they should also work toward bridging technological gaps that exist between Liberia, Ghana, Mauritius, Nigeria, and others developing African countries.
I am using this medium as a Digital Rights Advocate and President emeritus of the Liberia Information Technology Students Union (LITSU) to call on the Government through the Ministry of Education, to ensure that the standards of our technical institutions including the United Methodist University (UMU), Starz College of Science and Technology, Bluecrest University, MVTC, Barshell University, Nimba County Community College (NCCC) and other technical institutions across Liberia, are supported and encouraged to meet international best practices and standards.
Another request from me to the President and Government of Liberia is for the establishment of a national research center or institution to encourage research in Science, Technology, Engineering/Environmental Science, and Mathematics (STEM).
This will foster national development and certainly help to beef up the skills that are desperately needed for social, political and economic transformation in Liberia.
Despite what I have said above, there has been some progress made over the years. In an effort to reform the sector, in 2007 the Telecommunications act was passed which made the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications as the policy arm of the ICT sector; the Liberia Telecommunications Authority (LTA), as the regulator, while the Liberia Telecommunications Corporations (LIBTELCO) serves as the national operator. This was intended to provide checks and balances for transparency as well as efficiency.
Also, in 2015, according to the Liberia Telecommunication Authority, internet penetration was anywhere from 2% to 5%. Today, that percentage has grown exponentially. In addition, mobile penetration which was lower in former years has also grown significantly over the years, with all 15 counties of Liberia have access to mobile connectivity.
As I write this article, my grandmother “Ma Kamah Tingba”, who resides in Glehyee Zorpea, Yarwin Mehnsoloh District, Nimba County, now has a phone and access to the Internet.
We also look forward to the advent of C-square/Google Metro Ring in Liberia. This Metro Ring is expected to increase our internet penetration, lower cost and improves the quality of internet services to us as people.
In closing, I would like to reiterate my call for actions to be taken to bridge the wide digital divide in Liberia. I am asking President Weah and his administration to view ICT as the “enabler” and “driver” of economic development and invest in them (ICTs).
In my opinion, this will help to improve our gross domestic product which then trickles down to politic, social and economic development.
I put my pen down for now, before doing that, let me remind you that ICTs are here to stay. They have changed the way we live and they will continue to do so for a long time.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Willie Bee Tingba, Jr. holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Information Technology Infrastructure Management Services/ Computer Science from the United Methodist University (UMU). He is a Digital Rights Activist, Part-Time Lecturer at the BlueCrest University, Liberia and President emeritus for Liberia Information Technology Students Union (LITSU). He can be contacted on the following number and email addresses 0777538605 Email: [email protected] / [email protected]
Willie Bee Tingba, Jr.
Digital Rights Activist, Republic of Liberia