By Abadir Ismail Aw Abdi
ICT is not panacea that can solve every problem of a society. Most development experts accept that ICT can assist poor countries in solving most of their economic, social and political problems. It also brings new development opportunities for our Country.
It is sad to note that Somaliland, is not taking timely advantage of the opportunities brought about by ICT. In the past, the cost of ICT equipment could be considered as the major hindrance preventing the popularization of ICT in developing countries. Today, with the fall of the price of computers and communication equipment’s, it can no more be considered as the primary inhibitive factor. On the other hand, it is becoming increasingly evident that the Somaliland ICT Commission does not see eye to eye with its Government thus creates a major burden for the development of ICT in Somaliland. In this article I will attempt to examine some policies or reasons the National ICT Commission pursues that bear direct or indirect impact on the development of ICT in the country. I will also propose alternative policies that I believe can help in improving penetration of ICT in the Somaliland.
One of the main reasons why ICT is not developed in Somaliland is due to the fact that, it has been considered not so important by the general population and, most importantly, by high government officials, heads of private and government organizations, etc. It is therefore appropriate to clarify the role that ICT can play in solving the development problems of our country, before talking about policies for ICT development. The National ICT Commissions website is half done, once you click on a link an error page is returned so that should give you an idea of where we are now.
The chairman of Somaliland National ICT Commission, Eng. Ali Cabdillahi Daahir has made it clear that the Commission is unable to fulfil its mandate because the drafted laws have not been approved by the parliament, however that does not mean it could not be amended to satisfy reasons for not approving the laws. Personally I believe there are other factors preventing the National ICT Commission from assuming its tasks and legally/officially becoming operational. Those factors will affect Government miniseries and big Companies in Somaliland who don’t wish to be transparent or held accountable financially or work efficiency wise.
The Somaliland public service has become a major bottleneck for the whole economy. Today, it takes several months to process simple papers in government offices. For example, legalizing land/property transactions at the local Government/municipality in Hargeisa is generally a painful activity that needs several days of attempting to find the right official at his/her office and at times the whole process takes several months to complete.
The following benefits can be achieved in Somaliland by implementing ICT:
Increased efficiency: A major cause of most socio-economic development problems indicated above arise from work inefficiency. For example, one of the bottlenecks in public organizations is all the archive systems, where all documents are stored. Often, it takes days to find a file since it is displaced or simply because the filing system is not properly organized. Computerization can shorten this time several thousand times. Simple databases that can be accessed by all employees thus data can dramatically improve the currently inefficient information system within government organizations. Many of the problems of the public sector stem from the lack of adequate access to public information by the public at large.
ICT can improve this situation by bringing up-to-date information to the public. For example, corruption which is one of the major problems that paralyze the public sector and greatly contribute to bad governance can only proliferate in organizations that hide information. On the other hand, transparency helps organizations fight against corruption. As someone once said, transparency is the worst enemy of corruption. ICT cannot by itself create transparency but it can help a determined government to create transparency. For instance, in a country where Internet is widely used, any organization that wants to provide information to the public can achieve that goal by establishing a web site at minimum cost.
Computerization of activities: In spite of all shortfalls, it is undeniable that the number of computers in the country is increasing. Nevertheless, very few activities are being computerized. Most government offices continue using the old manual operations to carry out their daily activities. This is because most organizations still do not have a good understanding of computerization. In general, they believe that computerization consists of only purchasing computer and employing a female admin staff to type up letters. In practice, they allocate little or no resource for software and consultancy. As a result, most computerization projects do not contribute considerably in the increase of the efficiency of the organizations (which I choose not to name).
Current policy problems related to ICT in Somaliland
Human resource development
As indicated earlier, an acute shortage of human resource prevails in the ICT area. Although this is a well-known fact, the government has not yet defined a clear policy on ICT related human resource development. For instance, ICT related education is not given the same degree of importance given to education and research in agriculture. Hence, it is feared that even the existing ICT education programs, especially those in government higher education institutions, may be abandoned altogether. A glaring example that justifies the foregoing fear is that the Hargeisa University will find it difficult obtain the necessary fund to purchase new computers for the computer science Department and to pay their maintenance fee.
Integrated national ICT development strategy
At the national level, one major constraint preventing accelerated growth may be attributed to the lack of an integrated national ICT development strategy. As a result, each organization implementing computerization is required to find its own solutions. For example, almost every organization, government or private, needs to computerize its payroll, stock management, management information system. Likewise they need software to use script in computers. Those organizations with dispersed offices also need to use ICT for information exchange between their offices. In these endeavours, there is virtually no exchange of experience resulting in unnecessary duplication of efforts and waste of resources.
Presently, no policies exists relating to ICT which has evidently proved non conducive for development of ICT in our Somaliland. As a result, our Country is not getting the benefits and opportunities that these technologies can offer. Therefore, it is high time for the government to make immediate and major changes with regard to ICT.