Editorial Comment – Surmounting E-Governance Obstacles

The Korea International Cooperation Agency, KOICA, on March 27, 2015, signed a Memorandum of Understanding, MoU, with the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications, for a three-year E-governance project.

KOICA’s Resident Representative to Cameroon, Kim Tae Young, said the MoU seeks to establish the project’s master plan. A glamorous word as master plan could mean much in terms of what to expect from the initiative, which is apparently still in the budding state, given the path still to be covered for Cameroonians to feel the effect in their daily lives.

However, with approximately FCFA 1.2 billion to be put into the project, and over 300 Cameroonian officials from the public and para-public sectors expected to be trained, the country is expected to grow by 30 per cent on the United Nations E-governance classification. Such figures give enough reasons to be optimistic that the four-phase project will take Cameroon to a more positive level as far as the use of the Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) are concerned.

This means people in almost all parts of the country could at the end of such a promising initiative be able to consult their files in the government services online without going through the hurdle of travelling to Yaounde or having to give bribe to a proud and lazy civil servant who is arrogantly spinning on a swivel chair waiting for the next victim. That also means the interminable queues in front of bank counters for monthly salaries and at utility-service companies to pay bills, may be a thing of the past.

There are several attempts that have been made to get Cameroon on board the digital trend, but the obstacles have often been so numerous and daunting that many wonder whether the will power to do so really exists. There are even those who suspect that some imperious individuals who probably make personal gains from the current snail-pace quest for electronic-governance in the country would not accept any shift in situations that can deprive them of their booty.

The vexing issue of corruption has certainly been a major obstacle to the growth of a viable virtual environment in Cameroon. Thus, most corrupt practices have often found a comfortable bed in the direct human contacts that characterise the rendering of services to the population in most government ministries. It may not be preposterous to qualify such blockages as moves to hold back a stream with bare hands. The whole notion of globalisation is today so crucial and indispensable that no group of people can pretend to ignore. We either join or remain forgotten forever.

With the existence of an optical fibre in Cameroon for over 10 years, the slow passage from 2G to 3G mobile services has been a sign of a waste of resources. Now that the country has finally authorised the existing mobile companies to move on, the hope is that the Korean MoU with Cameroon could herald better growth prospects. Youth, students, civil servants, business operators and farmers, all stand to benefit so much from an e-governance programme or technology that works.

It may not be important to compare Internet use in Cameroon to that of other countries within the continent that face the same realities, but the truth remains that Cameroon must boldly go for what is right. Until now, access to the Internet has mostly been through the computer. But with the proliferation of mobile telephones and the recent authorisation given for 3G, the context definitely opens a wider window of opportunity to the population if other obstacles are lifted.

However, electricity that powers ICTs remains a major headache in the country, with business operators complaining so often. Even where energy supply exists, its reliability and constant flow can hardly be guaranteed. The decaying state of some Community Telecentres meant to offer telephone, Internet and computer access to local communities in the country are visible examples of the challenges that most ICT efforts face in Cameroon. The high cost of infrastructure has not only been a problem to the masses who lack the means, but poor maintenance rendered the existing structures so obsolete that those to whom the structures are provided hardly find value in them.

In addition, most government officials have often functioned as if providing certain services to Yaounde and Douala alone suffices to indicate that the entire country is well catered for. Needless recalling that for government services to be effective, those who require them in all the nooks and crannies of the national triangle must be able to have the way in.

Source : Cameroon Tribune

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