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Making ICT Policy in Africa: In Introductory Handbook

This guest post was written by Lis Jordan, Programme Support Manager at fesmedia Africa.

In this digital age, the development and effective implementation of information and communication technology (ICT) policies are critical for countries to harness their full potential in driving inclusive and sustainable development by promoting universal access to information, internet universality, good governance, e-commerce, equitable quality education, among other important enablers of social and gender justice and socio-economic development.

Citizens, including women, youth and those facing discrimination and marginalisation must be empowered to participate meaningfully in decision-making and democratic dialogue and to contribute to the economic, social and political progress of their societies and countries. For this to happen, citizens need to have the means, skills, and opportunities to access, exchange and use information and knowledge through the utilisation of ICTs.

Globally, the digital divide is widening between the digital ‘haves’ and the digital ‘have-nots’, and closing the gaps – locally, nationally and globally – requires creative people-centred policies that focus on national priorities in areas that will have a positive impact on people’s lives. This is especially true for the African context, where the need for robust, people-centred ICT policies is evident.

Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES), a German political foundation with offices in over 100 countries, committed to strengthening social democratic principles, commissioned its regional media project, fesmedia Africa, to develop a handbook that would be an easy-to-follow introductory guide to ICT policy making in Africa, including what ICT policy is and why it matters. The purpose of this is to enable a greater number of citizens to effectively engage with governments about policy design and implementation to ensure that their best interests are served. The handbook seeks to facilitate the development of robust, appropriate, relevant and people-centred ICT policies and effective deployment of ICTs in order to strengthen the information and communication environments, which is a prerequisite for functional, participatory democracies.

The handbook is based on an in-depth analysis of the impact of ICT on the continent and the need for principles to guide its development, deployment and use. It provides users with overarching principles, good practices and strategies that can be applied in different contexts. It includes a knowledge check and is well cited, which makes it valuable as a training resource. The handbook also includes various tools and exercises to support users in self-driven or guided learning to apply theories and concepts to real-world ICT policy making problems.

The handbook is structured as follows:

Chapter 1: Governance frameworks and why they matter outlines a conceptual understanding of what constitutes ICT policy. It distinguishes between different legal instruments and how they interact to form the ICT governance framework. It further provides an overview of the main imperatives driving ICT policy development.

Chapter 2: The digital ecosystem introduces the layer model of the internet to frame a conceptual understanding of the digital ecosystem. It provides a conceptual understanding of what functions and relationships ICT policies typically govern, as well as identifies which key role players are involved in the development of ICT policy and their respective and inter-related functions.

Chapter 3: Rights affected by ICT policy-making sets out which rights are most directly impacted by ICT policies and how. It considers the public international law implications for how ICT governance frameworks are developed. It reflects on some of the most significant legal challenges and debates concerning human rights and the internet. Lastly, it considers some existing principles and instruments for how domestic and public international law has been applied to selected ICT governance and human rights problems in Africa.

Chapter 4: ICT policies in practice offers an overview of the guiding principles underpinning the ICT development process – from formulation to implementation. It outlines and describes the most significant steps in the ICT policy-making cycle. It draws on the lessons learned in policy development processes in various countries in the region and further abroad, providing comparative analyses and good practice guidelines, with particular reference to African examples.

The handbook is available for free download from fesmedia’s website.