Ghanaians will be voting in December 2020 in general elections. The keenly watched poll is a re-election bid for the two main candidates. Incumbent Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo and former President John Dramani Mahama. The winner will be serving their second and final term as president of one of Africa’s most stable democracies. The vote is the eighth consecutive since the return to multi-party democracy in 1992.
Important as electioneering campaigns and messaging are, they afford both parties and other contenders the opportunity to sell their political agenda. As a 2020 Paradigm Initiative digital rights fellow, this writer zones in on the digital pledges in the manifesto of the ruling New Patriotic Party, NPP. This follows a first part that tracked the same in the main opposition National Democratic Congress, NDC’s; manifesto.
Setting tone for digital take-off
The NPP touts their achievements so far in the digital landscape and continues in the document to address areas they will consolidate and or introduce in the next term if they win the polls.
The word “digital” appears a total of 64 times in different contexts throughout the 216-page document dubbed “Leadership of Service: Protecting our Progress, Transforming Ghana for All.”
The first mention of the word digital is in the message from the president and flagbearer of the party which read in part: “We have embraced digital technology in the delivery of public services …”
In Part 5 of the document titled: Accelerating Growth and Transformation; the NPP dedicates an entire chapter to Digitisation and the Transformation of the Ghanaian Economy. Specifically, it zoned in on the digitization journey and plans to build a digital services economy and to create a leading sub-regional digital hub.
Touting digital strides from 2016 – 2020
The government summarized its digital development areas as follows: improve the delivery of public service, formalize the economy, improve revenue mobilization, deepen and broaden inclusiveness in the development process, and curb bribery and corruption.
The Akufo-Addo-led government has since 2016 rolled out a number of digital processes in the delivery of government services. Some of the notable ones being the 2018 digital address system, digital driver’s license, and vehicle registration.
Others are the digitized process of obtaining building permits, reforms for court administration, and incremental development of the Ghana.gov portal as a one-stop-shop for digital payment and revenue mobilization.
In the education sector especially, the government also touted its efforts in digitizing libraries stating thus: “Through the Ghana Fund for Electronic Communication (GIFEC), we provided students living with disability in selected tertiary institutions with assistive technology-enabled devices and training to promote their digital inclusion.”
Digitizing the health insurance system was also the other plank highlighted. The Digital Hub under which the Accra Digital Center falls is an area of innovation and enterprise for young developers that government promises to boost.
Plan, promises, and projects for 2020 – 2024
“Over the next four years, we will leverage on our existing digital infrastructure and make the necessary investments and policies to establish Ghana firmly as the digital services hub of West Africa,” the manifesto said.
In concrete terms, the NPP government promised to among others:
* Put in place generation of connected market infrastructure on which government and the economy can function.
* Rationalise the functions of bodies in the technology ecosystem and to streamline the legal and regulatory frameworks.
* Update Ghana’s spectrum policy and regulations to promote greater transparency, the competitive and rapid expansion of internet services to rural areas.
* Establish a national data center that centralizes all digital information and data storage, management, and protection.
* Increase broadband coverage, affordability of digital devices and explore innovations to ensure the visually impaired are not left out of the ongoing digital revolution plus increasing access and affordability of digital devices.
* Invest in human capital to build digital skills base, by continuing investments in teaching ICT from primary school.
* Undertake processes aimed at reducing the cost of data in Ghana. A gigabyte of data as of 2020 costs $0.94, making Ghana the country with the sixth cheapest rate in Africa.
* Other areas of interest include reduction of taxes on digital devices, lowering of the spectrum and license costs.
Digital investment makes a significant showing in the concluding chapter under the heading of “Transformation for a Ghana Beyond Aid,” the relevant portions read thus: “The coronavirus pandemic has reaffirmed our vision of building a Ghana Beyond Aid…
“… one of the pillars of which is to build a resilient economy with the financial strength to fund public services, and to ensure a strong Ghanaian presence and capacity across the supply and services value chains of all the major sectors.”
The cyberspace plans are largely limited, only reporting of successes in the first tenure. The government mentioned the setting up of the Computer Emergency Response Team with the National Communications Authority and also training police on cybersecurity.
The digital space clearly is of increasing interest to major political stakeholders in Ghana. Like the NDC, the incumbent party has given lots of space to the potential and game-changing impact of digital processes on general national life.
As reiterated by experts in the digital ecosystem, civil society and the media will be key in keeping successive governments in check to deliver on promises especially relative to legislation on digital rights and data protection.
“Civil society must track these promises and push politicians to implement as many of them as possible,” a digital rights activist told this writer.
As crucial as the digital space is, one wonders how many Ghanaians will vote on digital rights and other digital inclusion grounds.
Whiles at it, parties and candidates are busily using social media to sell their messages to the many Ghanaians with a presence on and offline. Game on, may the best party win.
The writer, Abdul Rahman Shaban Alfa, is a 2020 Paradigm Initiative Digital Rights and Inclusion fellow. He is a digital journalist who writes on major digital rights trends across Africa.