Libya: e-gov in Crisis Countries

One of our regional governance Practice leaders have been seconded to Libya for one year. The new government has strong interest in supporting e-governance. I thus received a request from our colleague to provide support for this process as well as indicating our expertise when it comes to crisis countries. Below is my reply.


I have been working on ICT for development and e-gov in UNDP since 1993 (a brief history is in one of my latest blogs here:  which BTW relates to Rio+20!). Anyways, I am mentioning this because back then we use to work in “crisis” countries well before UNDP created a separate division dedicated for this purpose. So I was in Angola, DRC, Haiti, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Colombia, etc. doing this work under extremely difficult conditions as you can imagine. When BCPR was finally created in 2001 or thereabouts they had a full-time person working on ICTs to support their work (Julia Taft brought someone from Silicon Valley) with whom we did some work. But by the end of 2003 this person had gone and BCPR dropped the ball on ICTD and e-gov (nowadays they are picking it up again ans are very excited about crowdsourcing; so we are working with them on a potential global programme on this as well as on having a joint CoP; and they loved our report on Mobile technologies!).

Now, the field of ICT for Development/e-gov is a rapidly moving target. So what we did in the 90s cannot just be replicated 10 years later as ICTs change dramatically every 2.5 years (more or less). There is a constant learning process in place in this field, more than in others in my view, which I find both fascinating and challenging.

Some Examples

So before we get into what we have learned from all this experience let me brief talk about Iraq. We started work with the CO in 2009 and in 12 months we were able to have a national e-gov programme (linked to a public modernization one) which had clear priorities that we help generated via an extensive consultation process (including the three main regions of the country). Now the situation in Iraq back then (and perhaps even now) was very complicated both politically and security wise. Even so, e-gov appeared to be a good catalyst to attract the attention of most ministries and regional governments that operate in an autonomous fashion from the central Iraqi government (this is itself is an important lessons learned that I have seen happening in many countries under similar circumstances).

The agreement was to focus on two or three priority areas one being the creation of a e-governance interoperability framework (eGIF) which will allow national institutions to interact among each other more effectively and exchange data and information on a seamless basis. On the demand side, eGIF will facilitate the creation of one-stop windows where citizens and the population in general can access both basic services and information (we did a global eGIF meeting in Brazil in 2010 and Iraq was there. Please visit which we co-host in partnership with Brazil. Korea is also a champion of this and the Iraqis were very interested in visiting. I was there last December to help our Policy Center developed an e-gov component). Other priorities including serious capacity development within public institutions with a heavy “e” component, accompanied by change management process and an effort to influence national policies on public sector e-transformation,etc.

The programme is now run in its entirety by UNDP Iraq with little to no involvement from our part  -as it should be. As I always say in my public presentations: ‘My job is to end my job” a pure dialectical proposition! We did something similar in Afghanistan in the early 2000s but unlike Iraq the UNDP CO stop supporting this in 2007 (not sure why. I met a senior Afghan official in Turkey back in 2010 and he was not only puzzled by this but very upset!). Now they want to be back and thus their new call for assistance. This is another important lesson. ICTD/e-gov is going to happen with or without us. But if we are in we can make sure that we avoid the “techies” paradox where we see heavy investments on ICTs with little to no impact on institutions or the public. We can also bring in the human development perspective as well as the participation, transparency and accountability approaches, etc.

Allow me to briefly present what we did in Mozambique where we started to work in late 2000 just as the UN peace keeping mission was leaving the country (this is another important lesson: we need to get it at the right juncture and with the right national champions!). Our work in Mozambique was heavily focused on policy development and support. We assisted the government in developing a national ICTD/e-gov implementation strategy linked to the national PRSP (called PARPA) which had 25 priority areas categorized as short, medium and long term. National and provincial consultations were done (include visits to each of the 10 provinces or states in the country) and the final document, which included feedback received from the consultations, was approved by the cabinet of ministers in 2002.

This is very important to ensure that this becomes national policy. Implementation started soon thereafter with direct support from UNDP and international donors. A national entity under the PMs office was charged to supervise (not implemented) the implementation of the priorities and monitor progress. UNDP stopped supporting this in 2007 but the country is still moving ahead with this. They are now focusing on eGIF, and use of mobiles for social and economic purposes. I can also tell you more about Angola, Haiti (before the Earthquake), DRC (a failure! in the early 2000s),
Bangladesh, etc.

Lessons Learned

Now let me put down some of the stuff we have learned in doing this.

1. Context: it is essential do some some political economy analysis of the country where we want to start to work on e-gov/ICTD. While one can argue that Iraq and Afghanistan suffered the same predicament of a foreign invasion, they are still not the same. Not at all. What they have in common is the systematic destruction of infrastructure and collapsing of functional institutions which offers a good opportunity for leap-frogging in some areas such as ICT infrastructure. In both countries for example mobile technologies took off pretty fast once the situation stabilized. Same goes for broadband access and other state of the art ICTs. On the institutional side, the lack of a well establish telco incumbent with connections to the governing elites allow for real competition in the sector and lower prices for many services. BTW, this might not be the case in Libya as most institutions have been able to remain unscathed so far

2. Local Champions and local entities: a local ICT/e-gov champion needs to be identified and at the right level of political relevance. This was the case in most of the countries where we worked. In Iraq we had the Minister of Science and Technology, in Afghanistan the Minister to telecommunications, in Mozambique the advisor to the PM on ICTs, etc. This is a necessary but not sufficient condition. Here we must add the capacity of the local champions to move the agenda forward (and here we usually help) as well as the elaboration of a “heat map” (who knows who in the highest levels of government) so we can assess if the e-gov agenda can be mainstream into the core public institutions. Expect resistance from many quarters including public servants
3. Policy first! The typical approach to e-governMENT can be characterized by the “do now and fast” syndrome. That is, I see a cool tech solution working in some other country and want to have the same in my country. I then go and deploy the solution as is and without any consideration. It is this approach that has brought forward the now infamous statistic that up to 60% of e-governMENT programmes failed in developing countries. No e-gov or ICT strategy will ever be successful if the policy issues are not address from the start. ICT champions and techies are very critical for the actual implementation of priorities and should be brought on board. In crisis countries this is actually easier if the local institutional setting has collapsed and there is little room to implement anything without having the adequate environment. This also provides a great opportunity for linking from the start e-gov policies with other broader development and governance priorities. We certainly do not want to add a new priority to an already full or overbooked policy agenda. We rather suggest new ways of doing old things while promoting transformational change

4. ICTs as a cohesive catalyst. Our experience in many crisis countries is that ICTs and e-gov initiatives, which are usually seen as neutral and impartial, can be used as good entry points for development work in environments where political and social divisions are large. In this fashions ICTs can be used to drive larger development agendas. This was the case in Iraq, Angola (in the 90s) and Mozambique
5. Address the policy gaps. There most contexts there is a marked policy divide (not digital divide!) between those who promote wide development agendas and goals and those who promote the use of ICTs and e-gov. The former do not see the relevance of the latter while the latter do not see the connections to development agendas. UNDP’ approach to the subject allows (I have already shared with you our approach) allows to address this gaps which also involves a lot of political negotiation

6. Focus on e-governance not e-governMENT. The new technologies (such as mobiles and social networks) which usually are widely used in this set of countries allow for increased engagement of stakeholders and non-state actors into the various governance processes. A sound e-governance strategy should take into account and not limit itself to the supply side (governments) which is usually the case. Work done in Mozambique and Iraq show the importance of involving all sectors and stakeholders not only in the design of the strategy but also on its implementation. The leads to more buying and long term sustainability. And this is UNDP value added and niche

7. Local governments. In most countries local and regional governments are not involved in the design and/or implementation of e-governance strategies. As a result local needs and priorities are lost in the shuffle. From both a policy and implementation levels, LGs need to be part and parcel of the e-gov process as shown by the experiences of Colombia and Iraq for example

8. ICTs as transformational. ICTs are more than just tools. They can actually lead to transformational change within public institutions and between government and stakeholders. If for example one has a bad process for supporting a given public service then adding ICTs alone will not solve the issue. What is first needed to to explore ways in which the current business process can be transformed by ICTs before any investments are made. This s the real relevance of ICTs  -but certainly not a panacea

Allow me to stop here before this really gets way too long.

Cheers, Raúl

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