Africa’s ICT-less border posts ‘a worry’

By Issa Sikiti da Silva, reporting from West Africa

Strong technological mechanisms needed to be put in place at  border posts to ensure that the movement of goods and people coming in and out is tightly and efficiently monitored, especially amid a rise in terrorism and drug trafficking.

This is the view of technology expert Ibrahima Diabaté who was reacting to a Biztechafrica investigation about a myriad of ICT-less border posts operating on the African continent.

Much of Francophone Africa is a case in point. Here, travellers find many makeshift and roofless border posts in a shambles, manned by computer illiterate cops and soldiers and allegedly corrupt immigration agents, who spend hours writing the names of passport and ID holders on pieces of paper or make-shift school books.

Cops and soldiers have no business being there, Diabaté says, unless they have an advanced degree of ICT knowledge besides their military training.

But border agents disagree. Many of them interviewed by Biztechafrica vowed to resist any change in the way border posts are being managed.

A man identified only as John said: “I have been working as an immigration agent for the past 20 years, being deployed here and there and doing the same thing over and over again. Believe me, I’ve never seen any terrorist  or a drug trafficker walk in here.”

His working place could not be named for fear of victimisation.

“What you need is not a damn computer or the latest body scanner, you need to have your eyes wide open and a huge degree of intelligence to detect the bad guys and the bad stuff.”

“Look at the US, they have all the technology in the world and the best security ever, but why didn’t they stop the 9/11 terrorists. It shows that technology is nothing but a piece of invention, and human courage, vigilance and excessive force is the best way to deal with the bad guys.”

Diabaté says this sad state of affairs shows that governments in Africa have failed to deliver on their promises to reform the public sector and therefore fully implement e-government tools to enhance service delivery service through cost and time reduction.

“Do you think that it’s our fault that we are still operating in these chaotic offices without even a fax machine and a landline phone? ” John asked.

“Just imagine that if we want to use the internet or do some fast typing or send a fax we have to cross over there, ” he said, pointing to the border post of the neighbouring country.

“They have been promising to ‘modernise’ these border posts ever since, but it’s now almost 10 years and nothing has been done until today. The pay is not even good, that’s why some officials try to get something from the people coming in and out." 

The e-Government Development Index (UN, 2010), which assesses a country’s capacity and willingness to  use e-government for development, among others, said that Africa continues to lag far behind the world average in terms of e-government progress.

The African Journal of Information and Communication (issue 12, 2012) said that the latest survey, which ranks countries and regions on a scale between one and zero,  indicates that Africa scores a low 0.27 compared to the world average of 0.44 on e-government.

Insofar as e-government project implementation is concerned, it is claimed  that  projects mainly  ended  in  total  or  partial  failure though  some progress has been made post-2002, the African Journal of Information and Communication said.

These assessments, if accepted uncritically, paint a sombre picture of e-government development in Africa, it said.


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