To Achieve a Digital Economy, Counties Should Have Their Own Chief Information Officers (CIOs) to Champion ICT Integration and Utilization

Dr. Darren Wilkins

I have learned that each county in Liberia has at least one individual who champions specific sectors of the nation. 

These individuals are representatives of various ministries and agencies assigned to those counties.  There is a County Education Officer (CEO), a County Development Officer (CDO), a County Agriculture Officer (CAO), a County Engineer (CE), a County Health Officer (CHO), a County Social Development Specialist CSDS), a County Security Representative (CSR), and the County Attorney (CA). However, there is no mention of the County Information Officer (CIO). I find this of interest given the current "zeitgeist" or should I say the 4th industrial revolution. It is even more interesting to know that we aspire to achieve a digital economy, and this has not happened. 

In a world driven by the use of ICT, one has to wonder why counties do not have CIOs to champion ICTs in those counties. Would it not be appropriate at this time for Liberia to have individuals who can help develop strategies, policies, and frameworks for ICT integration into their respective counties? Would it not be better to take a more “national” approach toward ICT integration in Liberia, instead of just focusing on Monrovia? After all, Monrovia is not Liberia!

There is no doubt that ICT has become an indispensable and inevitable need for mankind. While this is true in developed countries, it is becoming increasingly imperative in developing countries. This is supported by organizations such as the United Nations, World Bank, USAID, and other international donor institutions, who continue to stress that ICT is in fact, a catalyst to economic growth and poverty reduction.  

Even in Liberia, there have been national discourses, speeches made, and policy papers written, delineating ICT’s impact on our economic growth and poverty reduction. There have also been considerable efforts made in Liberia though, to enable possibilities for ICT to spur economic growth and reduce poverty. Some of these efforts include the creation of a free and liberalized market, the initiation of policies to regulate the market, efforts (even though limited) to build capacity and infrastructure 

While the above efforts have impacted Liberia’s ICT sector, most, if not all have been focused on Monrovia and very little in the rural areas, where the larger part of the Liberian population lives and where poverty is also high.  ICT is not being as aggressively championed in our rural sectors as it is in Monrovia. If we are to achieve a digital economy or achieve national economic growth, there must be a “national” approach toward ICT integration in Liberia. This national approach must involve stakeholders in all counties of Liberia; not just a select few in Monrovia. 

The paragraph above speaks to the glaring disparity in ICT diffusion in Liberia, especially between counties. This is related to the imbalance of opportunities between counties that are, in part, attributed to infrastructure challenges (roads, electricity, etc). But things are changing gradually in Liberia. 

In the wake of some of these developments, one could argue that there is a need for counties to have ICT representatives who will not only strategize but also champion ICT integration and utilization in their respective counties.  This person (CIO) would be responsible for county ICT strategy, the management, and the use of ICT by county employees to improve efficiency, productivity, transparency and ultimately improving the delivery of service to the public. This individual will ensure that the county's ICT strategy is aligned with its overall strategies and objectives. The individual will also provide vision and coordination in technology management and investment across the county and will be the advisor on technology implications of policy decisions. In a nutshell, the County’s CIO will identify and champion an integrated approach to the use of ICT to enhance mainstream development objectives in health, agriculture, education, security, providing livelihoods, and empowerment in the rural sector. 

Sometime in 2019, the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications (MoPT) in collaboration with USAID and other stakeholders trained and certified over 40 ICT professionals to serve as CIOs for the various ministries, agencies, and commissions (MAC) of Liberia. Those ICT professionals were also IT managers and directors of MACs, hence, the training was intended to prepare them to handle the roles of the CIO. They would form part of the CIO Regime which was developed to manage the Government of Liberia’s E-government programs.

Even though the CIO Regime initiative has NOT been fully operationalized, it (CIO Regime) fundamentally had no impact on the counties, because it was only designed as a “Monrovia initiative”. 

We have to be thankful to the government for at least formulating the National ICT Policy framework that realizes ICT as a resource for sustainable development.  However, viewing ICT as a catalyst for economic development, and implementing ICT at a national level are a few things that should top our list of priorities. The establishment of an ICT agency or a Ministry of Science and Information Technology would be another progressive step taken by the Weah-led government; a step that could lead to the modernization of Africa’s oldest independent nation. 

Thankfully, we have enjoyed several years of peace and stability.  We are endowed with an abundance of natural and human resources and we have a government that places gravitas on the needs of people, especially the poor. I strongly believe that we can leverage and benefit from new and emerging technologies only if we open ourselves to the possibilities they provide. We must embark on national initiatives that can place us in “ready mode” for new opportunities. And, we must ensure that our ICT initiatives do not alienate the rural sectors. 

Finally, some may argue that there may not be a need for a county CIO or ICT officer. I would vehemently disagree with those who argue so.  The time for such a thing to happen is NOW! Having individuals to champion ICT in the rural areas will ensure that we collectively succeed in establishing a digital economy and ultimately, a digital Liberia.

Until next week,

Carpe diem!!