The Need for a National ICT Conference to Drive the Prop-poor Agenda and Revive Our Struggling ICT Sector (National ICT Conference ‘2019)

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Dr. Darren Wilkins

“For some of us, the future is now, therefore, sharing knowledge and investing in each other’s capabilities will help us to chart the way through the extraordinarily complex labyrinth with which we are faced.” 

By Dr. Darren Wilkins | 0886703789\0777129092 | [email protected]

In 2007 when Madam Ellen Johnson Sirleaf took over the affairs of Liberia, she explored every opportunity that could bring development to Liberia; a country that had just emerged from a devastating 14-year civil war. One of the opportunities Madam Sirleaf explored was the infusion of Information and Communications Technologies or ICTs in her developmental agenda. Hence, the Government of Liberia (GoL) decided to host the nation’s first ICT Conference with the aim of formulating a national policy on ICT. That Conference brought together several stakeholders including: GoL’s Ministries, Agencies and Commissions or MACs, Local Government officials; the Liberian business community; multinational institutions such as Georgia Institute of Technology (GeorgiaTech), Microsoft Corporation, Cisco Systems, OSIWA, ZTE Corporation, HAUWEI, the World Bank among others.

Subsequent to the 2007 National ICT conference was the blitzkrieg of Liberian ICT professionals (including myself), constituting the country’s “brain gain” from the Diaspora, into country. Other developments that followed the Conference included: the creation of the Telecommunications Act of 2007, the development of National Telecommunications and ICT Policy 2010-2015, the landing of the Africa Coast to Europe (ACE) optical fiber cable and many other developments that give birth to the partial “e-environment” we continue to enjoy today. And, three years after that Conference, I would write Liberia’s first book on ICTs; “A Digital Liberia”.

The 2007 national ICT conference set the stage for many phenomenal changes in Liberia. Today, when you look around, you will that mobile phones have become ubiquitous; Internet and broadband access are becoming commonplace and affordable; ICTs have been adopted in all sectors including government, education, business, NGO, et al. ICTs now affect every development sector – supporting the work of hundreds of thousands of Liberians in government and the private sector; creating new ICT-based jobs; assisting healthcare workers and teachers; facilitating political change, etc. Indeed, the 2007 conference set the stage for many things to happen.

Yet, despite the progress made, there are still a plethora of challenges that continue to face the sector and the nation as a whole. For example, the issue of digital inequality, especially between those in Monrovia and those in the rural areas, still endures. The Government’s inability to implement a robust e-government program is a problem inherited from the previous government. The list goes on!

It has been over a decade (2007-2018), since the last national ICT conference and almost a year since the end of Madam Sirleaf’s government.  A new Government has taken over with a new agenda; an agenda intended to better the lives of the people, especially those considered poor, marginalized and vulnerable.  Now, as with any 21st century economic agenda, ICT is required to achieve the much anticipated and quintessential result; sustainable economic development. Hence, it is for this reason, I am calling on the Government of Liberia through the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications to consider a national ICT conference (National ICT Conference ‘2019). I mentioned 2019 (January or February) so that we can have time to plan and prepare for proposed the event.

The National ICT Conference ‘2019 will take advantage of phenomenal evolution that occurred across Liberia’s ICT spectrum since 2007, and bring together diverse stakeholders in the ICT value chain. This assemblage will involve discussions and the sharing exciting ideas, so as to help strengthen our ICT sector and drive the Government’s Pro-Poor agenda. The proposed Conference will play a crucial role in coordinating synergies between stakeholders and fostering ICT innovation culture in Liberia. Ad­di­tion­al­ly, the con­fer­ence could be used to fa­cil­i­tate the of­fi­cial launch of the revised Na­tion­al ICT Plan 2018-2023. This Policy is the re­sult of a se­ries of con­sul­ta­tions which have al­ready tak­en place and the con­fer­ence could bring to­geth­er na­tion­al stake­hold­ers in gov­ern­ment, busi­ness, acad­e­mia and civ­il so­ci­ety to un­veil the Policy.

The proposed Con­fer­ence will pro­vide a fo­rum in which na­tion­al stake­hold­ers will be ex­posed to and share views on key pol­i­cy is­sues and trends in ICT for de­vel­op­ment. We can also use the “Conference” to bring together youth innovators to exhibit their innovations and ideas. The Conference will allow ICT researchers and practitioners to present papers and ideas on ICT for the betterment of our sector and country.  This will make the Conference more practical.

By discussing cutting-edge global trends and inviting young innovators, the event will drive innovation and foster higher aspirations at all levels. Moreover, the conference will seek to explore the role of ICT in creating a more inclusive society for all persons.

The proposed Conference will invite all stakeholders including: GoL’s Ministries, Agencies and Commissions or MACs, Local Government officials; Local ICT firms, Local colleges and universities, the Liberian business community, NGOs, the World Bank, USAID, GTZ, DFID, Chinese Government; multinational institutions such those who were invited in 2007 Microsoft Corporation, Cisco Systems, OSIWA, ZTE Corporation, HAUWEI, GOOGLE, CSquared, Georgia Tech, MIT, Harvard, etc.

Across the Liberian spectrum, ICT has evolved over the years into a critical enabler and facilitator. It has enabled different sectors of the economy leapfrog their capabilities and, therefore flourish. Moreover, ICT has become an important stakeholder in breaking down the digital divide, making information easily accessible to many; thanks to the mobile phone and mobile internet.

As ICT continues to change rapidly, so too are the demands of people. Hence, there is a need to continuously foster cooperation and partnership amongst different stakeholders locally and globally, in order to respond to these changing demands and changing times. In order to achieve this, a national ICT conference becomes necessary. Also, new trends continue to be evident; from cyber-enabled interference to democratic elections and so on. We are stronger when we share knowledge, improve our cooperation and invest in each other’s capabilities. For some of us, the future is now, therefore, sharing knowledge and investing in each other’s capabilities will help us to chart the way through the extraordinarily complex labyrinth with which we are faced.

Now, while I am proposing a National ICT Conference ‘2019 to revive our ICT sector and drive the Pro-poor agenda, I am also proposing that the conference remains a yearly event to keep the momentum running. The Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications can jumpstart this initiative by setting up a national committee consisting of major stakeholders in the sector to begin preparations.

Finally, it is important to note that the proposed national ICT Conference is not only intended to bring stakeholders together and set the nation’s agenda on ICT. It is also intended to illustrate real Government’s commitment and pledge to ICT development in Liberia.

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