For most of the francophone countries the development and implementation of informatics policies by appropriate institutions has taken place mainly in the public and parastatal sectors. With the exception of Congo, and, for a long time, Madagascar, the private sector was only indirectly considered.

It must be recognized that everywhere the government was the main client for informatics. The private sector remained undeveloped, at least in the 1960s, either by force of circumstance or by political choice, especially in economies geared to scientific socialism.

Informatics policies were not always easily accepted, and often met with hostility from public bodies and even more from parastatal enterprises which preferred to safeguard their right to initiate their own policies. MECHANISMS OF IMPLEMENTATION

Governments had recourse to the following types of mechanism:

a) A National Informatics Commission or Committee, for formulating and developing the policy;

b) A National Department or Executive Office. A different situation arose in Madagascar, where, from 1979 to 1988, the Special Counsellor of the Head of State held personally the responsibilities assigned elsewhere to these agencies.

c) Informatics Plans. Some countries, such as Senegal, produced these regularly; others, such as CÙte d'Ivoire, twice to date, and yet others, such as Congo, produced one;

d) Legal instruments regulating imports. IMPACT OF INFORMATICS POLICIES

Wherever the formulation and management of informatics projects was totally in the hands of a national organization, set up to implement informatics policy, the country experienced a delay in relation to its real level of development. The cases of Congo and Madagascar illustrate this point.

Although, at a given period, Congo injected substantial resources into informatics, the country did not reach the hoped for phase of development, Madagascar even less so, few resources having been allocated to informatics projects.

Benefiting from a more diversified economy and from a substantial private sector, CÙte d'Ivoire and Senegal, where informatics policies were more indicative and stimulative, appreciable results were achieved, thanks to the cooperation of the concerned sectors.

On the credit side of these organs of promotion, it can be observed that financial departments of government ministries and agencies at first merely submitted to introducing information technology, but eventually adopted it, becoming more and more proficient, until today they could not do without it. Success was relative. It is also true that many of these enterprises did not survive the economic crisis which raged throughout the region. In general, however, they can no longer operate without the computer. In other areas of public administration penetration of the computer was selective and progressive.

It is microcomputing, because of its affordable cost and user friendliness, which has done more for the promotion of informatics than all the mechanisms and legal instruments put together.


Many of the mechanisms and directions of informatics policy have become obsolete and inappropriate as a result of the microcomputer revolution. Today the microcomputer can be a personal working tool as easily as it can be a collective one. Software exists for all sorts of applications and all that is required is that it is obtained from the editors. Using a computer is becoming easier and easier, but above all its cost has come down to a point where it is within reach of many more people.

Telecommunications facilitate dialogue among computers of any capacity, and access to numerous data banks is possible from anywhere.

User training is provided by many centres and businesses. Universities and specialized schools are more and more equipped with the human skills, hardware and software needed to educate and train computer professionals.

Problems of compatibility of equipment have been considerably reduced. Standards have developed and it has become difficult for a manufacturer to hold a client captive.

The problem of creating computer awareness, which is still relevant, takes on a different complexion. Many countries have abandoned their informatics guidance mechanisms and their former claims. NEW OBJECTIVES

The new objectives for promotion and guidance mechanisms appropriate for a present-day national informatics policy would appear to be those assigned to the Senegalese DINFO.

The National Informatics Committee is maintained as a meeting place, to exchange views on projects initiated by ministries, to establish priorities and coordinate action.

The Informatics Plan ensures that objectives are followed and arbitrates on the allocation of resources.

A mechanism similar to DINFO in Senegal would seem to be necessary. It would have the following objectives :

1. Preparation of meetings of the National Informatics Committee and monitoring of the implementation of its decisions;

2. Monitoring of technical assistance in informatics and relations with economic operators;

3. Coordination in the deployment of informatics staff in ministries and parastatal organisations;

4. Preparation and establishment of master plans and formulation of projects;

5. Definition of standards, methods and systems for the formulation. implementation and evaluation of projects;

6. Initiation of pilot projects of national interest;

7. Keeping a watching brief on technological developments and providing advice on launching projects;

8. Study of legal problems concerning the use of information technology;

9. Coordination of multipartner projects;

10.Modification of mechanisms, methods and procedures concerning the implementation of information systems;

11.Study of the state of the art in courseware and teaching aids, and research on computers in education;

12.Development of a programme of informatics for all, and support for professional informatics associations;

13.Pursuit of relations with foreign and international teaching establishments and participation in selection of informatics students applying for scholarships;

14.Organization of awareness raising and training of staff in the techniques and methods of informatics. JUSTIFICATION

There are computer projects which, by their very nature, interest several ministerial departments and often even the entire nation. Formulating, implementing and operating such projects requires numerous consultations and, ultimately, arbitration, an activity best assigned to an organism with the appropriate powers.

Equally, other projects in the nature of pilot projects can take off only with the support of a promotion organism, the outlook and scope of which overarches sectors often operating within traditional confines, or fearful of the uncertain outcome of such initiatives.

Lastly there are spheres which, without this dedicated mechanism, would have neither any obvious officer in charge nor convinced promoters; foreign relations, keeping up with technological developments, definition of standards, adoption of new methods and techniques, monitoring inter-ministerial decisions, consideration and proposals for legal provisions to improve the awarding of contracts to informatics companies - all this cannot be left to chance.

Presently computer training is being offered by innumerable schools and private institutes, which are beginning to resemble buyers and sellers in a vast market for dupes and con artists. Supervision of computer training institutions should be exercised, so as to protect applicants from all kinds of disappointment.

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Editor: Dr. Ali B. Ali-Dinar, Ph.D
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