Information Technology & Capacity Building for the Global Environment (Africa)

Information Technology & Capacity Building for the Global Environment (Africa)




W. Qlabode Aiyepeku

Africa Regional Centre for Information Science (ARCIS)
University of Ibadan, Ibadan, Nigeria

Akin Iwayemi

Department of Economics
University of Ibadan, Ibadan, Nigeria


Isola S.Y. Ajiferuke

Africa Regional Centre for Information Science (ARCIS)
University of Ibadan, Ibadan, Nlgerla

Final Report of a Study Undertaken for
Global Environment Facility (GEF)

October 1994


Executive Summary


Development, Global Environmental Concerns, and Developing Countries Capacity Building for Environmental Management, IT, and the African Situation: Terms of Reference for the Study Organization of the Report


General Considerations
Demand and Supply Factors in the Adoption & Assimilation of IT
Concepts of Change, Innovation and Diffusion
IT Adoption and Capacity Building
Examples of Uses of Computer-mediated Technologies


Use of IT in Research, Policy Formulation and Management
Constraints to the Use of IT in the Region
Approaches to Solving African IT-related Problems


The National Planning Commission (of Nigeria)
The Forestry Management, Evaluation, and Coordination Unit (of Nigeria)


Political and Economic Action
The Institutional Environment
Regional Initiatives





I. Acronyms and Abbreviations
II. The Consultants


Considerations o f building an African capacity for the effective use of information technology in environmental management are presented in the larger context of the challenges of sustainable development While developing countries generally have a more difficult task than their industrialized counterparts in this regard, the Africa Region is faced with particularly daunting problems which require special understanding and assistance by the international development community. African countries and their institutions can be assisted to make effective use of information and telecommunications technologies for policy formulation and decision making generally, and for environmental decision making, monitoring and management in particular, to enhance productivity and the qualita tive development of the Region.

Some conceptual issues are discussed Information has increasingly become a vital resource input in the sustainable development equation. Therefore, African countries must appreciate the inevitability of using IT and network s to help close the huge development gap between them and the industrialized nations, and even several Third World countries of Southeast Asia and Latin America. Concepts of change, innovation and diffusion are explained and illustrated as background to a discussion of the dynamics of the innovative use of IT and its assimilation processes. It is being suggested99 that these dynamics and processes need to be fully understood and appreciated by African countries, if they are to effectively internalize the us e of IT and networks in their development activities. Only then will the capacity building potential of using IT and networks to address specific GEF concerns in Africa be appreciated and internalized

A discussion of the demand and supply factors in the adoption and assimilation f IT is presented with greater emphasis on the demand side. The objective is to explore the likelihood of success or failure of efforts to adopt IT and networks in promoting th e GEF cause in Africa, against the backdrop of the po or track record of assimilating imported technologies in developing countries. The role of public policy; actor costs; the macroeconomic environment; complementary infrastructures and skills; and costs associated with attempts to improve knowledge and IT u se, are the demand factors discussed. On the supply side, the key factors include the activities Of international organizations, multinational companies, and donor agencies which, having internalized IT and networks in their headquarters, are often eager t o do the same at the local, national and regional levels of their operations abroad.

The pattern of linkage between IT transfer, its adoption and capacity building
in the recipient region is an important issue in the assimilation process. Without a
minimum quantum of local skills, the transfer and internalization processes would be
hampered. IT use reinforces capacity building by encouraging the IT user to operate
within an information resources milieu that has neither local nor national boundaries.
The possibilities of sharing environmental information and getting assistance to
environmental problems across space and time help to build up the much-needed
reservoir of specialized African skills in using information and networking technologies
to address the GEF concerns in particular, and to enhance sustainable development
in general.

The discussion of conceptual issues is illustrated with specific examples of how the use of computer-mediated technologies might enhance productivity and facilitate research, policy formulation, decision making, and management, with particular emphasis on environmental management . While drawbacks in such applications IT have also been reported, the general consensus is that the advantages of using9 IT far outweigh the disadva ntages, and that its adoption should be actively encouraged 9e in Africa for addressing environmental and developmental issues on the continent

Serious constraints to the use of IT in Africa include acute shortage of funds an unreliable telecommunications infrastructure, chronic shortage of skilled personnel deferring tariff rate structures and connection topographies. The absence a1 a enabling environment for IT use is manifested typically in the form of insufficie nt O non-existing information about information systems and technologies; lack of computer culture and, therefore, lack of an appropriate support network incompatibility of systems; inadequate local support for acquired hardware; and t- scarcity of good, easy-to-use and affordable software that is adaptable to l c I conditions.

A number of suggestions have been proffered to ameliorate or remove , identified constraints which directly or indirectly affect the GEF objective of building an African capacity in the use of IT to leverage environmental decisions. Among them, the follow ing stand out:

. Intensifying educational programmes and, ultimately, making schooling compulsory and accessible to all;

. Ensuring computer training at a!l !C e!s of educat,on;

. Encouraging the computerization of the private sector;

. Creating a sound and effective telecommunications infrastructure in each African country;

. Attracting foreign investments in IT through tax incentives;

. Promoting an IT awareness in African societies;

. Formulating appropriate policies to regulate the activities of donors of IT equipment;

. Setting up cabinet-level committees to lead, plan and coordinate national computerization initiatives; and

. Promoting collaboration and coordination between African governments.

In addition, a number of suggestions are discussed to ensure the sustainability Of IT use, education and training -- suggestions which highlight collaboration between African public and private sectors, and among institutions responsible for the education and training of IT personnel in order to maximize the use of scarce human and material resources.

An assessment of the use of IT in two Nigerian public sector organizations: the National Planning Commission (NPC) and the Forestry Management, Evaluation and Coordination Unit (FORMECU), is presented. Despite valiant and commendable efforts, the discernible success of NPC at institutionalizing IT into its organizational structure, or administrative and service delivery system. is minimal. A significantly hi gher degree of success has been recorded at FORMECU. The constraints are identified and suggestions for addressing them are briefly discussed as a necessary condition for promoting specific GEF objectives in such organizations.

Although no general picture of the African situation can emerge from such a small sample, it had been possible to learn a number of lessons that will prove valuable when more African organizations and countries are covered in a larger survey.

Three broad groupings of factors in African capacity building for using IT to promote environmental quality are identified as: Political and Economic Action; The Institutional Environment; and Regional Initiatives. The topics and sub-topics are by no means exhaustive. The view is strongly canv assed, however, that the most important factors are captured in one or more of the groupings, and that policy and action, from whichever perspective, will benefit from a careful consideration of the issues raised and discussed under them.

Under Political and Economic Action , the following factors are briefly discussed:

. The need for a strong and purposeful national leadership that recognizes knowledge in general. and IT use in particular, as a vital factor of national and regional development;

. Wh y African political and economic leaders must come to grips with the realization that effective access to, and effective utilization of, public domain information resources is a function of an efficient and reliable telecommunications infrastructure;

. The need for an indigenous technological base;

. The economic and political advantages of professionalizing IT careers in Africa;

. Why something must be done to stem the flow of technological skills from the public to the private sectors of African economies; and

. How funds for the capital-intensive IT infrastructure might be sourced and how IT use might be managed as a revenue-generating enterprise.

It is agreed that focusing specifically on the provisions of the GEF mandate might not produce the desired results in Africa, without first addressing the fundamental, IT- related issues discussed in this part of the report.

Under the sub-topic: The Institutional Environment , it is emphasized that capacity building thrives or dies in an institution. Therefore, the institutional environment presents a veritable ground for the identification and nurturing Of important aspects of ACBiT. Five areas are discussed as follows:

. Encouraging individuals with foresight and perseverance to attract African capacity building programmes for IT use into their institutions. A systematic analysis of African success stories in this regard should produce broad patterns of individual and g roup behaviour, within an institutional setting, that could be adapted to the process of evolving, monitoring, and evaluating African capacity building programmes for IT use in specific institutions;

. Inculcating and sustaining an indigenous equipment maintenance culture which should have an important spin-off that cuts across all aspects of African capacity building initiatives that depend significantly on equipment. Professional staff, whose effect iveness depends heavily on the use of equipment would experience a substantial boost in morale if they can be guaranteed an institutiona l environment in which such equipment are not permanently out of order. Moreover, the chances of further motivating and retaining skilled, technical local personnel should be significantly enhanced as a result;

. Assisting appropriate centres of excellence for education and training in IT use to evolve, especially in institutions which already have an excellent national and institutional telecommunications infrastruc ture and / or the basic academic infrastructu re, such as schools of communications, electrical/electronics engineering, and information science;

. Promoting specific education and training programmes that encourage IT use in appropriate African universities, polytechnics and technical colleges, as well as ensuring the training and retraining of IT users at all levels through appropriate workshops and seminars; and

. Developing effective twinning packages between a selected number of African institutions and an equal number of institutions in developed countries. The primary focus would be t he systematic transfer of IT skills to staff in the African institutions, to enable them mount workshops, seminars and courses on specific aspects of IT use for the benefit of different levels and categories of African communities.

In recent years regional and sub-regional development initiatives have experienced something of a resurgence in Africa. It is, thus, becoming increasingly clear that a major strategy of African development should be the strengthening of existing regional p rogrammes to fulfill th eir mandates, or the creation of new ones to address specific development issues that appear best suited to the regional approach. African capacity building for IT use is considered appropriate in the context of this study from at least three perspectives:

. Incorporating the GEF concerns into specific projects to promote IT use in Africa, such as the ongoing Capacity Building in Electronic Communications for Africa (CABECA) project which aims to significantly enhance the IT use capabilities of some 25 Af rican countries. The project is funded by Canada s IDRC and based at the Pan African Development Information System PADIS) of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UN-ECA);

. Extending more patronage to existing regional education and training institutions especially by persuading Africans at all levels that African training institutions, if given maximum support to fulfill their mandates, will serve Africa s developmental needs better than foreign-based ones. Desirable multiplier effects c an be achieved by sending a far smaller proportion of the large numbers of Africans who continue to pursue their education and training outside Africa, to appropriate African institutions. On their return home, they would constitute most valued and cost-ef fective trainers of trainees in IT use, especially at the lower echelons of the public sector, in environmental and other development issues; and, finally,

. Promoting more effective use of available human and material resources in the Region, especial ly at the tertiary level of education. The objectives of the recently launched Consortium of African Schools of Information Science (CASIS) may provide a model that could be adapted or adopted for using information and networking technologies to advance th e GEF cause in Africa.


. That the GEF, alone or in collaboration with other international development agencies (such as Canada s IDRC). evolve and actively support a results-oriented African Capacity Building for Information Technology (ACBIT) programme.e, both in he short term (say, five years) and mid-term (ten years) using, as much possible, existing African human, material and institutional resources.

. That every opportunity be taken to persuade African political leaders at national and regional levels to evolve and implement a policy of acquiring and using knowledge and IT as a vital development resource, and to invest substantially and continuously in an effective telecommunications infrastructure as the bedrock of such policy.

. That the advantages of using information and networking technologies to promote. monitor, and sustain environmental concerns in all aspects of policy formulation. decision making, and management for African development be actively

(a) Initially, through a regional seminar or workshop where national policy makers responsible for environmental issues, as well as selected IT specialists in the Region, learn to understand, appreciate and work together to promote: (i) the objectives o f Agenda 21 and oth er Rio Agreements, with particular emphasis on the GEF mandate; (ii) the responsibilities of African nations with respect to implementing the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development; (iii) how information and networking technologies might help Afric an nations to achieve sustainable development in a sound environment; and (iv) the need for a definitive national plan of action to promote the GEF cause.

(b) Thereafter, through periodic reviews of progress made in using information and networking technologies to promote environmental concerns in all development programmes in the Region.

. That the World Bank, UNEP and UNDP use their considerable influence with other international development agencies and NGOs, to help raise the capital required for long-term investments in building and/or upgrading an African IT infrastructure and for it s short-term maintenance.

. That a major effort in African capacity building for IT use be targeted at a selected number of African institutions, with a view to:

(a) Encouraging individual initiative in bringing the IT use culture to Africa as rapidly as possible;

(b) Promoting a few centres of excellence for appropriate educational, training and retraining programmes in IT use;

(c) Inculcating an IT equipment maintenance culture in several institutions. with a view to promoting a desirable multiplier effect in others; and

(d) Evolving effective twinning programmes, with a strong emphasis on GEF concerns, between a selected number of African institutio ns which are actively engaged in promoting capacity building for IT use and an equal number of institutions in other African and developing countries, Europe and North America, and using appropriate electronic networking technologies to maximize the spread effects of twinning beyond the paired groups.

. That the GEF, perhaps in collaboration with other international development agencies, identify and encourage regional and sub-regional programmes in African human resource development in communications and information science by helping to strengthen such programmes to address the specific use of information and networking technologies for capacity building geared towards implementing the GEF mandate in Africa. Specifically, the GEF may wish to initiate or collaborate in:

(a) Establishing, maintaining, and utilizing an African Environment Database at PADIS to help promote environmental concerns as an integral part of socioeconomic development efforts in the Region;

(b) Providing annual bursary and/or fellowship awards for students to specialize in environmental systems and technologies, tenable in specific African regional or sub-regional institutions;

(c) Promoting a more cost-effective use of Africa s human and institutional resources in information and networking technologies, using existing collaborative initiatives, such as ASIS. That the GEF, alone or in collaboration with other international development agencies (such as Canada s IDRC), evolve and actively support a results-oriented Afric an Capacity Building for Information Technology (ACBIT) programme. both in the short term (say, five years) and mid-term (ten years) using, as much possible, existing African human, material and institutional resources; and

(d) Funding an annual training of trainers course on Environmental Information Systems and Technologies at INFOTERRA (UNEP) or PADIS. The participants would include computer-literate environmental scientists1 as well as computer/information scientists who are sensitive to environme ntal issues Subsequently, the GEF should encourage the participants to share the knowledge acquired more widely by subsidizing sub-regional and national workshops, organized by the trainees who attended the training of trainers course.

Editor: Ali Dinar,