“ICT is for People, and is Created by People”
What e-content means in Ghana:
A: I would define e-content as the productive output of Ghanaians applying ICT, to create or publish information for the use by people all over the world as well as by native Ghanaians. Taken in this broad context, e-content does not cover only the material available on the Internet but also the material available on airwaves such as the musical phenomenon called ‘hip-life': a popular fusion between traditional music performed in local languages and Western electronic musical production techniques.
As a developing country in one of the poorest regions of the world, this definition is needed to capture more mainstream use of ICT which tends to be less entrenched and less accessible to people than is the case in other, more developed parts of the world.
Contemporary e-content such as web sites, database driven web applications, applications delivered through GSM mobile phones and consumer and enterprise software products also exists.
The volume of use of these two types of e-content is skewed heavily towards e-content that does not require the Internet as a delivery mechanism. In a very small minority of the people, especially those who are better educated and are wealthier, the situation is reversed.
Two worlds of e-content, modern and post-modern, mirror the two worlds within Ghana: the traditional, large, less developed world and the modern, small, more developed world.
What is the current status of e-content in your country, including national e-content development across all the sectors of the industry?
Examining the e-content issue in the context of my definition makes it clear that there is significant activity and production using ICTs. It is also clear that most of this activity and production is taking place using distribution mechanisms other than the Internet.
Banks have increasingly become electronic as competition within the financial sector has compelled them to adopt technology that will enable them to operate more efficiently and to provide better service to their customers. Over the last ten years, we have seen the emergence of ATMs, telephone banking, electronic banking and Internet banking which signifies a compressed adoption cycle where technologies get adopted later than usual but within a shorter overall time frame than the corresponding experience in the more developed world.
Corporate organizations have widely different ranges of ICT usage. The differences are largely due to the size and management of the corporations. Small businesses are still predominantly non-electronic which is not surprising given the high cost of computers and software compared to GDP, per capita income and the average turnover for a Ghanaian corporation.
Larger multinationals, though they still import a lot of technology from the outside world, have also begun to use locally created technology such as software. In the area of payroll, accounting and point of sale software, Ghanaian companies have an overwhelmingly large market share and supply solutions to both small and large corporations.
Individual citizens are rapidly adopting the use of the Internet especially in metropolitan areas. The youth have a much greater propensity to use the new technologies than the older generations and most of the growth, both consumer and producer is coming from younger people who are below the age of forty.
On the producer side of ICT usage, the youth have an even stronger profile in software development, web site development, database development, music production and commercial production, whether for radio, TV or internet multimedia.
The analysis of cybercrime in the country shows a high possibility of adopting technology by the youth given the chance or positive benefit from such adoption. Cybercrime at the country’s largest Internet cafe demonstrated that the extremely poor, disadvantaged and less educated will feverishly adopt technology if there is immediate and direct benefit from such use.
Most of the perpetrators came from the poorest areas of the capital city. They would use the Internet all night (when browsing is at half price), sleep on chairs in the cyber cafe and struggle with the English needed to fill out the forms of e-commerce sites using stolen credit card numbers.
It points to a need for education that will give them the capability to take full advantage of ICTs so that they can use technology to produce more ICT output: e-content, instead of committing crimes which is the only use that the low educational level provides to these youth.
Which e-content area is best developed in your country?
I would say that e-government is best developed in Ghana. The rationale for this is not to simply provide electronic services and information about the Government to the individual citizen but to accelerate the rate of ICT adoption in the country.
Tiered adoption of ICT, starting with Government and moving on to its major internal partners such as large and medium sized corporations, educational institutions and the individual citizen, would be a powerful driver for the formation of the human resources that are really the core of ICT production and utilization. ICT is for people and is created by people.
By encouraging the growth of people producing e-content, and putting these people to work, we will create more resources, which are currently very scarce, to increase e-content development.
Obviously, this means that e-inclusion is absolutely critical because people must be given the chance, support, training and resources that they need to either produce or consume e-content beyond what is currently seen: content is distributed mainly by radio when considering the general population. It means infrastructure (which is not yet there) needs to be put into place.
Which sectors in your country are the leaders in e-content development?
Business and the private sector are by far the most aggressive in developing e-content. If it were not for them, the level of e-content production would be vastly reduced.
For both traditional e-content such as popular music or films, and post-modern e-content such as software and e-mail, the growth in each sector can be directly attributed to the private sector. Changes in Government policy that permitted the emergence of private sector participants in broadcast media, the Internet and telephone services triggered the growth of these distribution mechanisms which laid the foundation for e-content development.
The Government can thus be seen to influence the development of the e-content sector. However, in the area of telephone services, the main obstacle to growth seems to be the traditional telecommunications provider which resists the emergence of Internet telephony and a telecommunications regime consisting of a large number of smaller players (as opposed to the current oligarchy).
Civil society is playing a very significant role in both educating and pressurizing Government to consider or to recognize the inevitability of change, as well as to implement policy that will encourage the growth of the private sector especially the software and Internet service providers.
External factors such as the development partner relations strongly influence Government policies. Development partners must also encourage change by supporting development activity that will benefit the Government and the country, but that is implemented by the local private sector and geared to creating local wealth rather than increased imports.
Please describe the progress of e-content development in your country.
The early 90s saw a liberalization of the broadcast media. Before the emergence of a diversified broadcast media, the only local sources of e-content were the state owned media outlets for radio, print and television.
Print was the first medium to be liberalized, and was followed by radio, then later television. Although, the political opposition to criticize the Government used each medium, the private sector used the latter two media to distribute e-content in the form of advertising, programs and entertainment.
Competition between private sector providers has resulted in improved ICT infrastructure and the empowerment of an emerging consumer society, sought after by the private sector and entertained by the youth.
The advent of the popular World Wide Web was first brought to Ghana in the mid nineties by Network Computer Systems. Increased competition from later entrants has resulted in significant growth in the ICT infrastructure as well as created the possibility of entering the producer aspect of e-content.
However, this transition to the producer facet of e-content has been hampered severely by a shortage of human resources. The ICT infrastructure needed for education in both formal institutions and at the household level is neither affordable nor accessible.
It will be exceedingly difficult to achieve further growth in the field of e-content in the country if human resources are not urgently developed. However, I hope that the private sector will once more step in and help alleviate the problem.
Please list the major initiatives which have influenced and spurred the development of e-content in your country.
The first major e-content initiative was a pirate radio broadcast from an FM station called ‘Radio Eye’ in Accra. Prior to the transmissions of ‘Radio Eye’, the pace of liberalization was so gradual that it was an almost reluctant advance. The Government shut down ‘Radio Eye’ but was forced to quickly grant other players licenses in order not to appear to be dictatorial. Subsequently, radio has become the most dynamic medium and primary distribution mechanism for e-content.
Electronic music production in the form of rap music was performed for the first time in a local dialect and distributed and sold, and also became popular with the return of Reginald Osei from the USA who took on the persona of Reggie Rockstone and popularized the genre now called hip-life (which is also available as modern mobile telephone ring tones). The rise of the local popular entertainer marked the beginning of a vibrant and robust local music industry.
World wide web content for Ghana began to emerge in the early 90s, primarily from abroad. The first web site that chose to focus on Ghanaian content was the Ghana Home Page by Francis Akoto. This web site, early on, collected disparate information from Ghana and constituted the Ghanaian identity on the web. Today, it remains the most popular web site on Ghana and provides the most content on Ghana.
However, the quality of the e-content produced was fairly low and had a definite beginners or unprofessional feel to it due to a shortage of human resources and a low level of skill. A major initiative that changed the quality of Ghanaian e-content on the web was the Ghana classifieds site which focused on business web sites which were, however, not produced in Ghana.
My personal work also contributed towards the emergence of local web sites that were of equivalent quality to those produced outside the country.
My company, called Webstar Internet, in which I was the sole employee, produced several web sites that, at the time, transformed the image of Ghana on the web. The main company web site, which functioned as a web directory for other Ghanaian web sites, competed directly with the Ghana Home Page and compelled them to move to a more modern interface and technology which is still being used today.
I was recipient of two awards for e-content out of a total of fifty awards for Africa in a UNESCO competition. The only other recipient of multiple awards was Africa Online, an Internet service provider in four African countries which has its headquarters in the USA. Locally, I was given an award which recognized me as the Ghana pioneer in the area of e-content on the 33rd anniversary of the Internet.
Subsequently, many other players have emerged and web sites produced in Ghana are now largely competitive compared to the rest of the world. However, more technical web sites that are largely related to software development have been much slower to emerge and the market is still in its infancy.
Commercial software development was also started in the early 90s by S.O.F.T. Ghana, and today, Ghana has a burgeoning hi-tech industry that is beginning to export software and services to the rest of the world.
I am currently very active in promoting free and open source software usage and adoption in Ghana as well as in Africa as a whole as a member of the Government committee: Free and Open Source Foundation for Africa. I see this as an initiative needed, in parallel with technical training in software development, to accelerate the adoption of current technology of the same type as the bedrock of post-modern e-content: software, and software developers and producers.
Consumer adoption of the Internet and the emergence of an active civil society organized around e-content issues can be best traced to the facilities of BusyInternet, which has created what was once Africa’s largest cyber cafe. BusyInternet, by consciously striving to be more than an Internet cafe, has encouraged and attracted programmes that permit the organization and participation of civil society in e-content debate involving Government representatives, private sector participants and interested individuals.
Most recently, the Government has created a new centre that it expects to help alleviate the human resource shortage by focussing on excellence in ICT: the Ghana-India Kofi Annan ICT Centre of Excellence. We expect and hope that this initiative will have the impact needed to move on to the next phase of e-content development.
What have been the major bottlenecks in the development of e-content in your country?
The major bottlenecks for e-content development in Ghana are human resources, the infrastructure, the developmental level of the immediate market and Government policy.
The human resource problem is the most critical of these bottlenecks and requires immediate and urgent attention. Some attention is being paid to this problem through the Kofi Annan ICT Centre for Excellence but this is not yet enough to mitigate the problem.
Infrastructure is in much better shape but is inefficiently and asymmetrically deployed in favour of a few urban areas. National scale infrastructure has now been improved with the connection of the undersea SAT-3 fibre optic cable to Ghanaian computer networks, the continued roll out of national GSM mobile services by competing operators and plans to distribute bandwidth to neighbouring countries by utilizing and augmenting the fibre optic networks which already exist.
The inefficiency of distribution is very high because comparatively scarce resources are concentrated in urban areas at high prices needed to recoup investments. Government policy could improve this area by encouraging choices that will result in more co-operation and the sharing of resources such as towers and the fibre optic cable linked to overseas networks.
This has resulted in a generally low level of development when infrastructure is considered on the national level. It leads to a small market size and is a constraint on the growth of the post-modern ICT production industry, thus necessitating Government intervention (which is yet to materialize).
How do you see the future of e-content development in your country?
The future of e-content development lies in solving the human resource problem facing the country and depends, in great measure, on good Government policy aimed at arriving at a robust and widespread adoption of ICT on both the consumer and producer fronts.
In the private sector, there is a small but quality local software development industry. The future of e-content development is directly related to the ability of software development industry to provide solutions, services and support to the user community.
This is because the software development industry is essentially the interface between raw technology and the needs of the local market and society. Where local needs differ from global needs, additional technology is needed. Development of this additional technology is best done through interaction between producers and consumers.
Each stage of the refinement of a raw or new product into an established, useful and popular product depends on consumer satisfaction, adoption and feedback. Technological development, is in this context, seen as a social cycle where people apply technology for improved quality of life. In the context of e-content, software is the basic enabling technology for this social cycle of technology development.
As an expert in your country, what would be the five most important pillars of e-content development?
Human Resources: Content producers and application producers respectively provide the market and tools needed for e-content to appear.
Infrastructure: Distribution mechanisms are needed for e-Content to be as useful as possible. Their affordability, ubiquity and dependability are factors that greatly affect the development and utility of e-Content.
Market: The market is the only reason why e-content has exploded worldwide. Without a very strong demand for e-content, there will be much less of it.
Technology: Technological advances have made e-Content possible and continue to expand the boundaries of what is electronically possible. This technology is in the form of both hardware and software.
Finance: Finance is what, in the form of the dotcom boom, built up the global e-content industry, spawned a range of technologies, created and tapped markets and yet, is extremely scarce and contributes to the level of underdevelopment of e-content in Ghana.
Please explain which is the most preferred medium for e-content development: Print, TV, the Internet, Radio, Mobile/Wireless or a combination of some of these?
The most preferred medium for e-content development is TV and radio, from the perspective of the average individual expressed as the consumer.
The most preferred medium for communication is the mobile phone and wireless for the Internet and communications industry from the perspective of the private non hi-tech sector.
For the hi-tech sector, the most preferred medium is the Internet/Web, taken from the perspective of the post-modern e-content developer.