The fate of a digitalising government and a digital flagbearer


By Amos SAFO

Can digitalisation make a difference in the 2024 General Elections? This question has become critical in view of the emphasis President Akufo-Addo and Vice President Dr. Mahamudu Bawumia are placing on their success in digitalising the economy.

As Vice President and currently the flagbearer of the New Patriotic Party (NPP), Dr. Bawumia has become the face of the government’s digitalisation drive, a success he alluded to in his February 7, 2024 inaugural speech at the University of Professional Studies.

According to him, President Akufo-Addo assigned him the task of leading Ghana’s digitalisation drive, with the broader objective of building a knowledge-based economy; a task he has executed successfully as Vice President.

In fact, Dr. Bawumia branded himself as the brain behind the government’s digitalisation agenda.

The government’s digitalisation drive was reechoed in the State of the Nation’s Address (SONA) delivered by President Akufo-Addo. The President stated that Ghana was making giant strides in digitalisation, and the initiative was improving transparency, accountability and efficiency in the public sector. Digitalisation is also accelerating the growth of our economy as well as making Ghana part of the global digital revolution.

“This Government, after all, is the Digitalisation Government, and the man who has led the entire digitalisation process these past seven years, is my indefatigable Vice President, Dr. Mahamudu Bawumia, Dr. Digitalisation,” the President said. He further noted that: “NPP’s excellent presidential candidate for the 2024 election is coming up with what will allow everyone and anyone to check on every project being undertaken by the government. We are calling it the Performance Tracker. You can check and satisfy yourself about the status of the projects and their location, and you could stop by and make a physical inspection if you were so minded”.

Digitalisation agenda

In fact, Dr Bawumia redefined the role of Vice Presidency in Ghana by spearheading the government’s digitalisation agenda. On assuming office in 2017, he focused on transforming Ghana’s economy through digitising various sectors of the economy in line with the global drive toward digitalisation. In his February 7, 2024 speech, the Vice President stated that he derives satisfaction from solving problems and “I have done so whenever I am given the opportunity and will do more if I am given the mandate to do so”. He stated that he had long held the view that many of the problems facing the economy could be resolved through digitalisation.

According to him, Ghana can only build a vibrant modern nation if there are strong systems and institutions. “My approach was to help to formalise the economy through digitalisation as stated in our 2016 manifesto.”

Moreover, Dr. Bawumia noted that so far, the government has made inroads with the digital housing address system which, according to him, make it possible for every house to be identified in Ghana.

Individual and household identification makes it easy for banks to provide clients with loans, as the individuals and businesses can be traced if they default in payment. Hitherto, lack of proper household identification scared banks from giving loans.

In fact, the resuscitation of the once, non-performing Ghana Postal Company is directly attributed to the digital housing address project.

National identification

Another element of the digitalisation drive is the on-going National Identification project. 17 million people have been registered and obtained their national identification cards as of 2023. The card has world-class features, as it captures 10 fingerprints as well as the iris of individuals.

It is also consistent with the ECOWAS standards and bears the ECOWAS logo. He explained that the benefits of national identification to the individual and the country are enormous. For instance, linking the national ID system to the digital address system will further enhance the identification process and promote better and inclusive development planning.

Furthermore, the Ghana Card has features of an electronic passport (e-passport) that contains biometric information that can be used to authenticate the identity of travellers.

Ghana has sought approval from the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) to activate the e-passport function of the Ghana Card and as of 13th October, 2021, Ghana officially became the 79th member of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) Public Key Directory (PKD) community.

The ICAO Public Key Directory (PKD) is a central repository for exchanging the information required to authenticate e-passports.

This means that the Ghana Card will be recognised as an e-passport and can be read and verified in all ICAO compliant borders – in 197 countries and 44,000 airports in the world. When this happens, holders of the Ghana Card will be allowed to board any flight to Ghana. Furthermore, when the Ghana Immigration Service is linked to the NIA architecture, diasporan Ghanaians who hold the Ghana Card will not have to obtain visas to travel to Ghana. The Ghana Card is already valid for travel to all ECOWAS countries.

Mobile money interoperability

No discussion on digitalisation can be concluded without mentioning the “mobile money interoperability” system. The Vice President disclosed that when his government assumed office in 2017, they were faced with a major problem of very few people having access to financial services.

To solve the problem, he championed the implementation of Mobile money interoperability (MMI) with the permission of President Akufo-Addo. MMI has made it possible to transfer money seamlessly across different mobile money providers and between bank accounts and mobile wallets.

Consequently, it is now easy for anyone to transfer money from a bank account to a mobile money wallet or pay for goods and services across all money platforms across the country within 24 hours. He explained that apart from achieving financial inclusion, MMI has also promoted a cashless culture among market women and the business community, thus reducing robberies and attacks on the highways.

Digitalisation of hospitals

Another sector that digitalisation has positively impacted the economy is the health sector. Dr. Bawumia disclosed that his government has overseen the connection of health facilities under the Ghana Health Service (GHS) on to one digital platform. So far, all teaching hospitals and all regional and district hospitals have been connected and can talk to one another.

The goal is to network over 90 percent of all hospitals in Ghana by the end of 2024. This indicates that if a patient is referred from one hospital to the other, the patient does not need to carry a folder, since all records have been synchronised and can be accessed by doctors in hospitals across the country.

Also, following digitalisation, renewal of health insurance registration via mobile phone can take place 24 hours a day, an initiative which has eliminated the previous bottlenecks and increased access to healthcare by those who need the services most. Dr. Bawumia emphasised the “24 hours a day” in apparent response to John Dramani Mahama’s “24-hour economy” alternative.

What is remarkable about Ghana’s digitalisation journey is that the various initiatives were implemented using local IT companies and local talent. It was deliberately done that way.

Building a digital economy

The Vice President further outlined plans to build an economy based on technology and data systems for inclusive economic growth. This, according to him, will be done by applying science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), robotics and artificial intelligence for the transformation of agriculture, healthcare, education, manufacturing, Fintech and public service delivery.

“As part of this process, it is my goal to eliminate the digital divide by achieving close to 100 percent Internet penetration. We have already made very significant progress in this direction by increasing Internet penetration from 34 percent in 2016 to 72 percent in 2023. The task, in the next four years, is to move from 72 percent to 100 percent.

Moreover, he outlined plans to boost technical and vocational education and training (TVET) education. This will be augmented by with a National Open University in collaboration with the private sector, with a focus on technical and vocational skills and ICT.

“Furthermore, the Vice President noted that his government plans to develop the digital talent needed to fuel the Fourth Industrial Revolution. This will mean providing digital and software skills to hopefully create jobs for the youth. “In collaboration with the private sector, we will train at least 1,000,000 youths in IT skills, including software developers to provide job opportunities worldwide,” he said.

Despite the potential of digitalisation to transform the economy, for many voters, it means little to them and may not influence their pattern of voting. This means that the ruling party and its flagbearer will have to adopt a new branding and communications strategy to make digitalisation a strong election campaign message.

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