Revitalizing Liberia’s ICT Sector: The Road Ahead
By: Dr. Darren Wilkins
A few days ago, we elected a new government to govern the nation for the next six years. Even though they say “government is continuity,” almost every government comes with its own agenda that makes fundamental or superficial changes to policies and projects of the previous government.
Moreover, in the era of rapid technological advancement, a robust Information and Communication Technology (ICT) sector is essential for the socio-economic development of any nation. Liberia stands at a critical stage where revitalizing its ICT sector can catalyze progress and open new horizons. As a new government takes over, we anticipate strategic planning, investments, and a collective commitment to harness the transformative power of technology.
Revitalizing our ICT sector initially requires a comprehensive assessment of the current landscape. Other crucial steps that must be taken include an evaluation of our existing infrastructure, digital literacy levels, and regulatory frameworks. Identifying strengths and weaknesses will provide a roadmap for targeted interventions. These steps will help pave the way for a thriving ICT sector.
Upon evaluating the areas mentioned above, some action will need to be taken to ensure the sector is revived to a point where it can boost socio-economic development. One area that requires action is our ICT infrastructure. A solid ICT infrastructure forms the backbone of technological progress. We must invest in expanding and upgrading its telecommunications networks, ensuring reliable and high-speed internet connectivity across urban and rural areas. Infrastructure development is not just about connectivity; it includes the establishment of data centers, cybersecurity measures, and the integration of emerging technologies.
Another area that requires action is digital literacy. Empowering the population with digital literacy is fundamental to the success of any ICT-driven initiative. We need to implement comprehensive programs that equip citizens with the skills to navigate the digital landscape, fostering a tech-savvy workforce capable of contributing to a knowledge-based economy. We can do this by empowering the University of Liberia and other tertiary, vocational, and high schools. Investing in digital literacy programs at the high school level will help us build a critical mass that will jumpstart a digital economy.
Encouraging entrepreneurship and fostering innovation are catalysts for economic growth. We should create an environment conducive to tech startups by offering incentives, funding opportunities, and mentorship programs. Collaborations between the government, private sector, and academia can establish innovation hubs and incubators that nurture homegrown talent.
One area that innovation hubs in Liberia could improve is artificial intelligence. Over the last decade, artificial intelligence (AI) has come to be regarded as the next important step in the ICT revolution. AI can be defined as the use of machines and software developed with specific techniques and approaches for a given set of human-defined objectives, generating outputs such as content, predictions, recommendations, or decisions that influence the environments with which they interact. AI systems are able, for example, to substantially improve the efficiency of production processes for goods and services when “fed” good-quality, relevant (training) data. AI is considered a general-purpose technology (like the steam engine, electricity, and computers before it) with a wide variety of applications in many industries and sectors.
The remainder of this paper is devoted to explaining the AI productivity paradox and, in doing so, providing some policy recommendations on how to increase innovation and knowledge spillovers in order to revive productivity growth.
As a government operating in the 21st century, we expect the new government to ensure that it meets the standards of a quintessential 21st century government, which is characterized by the systematic adoption of electronics, telecommunications, and computers to disrupt the traditional governance models. This disruption provides greater efficiency in the governance process as well as novel possibilities and modes of communication. Hence, the adoption of e-government solutions to streamline public services, enhance efficiency, and reduce bureaucratic hurdles is a must for the new Unity Party-led government. We should prioritize the development of digital platforms for service delivery, e-health, e-education, and e-agriculture. Such initiatives not only improve citizen engagement but also contribute to transparency and accountability.
Now, as Liberia embraces the digital age, it must fortify our defenses against cyber threats. Establishing robust cybersecurity measures, including the training of professionals and the implementation of stringent regulations, is paramount to safeguarding critical infrastructure and data. Previous governments made strides in this area, but there’s a need for a new government to act swiftly and expeditiously to ensure a robust cybersecurity regime exists. This means that the cybersecurity law that has been drafted and sent to the Legislature needs to be revisited, revised, and subsequently passed into law as soon as possible.
Another way to revive our ICT sector is to continue collaboration on the international stage. This can bring invaluable support and expertise. We should continue to engage in partnerships with global organizations, neighboring countries, and tech giants to leverage knowledge exchange, funding, and best practices. International collaboration can accelerate the pace of ICT development and position Liberia on the global tech map.
Reviving the sector must also ensure inclusive access to ICT. This is essential for bridging socio-economic gaps. We must implement policies that promote affordability, accessibility, and digital inclusivity. Initiatives such as community digital centers can facilitate ICT access for marginalized communities.
Continuous advances in ICT technologies have led to a new digital reality where new sectors, products, and services have been developed in a rapid digitalization of the world economy, with high-level automation a popular industrial and business practice.
Finally, resuscitating Liberia’s ICT sector requires a holistic and multi-dimensional approach. The road ahead involves a strategic blend of infrastructure development, digital literacy initiatives, entrepreneurship support, e-government solutions, cybersecurity measures, international collaboration, and inclusive connectivity. By embarking on this transformative journey, we can harness the full potential of ICT to drive economic development, foster innovation, and improve the overall quality of life for its citizens. The time to act is now, and with concerted efforts, we can position our nation as a tech-driven nation on the African continent.