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ICT's role in a developmental state

Technology initiatives are needed to add value to the economic development of the country.

Read time 3min 40sec

As a liberal and a free market advocate, it was almost impossible for me to embrace concepts such as democratic revolution and developmental state. The aforesaid concepts have been mostly propagated by those in the left (communists and socialists). Sometimes, we liberals also need to be liberated from dogma and entrenched beliefs. I got one of my liberations when Tony Leon, whom I take in high esteem, recommended Gurcharan Das' book: "India grows at night: a liberal case for a strong state".

We liberals had always advocated for a small government wherein the private sector and individuals play dominant roles; but the truth is the private sector cannot thrive where the state doesn't provide adequate infrastructure in the form of roads, dams, seaports, airports, etc. On the other hand, individuals' liberty will be thwarted if the state does not provide the necessary social services such as schools, hospitals, safety and security, etc.

In the South African context, over and above the state being strong, it also has to be developmental. For the purpose of this column, a developmental state is when the state plays some role in influencing the economic direction of the country. In other words, the economic trajectory of the country is not totally left to the whims of a free market system. Other than providing the necessary social and infrastructural services, a developmental state should drive the economic development by crafting and implementing necessary public policy.

Off course

Although the ANC has been describing its government as a developmental state, it has failed dismally to provide the necessary infrastructure to support economic growth. Due to the lack of political will in the Union Buildings, our economic trajectory has been running on autopilot.

Inasmuch as our mineral resources are attractive internationally, foreign countries found it extremely tedious to do business with SA. There are lengthy bureaucratic processes, inadequate infrastructure (rail and habours), and a complicated export procedure. If you are very lucky, it would only take you three weeks to get through the bureaucratic approval, and two extra weeks to get your exports out of the harbour. Not surprisingly, other countries are going elsewhere to get their raw materials speedily. Why does an export process take five weeks to complete, when it should only take few days? It is partly because we are still using lots of papers and manual processes. The use of ICT can play an important role in automating and fast-tracking the manual processes in exporting the South African goods to foreign markets.

Due to their employment of ICT, Mauritius and Kenya export their goods much faster than SA. Taking advantage of ICT has enabled Kenya to overtake SA in agricultural exports, and the country makes billions of US dollars per annum by exporting flowers to Europe. ICT has played a critical role in the socio-economic development of the Asian countries - China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Taiwan and Thailand. These countries have largely been described as developmental states and have been experiencing phenomenal economic success.

Not surprisingly, other countries are going elsewhere to get their raw materials speedily.

The Independent Development Corporation recently reported that ICT has contributed 12.1% towards the Kenyan 2013 GDP. If SA wants ICT to propel the developmental state, the government should work with universities and the private sector in establishing technology hubs in major cities throughout the country.

The government should build and extend on the Johannesburg Tshimologong Precinct and Silicon Cape Initiative. Various models should be employed to achieve this. These include iHub (Nairobi) and Silicon Roundabout (London). These technology initiatives should add value to the economic development of the country and boost the state machinery.

Indeed, SA needs an efficient developmental state for the economy to thrive. A stagnant and weak state will be detrimental to economic development and a threat to the individual's rights that are enshrined in our progressive constitution.

Rabelani Dagada
fellow at the South African Institute of Race Relations.

Rabelani Dagada is a fellow at the South African Institute of Race Relations. He holds a master’s of computer-based education from the Rand Afrikaans University, a master’s of commerce in information systems from the University of the Witwatersrand, and a PhD in information systems from the University of South Africa. He is on Twitter: Rabelani_Dagada

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