MDGs crumble at the feet of national ICT strategies

Richard Heeks’ article, “ICT and the MDGs: On the Wrong Track?” really got me thinking of the ineffective application of national and international ICT strategies in development. In particular, Heeks’ “do as I say, not as I do,” paradigm points out that industrialized countries are, “denying for developing countries the very paths to development that industrialized countries used,” (Heeks, 2005). When I began reading Ch. 5 of Tim Unwin’s textbook ICT4D I couldn’t help but notice this paradigm unfolding. In referencing the competing interests of the private sector, civil society, and government strategies, Unwin says, “It is only the government of a country that can make any attempt to regulate the balance of interests between these competing agendas,” (Unwin, 150). Unwin eventually continues with a multi-stakeholder partnership approach, but not without mandating that “sound regulatory mechanisms need to be in place,” (166). There are so many problems with Unwin’s position. First, we in industrialized nations did not get to where we are today through government regulation. Theorized by Immanuel Kant in 1784, in his essay, “What is Enlightenment?” the United States was founded on granting citizens freedom to reason and debate laws so that the laws reflect the will of the people. This fundamental right to question is exactly what is not reflected in the MDG agenda or in Tim Unwin’s approach to sound development. Do we not realize that we are imposing on developing countries the very authority we fought so hard to overthrow?

Friedrich List

Friedrich List on “Kicking Away the Ladder”

The second problem with Unwin’s section on national ICT strategy is his one-size-fits-all tactic. Unwin and many large international multilateral agencies such as The World Bank and UNDP highlight the “paramount importance that ICT4D programs should explicitly focus on the information and communication needs of poor and previously disadvantaged people if they are indeed intended to enhance equity,” (171). However, as Heeks pointed out, not only should equal weight be given to medium-and large-scale IT firms that are better equipped for creating jobs and improving exports (which increase equity), but when you establish multilateral international partnerships, it simply reinforces global hegemony. As we each saw in our data & indicator reports last week, it takes an enormous effort to coordinate an international consensus to measure ICT penetration, even in countries where ICT penetration isn’t happening. As long as we continue to enforce people at the top making decisions for people at the bottom, and a “do as I say, not as I do,” strategy that kicks out the ladder from underneath our feet, we will continue to see a stagnant, if not widening, digital divide in the poorest countries of the world. Indeed, Heeks nailed it on the head when he asked, “Where is the breaking space and support for countries to construct their own individual agendas?” With 2015 quickly approaching, don’t be surprised if we see MDGs and development goals crumble to a halt in poor countries; they still have their own goal setting to do.

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