“Take social media seriously or lose power”, CEO of CTO advises African leaders

African leaders have been advised to take social media, such as YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, more seriously or potentially lose power. This was a view expressed by the CEO of the Commonwealth Telecommunications Organisation (CTO), Dr. Ekwow Spio-Garbrah, at the recently- concluded UN workshop on e-Leadership in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. The CTO Head cited how social media networks have played a role in North Africa and the Middle East in helping to overthrow governments and regimes. He argued that if Africa is to make a quantum leap in progress and prosperity then it must have e-leaders and e-citizens who are willing and passionate about transforming Africa.

According to Dr. Spio-Garbrah, “One of the major factors that accounts for Africa’s relatively lower levels of economic progress is our relatively weak uptake of e-transformation, e-development, e-society, e-progress and e-prosperity.” He opined that, “If Africa is to make a quantum leap in the levels of its e-adoption and e-readiness, then there must be a new African e-leader capable of transformative change in his or her country, taking the fullest advantage of all the e-infrastructure and e-tools available today.”

He bemoaned the fact that many African countries are still bogged down by leaders who do not know how to send an SMS, never send e-mails, have not heard of Netlog, MySpace or Second Life, and until some African leaders were overthrown by popular uprisings in North Africa, many had not taken seriously enough the power of such social media networks as Facebook, Twitter or YouTube.

“Now that social media, essentially e-media have shown their power and capacity to overthrow governments, let us hope that African leaders are listening, and will now take prompter action in their own interest to harness these ICT services for development,” Dr. Spio-Garbrah said.

The CTO Head explained that although when discussions of e-leadership take place in such fora, most people’s minds immediately turn to political leaders - Presidents, Prime Ministers and Ministers, e-leadership at its heart is not about political leaders or public services. “It is about empowering ordinary people to become e-citizens. E-leaders are those who empower entire communities, major companies, villages, micro-enterprises, traditional rulers, civil society, to become e-enabled and e-empowered, so that they can maximise their God-given potentials in life while reducing their daily transaction costs,” said Dr. Spio-Garbrah.

He noted that some of the elements of what enables ordinary people to also become e-leaders are such simple policies and practices as telecommuting, working electronically from home; policies and projects that network the branches of a large organisation, a bank or company; the more effective use of e-applications; initiatives that connect rural communities; better use of social media networks; measures that ensure better and more participatory interaction between various social actors, including government-to-government (G2G) communications, government-to-business (G2B),  government-to-citizen (G2C), B2B, B2C, and C2G, and more. He argued that if African countries could become earlier adopters of relevant technology, it could be possible for African countries to “cheater-pole-vault” rather than merely “leap-frog” the digital divide.

“Through our innovative research for UN agencies like UNICEF, we have uncovered unique ways in which mobile platforms could be used to advance the human condition. With the ITU, we organise periodic joint events on broadband and standardisation, and the use of ICT to manage the negative impact of disasters. We have also collaborated with the ITU’s in its leadership role within the UN family for follow-up of the agenda and Action Plan emanating from the World Summits on the Information Society”, he said.

In concluding his address, the CEO Head stated that although in the telecom world, there are often references to 3Gs or 4Gs as a spectrum or radio frequency range, the problem for many African countries was that this content on 4G networks often comprise of “Girls, Games, Goofs and Gambling”. Dr. Spio-Garbrah opined that while citizens of industrial societies may be comfortable with such unedifying content, “e-leaders of developing countries who seek the best content for their citizens should continue to promote 4Es, i.e. Education, Employment, Enterprise and Empowerment. This also means that African countries needed to become creators of their own relevant content and not just consumers of other people’s irrelevant content.”

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