Information and Communication Technologies for Development: A Critical Perspective
Leye, Veva, Global Governance
For more or less a decade now, the issue of Information and Communication Technologies for Development (ICT4D) has been high on the global policy agenda. The efforts of the Global Knowledge Partnership (GKP), which was established in 1997 as a multistakeholder network to promote ICT4D, have more recently been reinforced by, among others, the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), a two-phase summit that took place in Geneva in December 2003 and in Tunis in November 2005. The WSIS has accelerated public-private ICT partnerships among UN agencies, governments, corporations, and civil society organizations. ICT4D's main tenet--the assumption that the development, diffusion, and implementation of information and communication technologies (ICTs) will bring prosperity and wealth--resounds forcefully in the wider public sphere also. (1) But while critical appraisals of this development paradigm do exist, "there is little if any evidence of reasoned debate about the politics of these technologies in the forums in which decisions are taken." (2) This article attempts to publicize some of the critical remarks on ICT4D that tend to be marginalized in the global policy arena.
Taking a critical stance by no means entails ascribing conspiracy features to ICT4D. On the contrary, I am aware that ICT4D activists, whether in government, academia, civil society, or even business, are usually driven by the best of intentions. But the fact that people and institutions are devoting important efforts and resources to the realization of ICT4D projects should not in itself be taken as evidence that the ICT4D approach is unproblematic. All technological innovations, from the optical telegraph over underwater cable to radio and television, have in their times been hailed because of their "promise of universal concord, decentralised democracy, social justice and general prosperity" but subsequently also failed in terms of delivering more development. (3) In this regard, it is instructive to pay attention to the well-documented fact that the post-World War II modernization paradigm also mobilized a host of well-intentioned people and institutions that devoted lots of resources to modern communication for more than two decades but with disappointing results, as even modernization's proponents had to admit. (4) The idea was that access to and availability of radio and television would provide people with the information needed to change their behavior in order to realize economic growth. I am not arguing that history repeats itself, but merely stressing the fact that it is worrying that ICT4D generally does not display awareness of and critical reflection on more than sixty years of communication and development. However, I believe it should be possible to go against the grain serenely by pointing to the fact that the bulk of the ICT4D discourse does not question the assumption that ICTs necessarily stimulate economic growth and combat poverty.
ICT4D advocates assume that …
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Publication information: Article title: Information and Communication Technologies for Development: A Critical Perspective. Contributors: Leye, Veva - Author. Journal title: Global Governance. Volume: 15. Issue: 1 Publication date: January-March 2009. Page number: 29+. © 2009 Lynne Rienner Publishers. COPYRIGHT 2009 Gale Group.
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