South Africa, Mauritius and the Seychelles are leading in innovative government digital responses to COVID-19 in Africa, according to the 2020 edition of the United Nations E‑Government Survey released on Friday.
The 2020 ranking of the 193 UN Member States capture the scope and quality of online services, status of telecommunication infrastructure and existing human capacity. It found that progress has been made across all regions, even in the least developed countries. Over 22 per cent of countries were promoted to higher levels of e-government development.
Yet, despite the gains and major investments in e-government by many countries, the digital divide persists. Seven out of eight countries with low scores are in Africa and belong to the least developed countries group. The report noted that the regional average index scores for countries in Africa are almost one third lower (at 0.3914) than the world average EGDI of 0.60.
Denmark, the Republic of Korea, and Estonia, followed by Finland, Australia, Sweden, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, the United States of America, the Netherlands, Singapore, Iceland, Norway and Japan are the leaders in the world.
Among the least developed countries, Bhutan, Bangladesh and Cambodia have become leaders in digital government development. They advanced from the middle to the high E-Government Development Index (EGDI) group in 2020. Overall, 65 per cent of Member States are at the high or very high EGDI level, the survey said.
The report noted that even as COVID-19 lockdowns forced most countries and municipalities to pursue digital government strategies, vast numbers of people on earth still do not have access to online services.
“The pandemic has renewed and anchored the role of digital government – both in its conventional delivery of digital services as well as new innovative efforts in managing the crisis,” said Mr. Liu Zhenmin, UN Under‑Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs noted.
To beat COVID-19, many governments have put in place new tools, including dedicated COVID-19 information portals, hackathons, e-services for supply of medical goods, virtual medical appointments, self-diagnosis apps and e-permits for curfews. Many countries were also quick to deploy tracking and tracing apps, and apps for working and learning from home.
According to the survey, “innovative digital government responses to COVID-19 include online dashboards in Canada and Australia to share information and track emergency responses. In China, chatbots are used to assess patients’ risk of being infected. A community engagement app in Estonia allowed local governments to directly interact with their constituents, including through sharing COVID-19 information, posting photos and videos and even organizing virtual events. In Croatia, a “virtual doctor” is powered by artificial intelligence and developed by technology firms in cooperation with epidemiologists. In London, the use of cameras, sensors and AI algorithms, normally intended to control traffic, now measures distance between pedestrians to control social distance.”
“While e-government rankings tend to correlate with the income level of a country, financial resources are not the only critical factor in advancing digital government,” added Liu Zhenmin. “A country’s political will, strategic leadership and commitment to advance digital services, can improve its comparative ranking.”