Podcast 🎧 & blog: Laying the groundwork for The Gambia’s digital transformation

21.06.2023 | Federico Plantera

Our journey to bring to the spotlight country cases of digital transformation from Africa does not stop. One occasion was not enough – the all-African panel featuring changemakers from the continent at the latest e-Governance Conference. After taking a trip to Uganda, we now head to The Gambia, to see how the country laid the groundwork for further development through digital.

Speaking today is Serign Modou Bah, Director of Telecommunications and Postal Services at the Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy of The Gambia. In this episode, next to delving into the status of digital transformation in the country, Modou Bah discusses the importance of getting right needs and policy actions, and the role of international partnerships in advancing the country’s digital journey.

Status of digital transformation in The Gambia, at a glance

The Gambia, like many other countries, is in the process of embracing digitalization and leveraging technology to drive development. “We can distinguish three categories that define Gambia’s digital transformation journey: its evolution, the assessment of digital readiness maturity, and our work on e-government services,” Modou Bah begins with.

The Gambia’s digital transformation journey began in 2005 with the goal of bringing telecommunication and internet connectivity to government offices. Over time, the country has made significant strides in digitizing processes, moving from analog to digital records.

Words do matter in understanding where the country is at: “We are in between digitization and digitalization, speaking of stages. Not yet at what is commonly identified as a digital transformation status. But we do stand as an emerging and developing government on the topic, whereby we have done certain things in certain areas, and strive now to reach a more advanced and established stage in digital development,” Modou Bah says.

Developing e-government services, advancing in maturity

That is valid, particularly, when framing their journey in terms of digital readiness maturity. The government has demonstrated strong leadership, vision, and political will to support digital transformation. Policies such as the e-government strategy 2021-2024 and the ICT for development policy have been implemented to guide digital initiatives. Collaboration with the private sector, proliferation of services, and the use of digital solutions at the government level are also notable achievements. But even if change continues, milestones have already been reached in e-government services development.

The government of The Gambia has introduced various e-government services to benefit citizens, businesses, and government employees. Notable examples include the single window business registration, which simplifies the business registration process and reduces bureaucracy. The recently launched e-procurement platform aims to streamline tender applications. Government websites provide citizens with access to information on policies, strategies, and laws. The transition from physical salary payments to electronic funds transfers and mobile money has improved efficiency for government employees. Additionally, The Gambia has implemented innovative solutions, such as mobile banking and digital wallets for social safety net projects, supporting disadvantaged individuals.

The milestones add up. By 2010, the country initiated an e-government program with a focus on infrastructure and digitalization. The establishment of an ICT unit within the government and the introduction of an e-government data center facilitated the development and hosting of various government systems and services. Connectivity milestones were also achieved through the connection to an international submarine cable. “That was definitely a game-changer, enabling private businesses and citizens to better utilize the Internet for communication and services,” Modou Bah says.

The government’s vision is to create a digitally inclusive society, where technology acts as an enabler for progress across various sectors. “You cannot talk about ICT without broadband. Studies from the World Bank and the EU indicate indeed that the more you deliver broadband to citizens, the better their life will be, and the better the economic status of the country will be.” And that’s where early support was provided.

International partnerships to meet digital needs

“The Gambia recognizes that harnessing technology is crucial for our development and competitiveness in the global arena,” Modou Bah points out. And as crucial has proven to be international collaboration, where the country benefitted from support and inputs of European partners through the AU-EU D4D Hub. Naming names in this virtuous endeavour, The Gambia found valuable partners in Estonia with the e-Governance Academy and the country’s ICT Cluster.

 “We have closely collaborated with Estonia to learn from their experiences and adopt best practices,” Modou Bah highlights. And a key milestone in the country’s digital transformation efforts was the Technical Assistance mission, conducted by European partners, that assessed The Gambia’s existing digital infrastructure, provided recommendations, and supported capacity building.

The mission proved instrumental in identifying areas for improvement and aligning The Gambia’s digital initiatives with international standards. “It allowed us to take both a whole-of-government and a whole-of-society approach, to move forward in the path towards digital transformation. We worked with eGA to glue, so to say, these two aspects. And map out not only where we stand today, what has been done so far, but what can drive digital development in The Gambia in the next five, ten years, or even few decades.”