24 July 2018

Liberia: Five Ways to Use ICTs to Create Jobs for Liberians

Photo: Boakai Fofana/allAfrica
Traders in Monrovia's largest market district of Waterside on the morning the quarantine was lifted off West Point that's nearby.
opinion

Darren Wilkins — Liberia is blessed with a youthful population who, unfortunately, upon graduation from school is forced to face the harsh realities of unemployment, and sometimes poverty. According to the United Nations, World Bank and other international agencies, Information and Communications Technologies (ICTs) can be a driver of economic development. This also means employment. Hence, developed (USA, South Korea et al) and some developing countries (Rwanda, Ghana, and Botswana) have over the years leveraged ICTs to drive their economies. If these countries succeeded in using ICTs to create jobs for their people, why can't Liberia emulate them? What do we need to start creating jobs for our youthful population? What are some of the ways ICTs can be used to create jobs and achieve sustainable economic growth?

Despite the strides we have made over the years, we continue to face challenges in leveraging the greater benefits of ICTs for economic growth and development. Like many countries where ICTs are a major player in economic development, Liberia has met or begun to meet some of the requirements for ICTs to drive its economy. The establishment of a legal and regulatory environment that has created a liberal market; the rapid diffusion of the internet, its services and technologies in the country; a mobile telephony ecosystem that continues to penetrate our society at exponential rates; the presence of broadband networks, through microwave and the fiber optic technologies which brought relatively increased access to the internet; and the establishment of ICT-focused institutions of learning are, in fact, some of the "ingredients" needed to leverage ICTs to create employment for the youth.

Indeed, it can be argued that there may yet be other ingredients needed, especially, when it comes to the infrastructure component (national fiber optic backbone, electricity, roads/transportation etc,). But, as I mentioned above, we have, and are continuing to make progress in that area. The presence of the Africa Coast to Europe (ACE) Submarine Optical fiber system and now the soon-to-be completed CSquare (AKA Google) Metropolitian Area Network (MAN) provide increased access to the internet and ICT. Major work has been done to increase the transmission and distribution of electricity, and in addition to the works done by the Sirleaf Government on roads in Liberia, the Weah Government has ambitious plans to connect major parts of the country to facilitate transportation for its people.

Given all that has been said above, there is a need to build the capacity of those who will form the labor pool. Providing the skills will equip them with the appropriate ICT skills, the awareness and soft skills that give competitive advantage in the labor market. Again, as I said above, some strides have been made in this area, but the new Government should contemplate on building the capacities of the many young men and women to give them the skills required in the new technology "zeitgeist". These young men and women will understand emerging and trending technologies and prepare themselves to tackle the challenges the come with these times. They will also bring in the necessary innovation that can lead to national economic development and build Liberia to be a hub like Ghana, which is now the home of Google's Artificial Intelligence and many other innovation centers. These newly skilled young men and women will be the ones to handle both the national and international demands and services.

Other factors needed to enable job creation through the ICT sector include putting in place the right social systems. These include: building networks of trust and recognition for workers and employers, social safety nets, and measures to minimize possible negative outcomes of ICT-enabled employment. In addition, there is a need to ensure a secure, efficient, and accountable financial systems for timely payments. Access to finance to support innovation and entrepreneurship should also be available. When all these put in place, we can use the five approaches mentioned in the subsequent paragraphs to create jobs for Liberians.

E-Government: A quick way of creating jobs through ICT is when Government invest in its e-Government programs. The e-Government programs are guided by an e-Government strategy that has over 25 programs including e-health, e-education, e-agriculture, e-transportation etc. This document, I believe is still at the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications.

An e-Government program requires all 102 (I stand corrected) Government of Liberia Ministries, Agencies and Commissions (MACs) to be connected to a single and secure ICT platform, that allows Government to deliver secure services to its people. With such a setup, a national data center is required. In addition, each of the 102 MACs will have its own IT Department which means jobs for skilled Liberian ICT professionals.

E-Commerce. With the right platform in place, the Ministry of Commerce and Industry and other stakeholders can set up programs that will encourage young Liberians build an e-commerce ecosystem. This ecosystem allows Liberians too own businesses online with brick and mortar warehouses in Liberia to store their goods, while leveraging mobile vehicles for delivery of products and services to their consumers.

Require the use of ICTs in Schools: Another way to create jobs through ICT is to require the use and integration of technology in schools. This will create the need for schools' technology specialists, network administrators and other ICT professionals.

Use Smart Cities to Create Jobs: Most cities in the world are going the smart way; they use ICT to manage nearly everything in their environment including but not limited to: water, mobility, electricity and so on.

Call Centers and Tech Company Representation: Call centers, local representation of large technology companies Like Dell, Microsoft, Facebook, Google, Sony and many more, can lead to the creation of more jobs for young and skilled Liberians. These companies are all English-speaking companies that could leverage our young population and growing nation to enhance their bottom line. A lot of Western technology companies are moving to establish presence in Africa. Most of these companies select Ghana or Ivory Coast, when they are in the sub-region and for obvious reasons. It is high time that we set the stage to encourage them to see Liberia as one of the best places to do business.

Take ICTs and ICT programs into rural areas: It is high time we decentralize our ICT activities. We need to go down to the rural areas where we need to reach the people. The building of national telecenters in each county will not only enhance universal access, but will spread ICT in those areas and create more jobs, and at some point, ease the lives of people living in those areas.

Finally, the younger population continues to grow and unemployment continues to rise. It high time that we look to other areas outside traditional areas to create jobs and have a better economy. ICTs have the potential to create new jobs while providing services and products to better our lives. We must leverage them to achieve economic development and growth.

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