In its most recent avatar of its future areas of focus, the now opposition APNU+AFC Coalition has floated, without details, the concept of the Digital State. Scarcity of detail – both framing and otherwise – notwithstanding, the idea of redefining Guyana as a state in digital terms is an idea the time of which had come when the then PPP government had sought to promote its “ICT4D National Strategy” way back in 2006.
According to the Executive Summary of the final draft of the document:
“The Strategy is grounded in the vision of all Guyanese having the opportunity to fully participate in the information and knowledge society in order to accelerate national development and prosperity. There can be no doubt that ICT increasingly influence each and every sphere of activity today, including: economic, employment, social services, such as health and education, and cultural development. However, the ‘revolution of information’ in Guyana has still not reached a great percentage of our population.
Several factors account for this, mainly the lack of adequate infrastructure and a suitable enabling environment. The Government recognizes that in order to accelerate the reduction of the digital divide in Guyana and to increase the accessibility levels to the Information Society, it is necessary to have a coordinated plan for effective development of ICT. The actions and activities should be realistic and flexible to local conditions and have the full support and institutional endorsement of the Government.”
That draft policy, finished in April in the Land of Draft Policies, did not of course survive the elections of August of that year, even with the incumbent President Bharrat Jagdeo being returned to office with a solid mandate from the people. What started out as a consultation-based, good sense and timely public policy initiative devolved into the disastrous, wasteful and ultimately unsuccessful fibre-optic cable fiasco and the One Laptop Per Family (OLPF) circus. The then new administration came in with its own unoriginal variation on the theme, its One Laptop Per Teacher programme, the results of which remain shrouded in obscurity, not having survived 2016, the year it was launched.
In the age of boundless information and boundless imagination, when data is irreversibly transforming not only how the world works but how human beings think, and at an historically unprecedented rate, we have had over the past fifteen years a regression of public policy on the issue of what has evolved since 2006 from ICT for Development to the concept of Cyber Sovereignty.
Digital technology made its most impactful entry into the state apparatus over the past five years with the outcry against the sedition element of the Cyber-Crimes legislation, even as the rest of the world is grappling with more complex problems and solutions related to the digital space. For example, even as COVID-19 has laid bare how stark the digital divide is in Guyana, particularly in relation to public education, in other countries critical questions like digital rights, including the right to be forgotten by digital infrastructure, are being considered. After Parliament launches next week, hopefully sometime on the agenda in the short term is going to be not platitudes and sloganeering but the first steps towards a comprehensive Cyber Sovereignty Strategy for Guyana. And hopefully, this time, it will not go the way of almost every innovative strategy that has found itself submitted to an unequal and uninterested decision-making apparatus.
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