Guinea-Bissau’s digital transformation offers hope for a better future

Published on October 20, 2022

Guinea-Bissau has high hopes for its digital transformation, which has the potential to transform every part of life in the country, from agriculture and health to education, administration and Government—all of which can be made more efficient, effective and transparent thanks to digital solutions.

The country is eager to take up this challenge, but it’s facing some challenges of its own—the most pressing of which is a poor infrastructure that can limit the reach of its digital solutions. 

In order to overcome these challenges, the Government needs support from partners like the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and companies in the private sector.

A small country with limited digital capabilities

Guinea-Bissau has the highest proportion of natural wealth per capita in West Africa.

Despite its enormous development potential, Guinea-Bissau remains one of the least developed countries in the world. 

This is partly due to the country’s significant political and institutional fragmentation and instability which hamper the development of much-needed policy reforms.

The government has not fully tapped into the potential of technology to lead transformative processes. 

The potential of digital transformation for improving the delivery of government functions and the relationship between citizens and the state has not been fully exploited yet. 

This doesn’t mean there haven’t been initiatives. They have been initiatives but contrarily scattered, risking the increase of the digital divide.

The analysis of the five pillars of the digital economy underscores the importance of ensuring the proper enabling environment for digital transformation in Guinea-Bissau. 

On most digitalisation indicators, the country lacks behind

Guinea-Bissau lags its structural peers Burundi, Central African Republic, The Gambia, and Sierra Leone on most digital economy indicators, as per the World Bank’s latest Country Economic Memorandum. 

For example, only 23% of Bissau-Guineans use the internet, compared to a global average of 63%, according to 2020 International Telecommunication Union (ITU) statistics.

Guinea-Bissau was ranked 186th out of 193 countries on the 2020 E-Government Development Index (EGDI).

This index incorporates access characteristics, such as infrastructure and educational levels. 

While broadband internet access and affordability have improved significantly in the past three years, they remain low, especially in rural areas.

The country is also lacking the appropriate legal and regulatory framework.

No government-wide digital transformation strategy outlines a strategic vision and program to guide the country’s ongoing digital transformation.

According to a World Bank report, Guinea-Bissau’s digital public platforms are at a nascent stage. 

Still, promising initiatives for automated tax filing, payments and business registration demonstrate the potential for developing digital services. 

Major support from different intergovernmental organisations

Over the past few years, UNDP, World Bank and partners have stepped in to support activities to improve service delivery through digital technologies.

For instance, the digitisation of the criminal registry and the creation of several databases, among others.  

The World Bank’s Western Africa Regional Digital Integration Program supports Guinea (among other countries) in developing a single digital market in the region.

It will remove barriers to regional telecoms infrastructure, creating a single regional market for data that will allow everyone to access and deliver public and private services online within the region. 

Despite challenges, the country is focused on creating its digital foundations 

Digital Economy Country Assessment of Guinea-Bissau analyses recent achievements along the five foundational areas of the country’s digital economy. 

It proposes recommendations to ensure its vibrant, safe, and inclusive development. 

However, in order to move forward, the government needs to build institutional leadership and coordination to spearhead necessary measures.

It needs to develop a sector strategy, prepare for legal and policy reforms, and develop and enforce common IT standards.

Guinea-Bissau must develop a countrywide digital transformation strategy with a whole-of-government and citizen-centric approach to harmonise existing and pipeline initiatives.

But what good is a strategy if the citizens lack basic digital skills?

Another priority for the government would be for it to undertake a digital skills needs assessment and develop the digital skills development section of the Education Sector Plan.

That’s how it will improve performance and capacity to function and deliver services which are required to bring Guinea-Bissau at speed with the digital age.



About the Author

Mohammad J Sear is focused on bringing purpose to digital in government.

He has obtained his leadership training from the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, USA and holds an MBA from the University of Leicester, UK.

After a successful 12+ years career in the UK government during the premiership of three Prime Ministers Margaret Thatcher, John Major and Tony Blair, Mohammad moved to the private sector and has now for 20+ years been advising government organizations in the UK, Middle East, Australasia and South Asia on strategic challenges and digital transformation.

He is currently working for Ernst & Young (EY) and leading the Digital Government practice efforts across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), and is also a Digital Government and Innovation lecturer at the Paris School of International Affairs, Sciences Po, France.

As a thought-leader some of the articles he has authored include: “Digital is great but exclusion isn’t – make data work for driving better digital inclusion” published in Harvard Business Review, “Holistic Digital Government” published in the MIT Technology Review, “Want To Make Citizens Happy – Put Experience First” published in Forbes Middle East.

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