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African Government Websites — New and Improved, Or Not?

Accessible design, intelligent curation, links that work and easy navigation — just four of the key elements that make a website great and criteria that is universally understood by both website creator and website user right?

In 2014, I wrote a piece about the sorry state of most African government websites. Having looked at more than 15 websites in detail, my conclusion was that many African countries were stuck in a technology time warp.

My explanation for this boiled down to a number of factors — bureaucracy, bottlenecking, a lack of understanding and education, nepotism and favouritism, long procurement cycles for even the most minor of government technology projects, slow speed of approval and a high turnover of senior management at government agencies.

I followed the article up a few days later with an infographic which illustrated the situation starkly — and a reference to a Techloy piece about South Africa’s WordPress debacle, a website that ended up costing $8 million. That isn’t a debacle — that’s almost criminal.

In the interests of fairness, however, I feel now is the right time to go back to those websites and take another look at the situation and this time I also want to include governments’ social media presence.

First, though, let’s look at what government tech experts feel are the requirements for a good government website.

The UK Government Digital Design Service principles include: starting with needs, doing less, designing with data, doing the hard work to make it simple, understanding context, making it all inclusive, iterating and iterating again.

Govtech.com (which focuses on IT’s role in state and local government) says that some of the things every good website should have are:

1. A site that adjusts automatically to you and your device of choice

2. Curation and discovery, together — intelligent editorial decisions and information that is easy to find, quickly

3. Bright, bold simple design

4. Having navigation, search and social options always there where you need them.

First up is Kenya’s website:

This has had a revamp since 2014, thank goodness. My criticism of the old website was that it had too many font types and colours, different logos juxta positioned and that the menus were all over the place.

And now the website has a more uniform, branded look to it, and there are less font types and logos. Personally, I’d prefer a simpler, more streamlined design — just as the government tech experts recommend.

· The website is device agnostic (though that’s definitely where a more streamlined design would come in to its own)

· The search, navigation and share options aren’t always there where you need them

· Not all the links take to you the right place — press briefings on the front page takes you to a holding page.

Senegal:

My original criticism of the Senegal website was that I thought it lacked originality, being too similar to the Ghana website — but who knows, maybe it was the other way round? I can search and I can navigate easily but I can’t share. But joy of joys, I am offered the option of optimising the site for my iPhone!

Angola:

OK Angola — you’ve upped your game since last I visited you… I can share, I can search and I can up the font size to make the page easier to read. And heavens, there’s even a Twitter widget (oh, the modernity!). But it’s too busy, way too busy…

Tanzania:

It loaded quickly — and seriously that’s good compared to a lot of them. There appears to be no changes since last I stopped by. I get what they are trying to do — a one-stop shop, and that’s admirable (as it the changing how do I section on the left hand side to suit) but there are more aesthetically-pleasing ways to do this, surely?

Seychelles:

No change here! My main issue with this — from a design point is that it’s not recognisable. Brand recognition is vitally important in this day and age. It’s straightforward, right enough, but honestly — I don’t think any graphic designer worth their salt would ever hold their hands up to this. Not unless they wanted to be laughed out of the place.

South Africa:

They too have had a make-over since last I visited. (And a mission statement change.) As I said before… not bad, but too much text. As I say again, not bad, but too much text.

Ghana:

A marked improvement from 2014. Perhaps influenced by a new government in place? It’s a cleaner and easier to navigate website with more details about the government itself as well as projects being carried out. Did someone read my article?

Cameroon:

Design, navigation etc … all remain unchanged from 2014. These ones are specifically fond of ‘stability’ like that.

Nigeria:

‘The website will upload shortly…’ From a website that existed to a blank page. To be honest, I wasn’t surprised given the current state of affairs in Nigeria. Everything is still ‘set to happen…’

Senegal:

Loads like a snail and is much worse than it was in 2014. Giving the strides the government of Senegal has made since the arrival of President Sall, one would think this would be reflected online as well?

Zimbabwe:

The last time I visited, I thought the website was done in 1999. Safe to say this time, I think it’s been upgraded to 2003.

Rwanda:

In 2014, I thought they were the kings of ICT. It’s 2016, two years of innovative technology later and I think they can move with the times. I still give it to them when it comes to relevance, details and information. This website is packed with it.

Looking at African internet and mobile use, Internet world stats figures show (30 November 2015):

· Internet penetration in Africa — 28.6 percent

· Highest internet use is Nigeria (92 million plus), followed by Egypt, Kenya and South Africa

· The highest number of Facebook users is in Egypt (27 million).

On that point, moving onto social media… hello? Hello? Is there anyone out there?

Taking the four countries with the highest internet use, then what are the Nigerian, Egyptian, Kenyan and South African governments doing to be social? (For simplicity’s sake, we’ll confine this to Facebook and Twitter.)

Nigeria — nothing on their website — website is till to come up remember? It’s standard practice these days to invite people to follow/share. The Nigerian government isn’t doing it. And nor do they appear to be on Facebook, while the Twitter account is yet to Tweet. However, Nigeria does have quite a few institutions, public offices and officials on social media. The president for one is VERY active on Twitter.

Egypt — the government’s Tweets are protected, and you need to request permission to follow them. In the interests of research, I sent the request. I’ll let you know. No presence on Facebook, though there is an Egyptian e-government services portal that hasn’t been updated since 2011.

Kenya — no official government page, though there is a Kenyan Government-Kenyan People page that invites folks to post anything they would like the government to look at with a polite request for no bad language. It has 129 likes. No Twitter presence. President also has active twitter and facebook pages.

South Africa — ooh, the excitement! An up-to-date Twitter account (the last tweet had been posted 27 seconds ago when I last checked it out) with some 24.4k followers and an about statement that gets it right — their Twitter account offers easy access to public information and services. I’m so taken with it I’m almost tempted to click follow.

On Facebook, there’s the South African Government and South African Government news, both of which probably fall into the category of dull-but-worthy. It’s an oft forgotten rule — social media is for sharing and interacting. It is not solely a broadcast tool.

In general, researching this piece took much longer than it should have done because the sites are soooooo slow to load. Again, research has shown that 40 percent of people will stop if a site takes longer than three seconds to load.

That might say something about modern-day attention spans, but if it’s reality your government website builder needs to deal with it. Though you might argue that the majority of the nation aren’t using the internet, it’s still something that peoples all around the world are doing.

In conclusion, my recommendations are:

Simplicity — great design is really simple and recognisable.

Branding — see great design above. Use branding properly and your site is instantly recognisable.

Check content — is it easy to use, does it use jargon and too many acronyms, is the information available, is it correct, can you actually use that information? Why do I need to call a friend of a friend of a friend to find out what it takes to get a work permit for Cameroon when it has an immigration department which should be online/on social media?

Mobile-adaptability — figures show that internet access via mobile phones in five of Africa’s major markets (South Africa, Nigerian, Kenya, Ghana and Uganda)) stands at 40 percent. So why are so many of African governments’ websites non-mobile friendly?

Presence on social media — well, this last one is political isn’t it? Many governments will shy away from Facebook, Twitter et al because they fear the tonne of abuse that will inevitably come their way the minute they raise their head there. That’s an argument I can’t hope to solve, but maybe administrations will take this on going forward.

What do you think? Are there any websites I haven’t mentioned that stand out in your eyes? If you could make over a site, what would you do?

Further reading:

Government design principles: www.gov.uk/design-principles

Government tech: http://www.govtech.com/e-government/5-Things-Every-Good-Website-Should-Have.html

African internet stats: http://www.internetworldstats.com/stats1.htm

African mobile use: http://www.itnewsafrica.com/2015/04/study-reveals-african-mobile-phone-usage-stats/

Compendium of Global Digital Statistics 2015 via WeAreSocial: http://www.slideshare.net/wearesocialsg/digital-social-mobile-in-2015?related=1

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