E-government and democracy in Botswana: Observational and experimental evidence on the effect of e-government usage on political attitudes

The aim of this project is to discuss the extent to which e-government can promote democracy in developing countries. Expectations for the digitalization of governmental services is an increase of the efficiency of government action. This is a key motivation for governments to implement their digitalization strategies. At the same time, e-government can make government action more transparent and thus enable more participation and better control by civil society. This project contributes to a better understanding of the conditions under which digitalization can advance political liberalisation in formally democratic systems.

Project Lead:
Armin von Schiller
Sebastian Ziaja

Project Team:

Jana Bante (African Studies)

Felix Helmig (European Studies)

Lara Prasad (Politics and Public Administration)

Lea Deborah Scheu (International Studies / Peace and Conflict Research)

Jean Christoph Seipel (International Studies / Peace and Conflict Research)

Helge Senkpiel (Development Management)

Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ)

Time frame:
2019 - 2020 / completed

Co-operation Partner:

David Sebudubudu (University of Botswana)

Project description

The aim of this project is to discuss the extent to which digitalization can promote democracy in developing countries. Digitalization is praised as a ”liberation technology” that can make government action more transparent and thus enable more participation and control by civil society. But through e-government, digitalization can also make government action more efficient. This is a central motivation for governments to implement their digitalization strategies. Under what conditions can e-government driven digitalization thus promote political liberalisation?

Almost all countries in the world today are nominally democracies. However, many formally democratic systems are characterised by the dominance of few established parties and limited political competition. Botswana has also been a democracy since its independence in 1966. However, the ruling party dominates politics and leave little room for civil society. This project aims to explore ways of overcoming such illiberal equilibria using digital technology.

We are looking at a particular type of digitalization: e-government. Governments use information and communication technologies (ICT) to make service delivery more effective and efficient. At the same time, digitalization standardizes access to these services and makes them more transparent. Standardisation and transparency can give citizens a sense of equality and eligibility to receive services and enable non-governmental organisations to assert people's political rights more effectively. We therefore examine whether the introduction of ICT in service delivery improves democratic governance, support for democracy, public participation, and social cohesion.

A methodically rigorous answer to this question will be achieved by combining extant data with data that will be collected by the project team. Both observational and experimental approaches are employed to detect and induce the use of e-government services for filing tax returns, renewing driver’s licenses, as well as water and electricity payments. We aim at assessing the effect of the usage of these digital services on political attitudes. Self-collected data concerning political attitudes and satisfaction of e-government users are gathered by means of a representative survey. We link this data with existing geocoded data from AfroBarometer on political attitudes and from Statistics Botswana on the dissemination of digitalization. To combine the various strands of evidence and aggregate the results in order to answer the overarching question on the effect of e-government on democracy in Botswana, we will conduct qualitative interviews with policy makers.

The study will be conducted as a cooperative research project by the University of Botswana (UB) and the German Development Institute / Deutsches Institut für Entwicklungspolitik (DIE). Principal investigators are Prof. David Sebudubudu (UB), Dr. Sebastian Ziaja (DIE), and Dr. Armin von Schiller (DIE).

The project will generate insights on the impact of strategies of digitalization in governance. This is of particular relevance to development policy, where digitalization is promoted by many donors (e.g., the Digital Development Partnerships of the World Bank). The project also contributes to the larger research agenda of DIE’s research programme “Transformation of Political (Dis-)order” by examining the determinants of regime change and the cross-cutting topic of digitalization.

Project Coordination

Bettina Beer