Information and Communication Technologies for Reconstruction and Development: Afghanistan Challenges and Opportunities

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AUTHORS:
Larry Wentz, Frank Kramer, and Stuart Starr

SUMMARY:
The term information and communication technologies (ICTs) encompasses the range of technologies for gathering, storing, retrieving, processing, analyzing, and transmitting information that are essential to prospering in a globalized economy. Advances in ICTs have reduced the costs of managing information and introduced innovations in products, processes, and organizational structures that, in turn, have generated new ways of working, market development, and livelihood practices.

Experiences from recent U.S. government (USG) and coalition interventions in the Balkans, Afghanistan, and Iraq repeatedly have demonstrated that ICT activities supporting stabilization, reconstruction, and development operations in an affected nation can be problematic. These activities suffer from a lack of adequate understanding of the affected-nation information culture and ICT business culture. There is no clear mapping of responding stakeholder organizations roles and responsibilities. Program development, project coordination, information sharing, and ICT implementation are largely uncoordinated and non-standard. No agreed architecture or plan is in place for affected-nation ICT reconstruction.

Afghanistan ICT has truly been a success story emerging from a country left dysfunctional after 23 years of war. ICT lessons derived from this success are highlighted, as are some thoughts on making more effective use of the ICT infrastructure in the future. Findings and observations of successes and challenges are based on visits by one of the authors to Afghanistan in April and May 2006 to research the rebuilding of Afghanistan telecommunications and IT and their use as enablers of cross-sector reconstruction and development.