Business Development Science and Technology

Fourth Industrial revolution a tool for digital economic transformation

Dr. Jenfan Muswere, ICT Minister

The fourth industrial revolution (4IR) offers new opportunities to transform Zimbabwe into a digitally enabled society by the year 2030, Dr. Jenfan Muswere, the Minister of Information Communication Technology (ICT), Postal and Courier Services has said.

He made the remarks during a virtual 4IR summit which is running under the theme” towards a developed economy through 4IR”. The workshop was organised by Mr. Ngoni Dzirutwe of Global Rennaissance – a business consultancy company; in partnership with NetOne, DHL, AfroSoft, and Astro Technologies.

“This discussion is quite timely as digital transformation has been pivoted as a strategy, in not only adapting to the COVID-19 pandemic and its effects but in taking advantage of the new opportunities it presents in our journey to transform Zimbabwe into a digitally enabled society by the year 2030. The COVID-19 pandemic has made us realise that for the betterment of the generality of Zimbabweans, broadband connectivity and ICT access is no longer a luxury but a right. Data has become the oil that lubricates all sectors of the economy and facets of life.

“The Government of Zimbabwe has identified a digital economy as one of the national priorities for the achievement of an upper-middle-income economy status by 2030. In alignment with the National Development Strategy (NDS1), the Government envisages a digital economy, digital government and increasingly digital society,” Minister Muswere said.

The fourth industrial revolution has brought with it many technologies such as artificial intelligence, internet of things, robotics, virtual reality, the cloud, and 3D printing which present vast opportunities in the entirety of the economy. Industry 4.0 signifies the fourth in a series of industrial revolutions, which are characterized by their ability to transform economies, jobs and even society itself through the introduction of new technologies and processes. As in the previous industrial revolutions, the impact of these changes has the potential to ripple across industries, businesses and communities, affecting not just how we work, but also how we live and relate to one another. But this time, the revolution is advancing at extraordinary speed, driven by technologies developing at an exponential rate. Amid shifting demographics and unprecedented global connectivity, not just technological, but also social and economic, Industry 4.0 can herald greater opportunities as well as greater risks.

Given the rapid changes that are now a permanent feature in the technological space, regulating the ICT sector has become a menacing challenge to all involved. The world of big data, internet of things and artificial intelligence, among other emerging technologies, flows so fast that if regulatory practices are not constantly reviewed, instead of creating an enabling environment, they can become the bottleneck in this data driven economy.

Dr. Muswere said rapid changes in technology equally affect policy makers. He revealed that the Government, through the Ministry of ICT, Postal and Courier Services, is committed to playing its oversight role as well as providing a forward-looking and adaptable policy environment for the ICT sector.

The level of utilization of 4IR technologies is not currently widespread in Zimbabwe. However, there could be potential applications to various sectors of the economy, causing disruptions in industries across the country. To systematically exploit the potential of ICTs for national development and transformation, Zimbabwe has developed an all-inclusive, focused, and forward-thinking guideline that clearly articulates how the country will develop, deploy and manage ICTs across all sectors, The Smart Zimbabwe 2030 Master Plan.

The Smart Zimbabwe 2030 Master Plan works through key specific sector-focused integrated Pillars that act as Smart Solutions and these include Smart Government, Smart Cities, Smart Agriculture, Smart Education, Smart Transport, Smart Health, Smart Tourism, and Smart Mining, among others. These Pillars are anchored on a strong foundation or common Platforms which are: Policy, Regulation and Standards; Secure and Shared Infrastructure; Partnerships, Skills, Capacity Building and Content Development; and Confidence and Security of networks and services. 

As the country moves towards becoming an Upper middle-income society by 2030, Dr. Muswere said there is a need to adopt a completely new approach and exploit the potential of ICTs by developing appropriate and cost-effective applications that can improve the country’s productivity and competitiveness.

Internet of Things and drone technologies are expected to be central to the future of agriculture. 3D printing is expected to transform manufacturing. Automation of jobs due to artificial intelligence and robotics will also cause tectonic transformations in the Zimbabwe labour market. Blockchain technology will increasingly find applications in the financial markets and even international trade.

“One of the most exciting possibilities in this era is achieving efficiency in e-commerce, which is inextricably attached to the government’s objectives under the “Ease of doing business” initiative. It is the next level that has been accelerated by the pandemic, and all sectors of our economy have embraced, in an impressive fashion, conducting business online. Put together, legal reform in the wake of this fourth industrial revolution landscape is one of my Ministry’s top priorities as we set out to expand our reach into the global market by instilling confidence in all stakeholders.

“Let me encourage all private sector players to complement the Government efforts by tapping into the various opportunities that are present in this era of digital technologies. Your role is critical as it feeds directly into the National Development Strategy which relies heavily on the employment of ICTs in propelling development initiatives across all divides of the economy and society as enunciated in our national vision 2030 by His Excellency, the President, Cde. Dr. E.D. Mnangagwa,” Dr. Muswere added.

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Byron Adonis Mutingwende