Today, Zimbabwe boasts of impressive information communication technology (ICT) uptake as it joins other nations to celebrate the World Telecommunication and Information Society Day (WTISD), 2021, whose theme is “Accelerating Digital Transformation in challenging times”.
In his keynote address to mark this important day, Hon Dr. Jenfan Muswere, the Minister of ICT, Postal and Courier Services alluded to the fact that as was the case last year, the celebrations come under very difficult circumstances, when the country, together with the world at large, are grappling with COVID-19 – a pandemic that has brought about untold human carnage, destroyed livelihoods and decimated economies beyond belief and imagination.
As evidenced in the past year, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought to the fore the importance of ICTs in all aspects of life as they have kept societies and economies functional and to some extent sustainable.
Minister Muswere said the situation resulted in an unparalleled surge in the use of the Internet in providing e-services, among which e-learning, e-shopping, e-worshiping, and e-health would quickly come to mind.
“Indeed the pandemic has shined a light on the urgent need for accelerating digital transformation and for nations to expeditiously progress towards goals and targets set out in the ITU “Connect 2030” Agenda. In so doing we need not leave anyone offline.
“My fellow countrymen, given the foregoing, the necessity for greater investment in digital technologies, skills, resilience, and innovation can never be overemphasised. We need to enrich our digital space by retooling major facets of our economy in order to bring about requisite agility and resilience and to deliver greater efficiencies across entire value chains throughout the economy and across the entire nation,” he said.
Accordingly, the need to pursue a digital transformation agenda is more relevant than ever before. Never before in our lifetime have circumstances changed so fast, and has there been a greater need to adapt. This calls for concerted efforts in the consolidation of strategies that deliberately focus on ICT development, executing smart policies and effective processes that embolden investments in ICTs and digital skills, and embracing emerging technologies that are crucial to the digital economy.
Hon Muswere said his strongest desire is for digital transformation to be the cornerstone of the National Development Strategy (NDS1), which was launched by His Excellency, the President, Cde. Emmerson Dambudzo Mnangagwa, in November last year. Indeed the Digital Economy is stated as one of the fourteen national priorities underpinning this strategy for the period 2021 – 2025, as the country thrives to become an Upper-Middle Income society by 2030.
The ICT Ministry pledges to continue to play a crucial role in this transformation agenda by ensuring that digital technology facilitates the success of the NDS1’s key interconnected pillars that are aimed at achieving sustainable economic development namely, macroeconomic stability, financial re-engagement, inclusive growth, governance, social development, infrastructure, and utilities.
To this end, In terms of digital innovation, Zimbabwe has made great strides in creating a conducive environment for digital innovation. This has seen Universities spearheading the establishment of innovation hubs throughout the country and witnessed significant progress in the funding of innovation by the ICT regulator, POTRAZ’s Innovation Drive.
Relatedly, Government recently commissioned the first-ever ICT assembly plant for the local assembly of desktop computers, laptops, tablets, prepaid electricity meters, smart water meters, and other ICT-orientated equipment. With the National Data Centre and High-Performance Computer Centre already in place, Zimbabwe is on track to become an ICT innovation and manufacturing hub for the region.
The Minister emphasised that no one should be left behind in the digital revolution and that no one should be left offline. In this regard, he appreciated the efforts being made by POTRAZ and public Network Operators in extending network coverage hitherto the uncovered areas and communities of Zimbabwe.
“I however note that a significant number of areas and communities remain outside the network coverage, a situation which is both undesirable and unsustainable. I, therefore, urge all players to double their efforts in extending network coverage to all geographical areas of our country and to ensure the affordability of services for all.”
The Government recently launched the National e-Learning Strategy for Schools to complement traditional forms of learning, to mitigate disruptions to the education sector caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. As the government moves along with the implementation of the e-learning program, a number of schools are finding it difficult to fund their respective e-learning programs on account of the unaffordable Internet bandwidth.
In mitigation, POTRAZ has moved in to pay for bandwidth for 400 schools across the country from the 1st of May to the 31st of December 2021.
“While this gesture should be applauded, I call upon the Regulator and Network Operators to look for a sustainable solution to the affordability challenge bedevilling our schools, in particular rural schools. For our schools, as is the case elsewhere in our daily lives, connectivity without affordability is futile.
“Ladies and Gentleman, Government is fully cognisant of the African proverb that “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together” and indeed the journey to connect all our schools and children is a long and odious journey. We, therefore, recognize the need for a multi-stakeholder approach to the provision of e-learning at all our schools and institutions of learning. To this end, the government has gone into a collaborative partnership with the ITU, UNICEF, and the ministry of education to implement a school connectivity project codenamed the GIGA project. The project is targeted at connecting every school in Zimbabwe to the internet and every child to information, opportunity, and choice. I, therefore, would like to take this opportunity to extend our gratitude to the ITU and UNICEF for their respective roles under the project and for the progress achieved thus far,” Minister Muswere added.
He encouraged all stakeholders, to urgently and expansively pull all their efforts in accelerating digital transformation through participation in the digital economy. This will help in providing strategies to innovate to survive in this challenging environment and also connect the unconnected to ensure the attainment of the Sustainable Development Goals.
Dr. Gift Machengete, the Director-General of POTRAZ said that COVID-19 has ejected businesses and communities from the physical space into the virtual world. He said that after realising that other communities did not have post offices, POTRAZ introduced the containerised village information centres so that no one would be left out in the digital highway.