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Shifting the national mindset: Sustainable development through ICT

It is often said that individuals build families, families make up society and societies build a nation. However, when addressing issues of social transformation, it is evident that the nation, represented by structures, has greater influence on the generality of the people. Policies and ideologies that are driven at national level determine how a society progresses.


Zimbabwe as a nation, like any other country, is endowed with magnificent resources: minerals, fertile lands, wildlife, climate, and chief among the resources is human capital. However, tracking global developments, it is evident that development is now technologically driven through automation, digitisation of everything, artificial intelligence, robotics and many other shifts in the global economy. Our great nation ought not to be a laggard in this jet fast evolution of the productive world.

In my many years of active experience within the telecommunications industry, I have observed so many shifts in our technology space. The shift from satellite-based internet connections to high-speed broadband when Powertel Communications first connected Zimbabwe to the world in 1999 through fibre connections,effectively integrating Zimbabwe to the global world. Shift from 1G to 2G, 3G, 4G internet connection; we talk of LTE with a capacity download speed of 100Mbps.

Fixed internet was only the preserve of blue chip companies, but now even homes are connected using stable fibre connection. I could write a whole book on technological shifts that I have observed, particularly in the past 10 years.

However, the focus of my discourse is hinged on the firm belief that we, as a nation, can transform our society through strategically driving a strong ICT agenda. This drive, among other key success factors, should focus on achieving the following:

l Setting up of digital hubs targeting the youths

Digital hubs by my simple definition are basically centres set up with infrastructure which can facilitate access to ICTs, training on key ICT disciplines which include networking, systems development, hardware and software support, applications and many other facets of ICT.

Recent reports have shown that internet penetration in Africa is still at 31,2% against a world average of 55,8% (ITU Report).

This is particularly worrisome given many studies that have proved a strong positive correlation between internet penetration and social development. In this regard, setting up digital hubs across the country will close the digital divide.

In addition to just the usage of internet, the professions of tomorrow are being affected to a greater extent by the technological developments of today. With the rapid growth of automation, digitisation, and artificial intelligence, an ICT-illiterate society will not be relevant on the job market in the not-too-distant future. We have to quickly shift our society to start embracing change in the direction of world trends.

It is therefore integral for society, especially in Africa, to begin to embrace ICT literacy as a driver for social transformation.

l Creation of national virtual resources

The IDC (2016) report intimated that at least 215 million smart hand-held devices have been shipped into Africa. What this statistic shows is a strong revolution on the continent in the adoption of hand-held devices, particularly smartphones.

What attracts society to such gadgets are the multiple functions embedded within the operating system, especially Android and Apple devices, as well as other hardware feature-like cameras.

However, we have to view this beyond communication and entertainment. Smart devices are a powerful tool for moving content and it goes without saying that content shapes a society.

The above argument then corroborates the need for the deliberate and proactive creation of digital content that can easily be accessed by users of smart devices —which I term virtual resources.
Zimbabwe needs to create a repository of virtual books, picture galleries of her history, short-clip documentaries, “fact files” (documentation that profile our continent), research, report, etc. on a virtual portal that can be easily accessible by its people. This can include development of applications and web portals where such information can be accessed for free.

l Promote digital culture in rural areas through teaching computers in schools

As I interact with many students from different backgrounds in tertiary institution, I have observed that there is such a divide in ICT exposure between students who come from a rural background and those from urban set-ups.

This tends to be a deterrent in smooth learning as students coming from rural areas grapple with basic appreciation of use of computers. This ought not to be so.

I, therefore, advocate for an urgent focus on capacitation of rural schools with computer infrastructure coupled with human resources that can impart such skills.

l Gender inclusion in the digital world

The Eurostat Statistics research done has the following findings:

*Most ICT specialists — 61% in 2015 have tertiary-level education.

*64% of ICT specialists in the EU are aged over 35.

*The majority of jobs for ICT specialists are held by men. The proportion of women working in this segment of the labour market in the EU was 16% in 2015.

The above study may have been done for the EU, but some of the findings resonate with Africa, especially on the slow inclusion of women in the digital world.

ICT, like many other applied professions, has been regarded as a domain for men. This is a concerning disposition and deceleration of achievement of the UN Millennium Developmental Goals (SDGs), which advocates for promotion of gender equality and empowerment of women.

There is, therefore, need for social transformation to achieve exposure of women both to the usage of ICT technologies and career participation in ICT, related fields through policy direct community programmes.

l Policy for liberalisation of the digital space

In many African countries, the ICT sector is still heavily regularised, against the backdrop that such services were originally the preserve of state-owned enterprises. In this new era, there is greater need to advocate for a paradigm shift in the regulation of ICT business, which has gone beyond just telecommunications, but now touch media, banking, insurance, health and many other sectors.

A quick shift in ICT policy will most likely birth powerful mergers and acquisitions — combining ICT companies with other sectors, combined infrastructure development projects leading to infrastructure sharing and other off-shoots like mobile gaming development which will reshape Africa’s future. In conclusion, I believe Zimbabwe can achieve the world class status through embracing technology. The digital future is possible.

l Willard Nyagwande is the commercial director at Powertel Communications. He is a highly motivated and open-minded marketing guru with 13 years’ experience in the telecoms industry.

This article was contributed on behalf the Marketers’ Association of Zimbabwe, a leading body of marketing professionals promoting professionalism to the highest standards for the benefit of the industry and the economy at large. For any further information kindly contact mazmember-ship@mazim.coo.zw or visit the website on www.maz.co.zw.

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