Today, May 17th 2021 is World Telecommunication and Information Society Day (WTISD) and below is a speech by the Minister for ICTs Jenfan Muswere to mark the day.
Fellow Zimbabweans, Ladies and Gentlemen;
Today, we celebrate the World Telecommunication and Information Society Day (WTISD), 2021, whose theme is “Accelerating Digital Transformation in challenging times”. As was the case with this celebrated day last year, I once again address you under very difficult circumstances, when we, as a 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.
Ladies and Gentlemen, 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. This has, however, 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.
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.
Furthermore, our 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 we thrive to become an Upper-Middle Income society by 2030. My Ministry will 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, we have made great strides in creating a conducive environment for digital innovation. We have seen our 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, I have no doubt that Zimbabwe is on track to become an ICT innovation and manufacturing hub for the region.
Fellow Zimbabweans, as I have alluded to in my introduction, no one should be left behind in this digital revolution and indeed no one should be left offline. In this regard, I would like to appreciate 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.
Ladies and Gentleman, as you might be aware, 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 we move along with implementation of the e-learning program, we have noted that 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 recognise the need for a multi stakeholder approach to the provision of e-learning at all our schools and institutions of learning. To this end government has gone into a collaborative partnership with the ITU, UNICEF and the ministry of education to implement a schools 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 progress achieved thus far.
In conclusion, Ladies and Gentlemen; I would like to encourage all stakeholders, to urgently and expansively pull all our 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. Indeed, one of the most widely-known and influential thinkers on management, Peter Drucker’s dictum to “INNOVATE OR DIE” has become so relevant today than ever before.
Zimbabwe is Open for Business.
KEEP SAFE, WASH YOUR HANDS, WEAR YOUR MASK, STAY CONNECTED AND GET VACCINATED
I THANK YOU ALL.