Minister of ICT Hon. Kazembe Kazembe presented the High Level Track Policy Statement, at the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) 2019 Forum in Geneva, Switzerland on Tuesday on the role of the Zimbabwean Government in bridging the digital divide and also on how affordable internet has been made a reality to citizens through policies implemented.
What is the role of Governments in building an enabling environment for internet connectivity?
I take this podium today, at a very critical time for Zimbabwe.
A Zimbabwe, which has been progressing steadily towards the full attainment of all the sustainable development Goals. Progress which has been made with Telecommunication/ICTs as the key Driver and Government policy, as the biggest catalyst.
But, in the wake of one natural disaster, cyclone Idai, a significant portion of our small geographical country and by extension, the whole country, has been set back. Washed away bridges, Electricity infrastructure in tatters, roads turned into gulley’s and rivers, School buildings destroyed, The ICT infrastructure access points which had been painstakingly put in place destroyed and all this, overnight. Never before has the synergies between various sectors of our economy become so pronounced.
The focus of both Government and indeed every citizen of the country has been turned to the provision of the very necessities for the affected communities, food, shelter, education, health, transport, water and sanitation and above all, access to communications. Even in this dire situation dear WSIS participants, we cannot run away from the role of Government in creating an enabling environment.
For Zimbabwe, this is not the time to make small plans or to come up with stopgap policies. This this is the opportunity to build state of the art infrastructure. To use these devastated areas as the springboard of development to come, for the whole country. To make sure that any future such disasters find us better prepared.
This role remains the same across the world, the only difference is due to the level of development. Therefore, each Government, according to its level of development, plays this role, which can be summarised as follows:
• Making policies that enable the construction and maintenance of a national backbone transport infrastructure
• Making sound educational policies, as Use of ICTs requires a literate population
• Making policies that promote health infrastructure and health for all, as only a healthy populace can effectively utilize ICTs for development Policies that promote sustainable and affordable energy.
• With all these policies in place being implemented effectively, formulating policies that promote installation of driver of development and success in all economic sectors.
• Create policies that make it possible for Telecommunication/ ICTs operators, to invest and deliver the necessary services.
• Create policies for bridging all digital divides, that is the gender, the rural and the urban, the rich and the poor divides. Any administration, which gets this recipe right, will never go wrong, in creating an enabling environment for the ICT sector players and their consumers.
What has the Zimbabwean Government done to create an enabling environment and to keep telecommunication/ICT services affordable for the ordinary citizen, given the high cost transit fees for landlocked Zimbabwe?
The Zimbabwean Government has done a lot to create an enabling environment, not only for the ICT sector business community but for the ordinary persons ICT aspirations to be fulfilled.
• The first step that the Government took was to entrench every citizen’s right to information, to education and to freedom of communication, in the Country’s constitution in 2013.
• The second, was a wholesale review of the National ICT policy, thereby modernising it to include all the “Es.’, including e-education, e-agriculture, e-health and e-Government to mention just a few.
• The third was to cooperate with the country’s neighbours and be part of the Southern African Development Community’s protocols on development and these cover ICTs. A good example of this, is the Roaming project that the region is working on. The programs help in reducing costs.
• The forth was to encourage the Country’s operators to invest in sub marine cables, hence a nurnber of the operators have shares in regional sub rnarine cables, which goes a long way in managing the costs and making ICT services affordable.
• The fifth was to carry out regular cost studies whose results have been used to guide the pricing regirne for ICT services.
• Government’s effort is now being beefed up by current reviews of the applicable legislation to align it, not only to technological developments, but also with social developments.
• Government through the Ministry of ICT,Postal and courier services has also been training the communities in rural and remote areas in order to make them receptive to ICT products for their own benefit
• While in the past when the industry was in its infancy, Government took an active role in building infrastructure, it has gradually stepped back to its key role, that of making sure the economy is healthy and conducive to the growth of ICTs.
As I conclude, I thank the organisers of WSIS, as we are always greatly enlightened as Governments, each time we attend WSIS.
• I thank ITU and its sister UN agencies, for the assistance they have rendered to Zimbabwe, during the tragedy that befell us during the ravages of cyclone Idai. The assistance has made the burden lighter there by enabling us as Government, to solder on with reviving the economy and promoting ICT development as a driver for economic success, while at the same time assisting those severely affected by the cyclone.
I thank you.