Windhoek — The Ministry of Information and Communication Technology (MICT) has made significant strides to bridge the information and communication gap between rural and urban communities.
This includes progress in the quest to create an inclusive society and promote a well-informed society as the ministry seeks to fulfill the national development goals. It is for this purpose that the MICT, which is mandated to lay the foundation for accelerated use and development of ICT in Namibia, has invested heavily to establish multi-purpose community centres in the regions since 2006.
The objective of these centres is to make information and communication technology accessible to citizens, especially those living in far-flung and remote rural areas. This is to ensure the development of effective information and communication technologies (ICTs)'s infrastructure that will contribute to rural development.
The establishment of the multi-purpose community centres was seen as an urgent matter in meeting rural information needs and requirements. The centres are aimed at providing a platform where members of the community can access information that relates to their developmental needs, stay abreast with the latest technological developments and also to receive, share, discuss information and improve on ideas using the available ICT resources.
It is also a place where community members could have access to the Internet to access other government/public related information and also to acquire much-needed ICT skills.
The multi-purpose community centres are established in consultation with regional authorities, traditional leaders and members of the community, and by carrying out feasibility studies to identify suitable and viable sites for such centres.
The main criteria used to determine suitable areas for the centres are the remoteness of the site and whether the site is in a cluster area, for example, an area where there are other public services and facilities such as a clinic, police station, a school, church or any government offices.
Once a suitable area is identified and prior to the inauguration of the centre, a management committee is constituted by the regional council, in collaboration with members of the community.
The committee, which consists of seven members, then undergoes training on the handling and operation of the ICT equipment. The members work on a voluntary basis.
A manual on the operation of the multi-purpose community centres was launched in 2011 to assist the management committees in the running of the centres.
In the meantime, the ministry continues to provide technical and advisory services to the communities. Although the ministry initially aimed at building its own infrastructure for these centres, this could not be realised due to the lack of funds; hence the ministry has teamed up with other government offices to accommodate the centres.
So far a number of the regional councils have offered space in their constituency offices where possible, to accommodate these centres.
The centres are equipped with servers, work stations and accessories, fax machines, public address systems, projectors and screens, customised solar systems and accessories (like batteries), digitalised public address (PA) systems and accessories, digitalised video cameras, digital photo cameras, printers, laser printers, photocopiers and facsimile machines; Microsoft Office packages; DVD recorder/VCR combo systems; plasma TV (LCD) screens; projector and projector screens, as well as power generators (for back-up).
In order to ensure self-sustainability, the multi-purpose community centres hire out the ICT equipment to the communities at an affordable price. However, any equipment being rented out must be accompanied and operated by those who were trained to operate them. The centres have to open bank accounts with signatories from both the communities and regional councils and the funds generated should be used to buy ink, photocopy paper and any other stationery and also 3G devices for Internet connection to ensure that users interact with the outside world and can surf for information that they need.
To date over twenty centres have been established, fully equipped and handed over to the communities and are fully operational in various constituencies in the following 10 regions of the country. Moreover, the number of visitors and users has increased over the years.
- Mpungu Constituency and Rundu Rural Constituency in the Kavango Region
- Outjo Constituency and Epupa Constituency in Kunene Region
- Otjombinde Constituency and Steinhaussen Constituency in Omaheke Region
- Eheke Constituency and Uukwiyu Uushona Constituency in Oshana Region
- Otjiperongo and Henties bay, Arandis Constituency in Erongo Region
- Eengondi Constituency and Tsinsabis Constituency in Oshikoto Region
- Lüderitz Constituency and Keetmanshoop Rural Constituency in Karas Region
- Okongo Constituency and Endola Constituency in Ohangwena Region
- Linyanti Constituency and Sibbinda Constituency in Caprivi Region
- Windhoek Rural Constituency and Tobias Hainyeko Constituency in Khomas Region.
For the remaining three regions of Hardap, Omusati and Otjozondjupa, the ministry has already established the centres and is currently busy equipping them, and the process is expected to be completed by the end of this financial year. These centres also serve as community libraries where information on health, sanitation, human rights, education and HIV/AIDS, as well as newspapers and government publications such as Namibia Review and the Government Information Bulletin among others, are available. However, as the saying goes, Rome was not built in a day and the same adage applies when it comes to the issue of development.
The MICT experienced a number of challenges in making sure that the project was completed within a given period of time as planned. Some of the challenges included finding suitable places to accommodate the centres, as well as the procurement of equipment, facilities and installations. Access to electricity was also a challenge, especially in some deep remote areas of the country, hence the procurement and installation of solar power generating systems.
The need to develop and promote ICT in the country cannot be overemphasized given the ever-changing ICT environment and the importance of providing citizens in the rural areas access to ICT services. Furthermore, as a nation guided by Vision 2030, NDP4 and the Millennium Development Goals, creating a knowledge-based economy and technology-driven nation is of utmost importance.