4 September 2014

Zimbabwe: Economic Growth Linked to ICT Development - Shamu

ICT Minister Webster Shamu officially opened the SATA workshop on telecommunications backhaul and submarine networks in Harare recently.

A CABINET minister has urged stakeholders in the Information Communication Technology (ICT) sector to continue investing in the sector, saying research had established that economic growth followed expansion of broadband penetration. Officially opening the Southern Africa Telecommunications Association (SATA) workshop on telecommunications backhaul and submarine networks, the Minister of Information Communication Technology, Postal and Courier Services, Webster Shamu, said Zimbabwe should leverage on its high literacy rates, good infrastructure and language capabilities to transform itself into a regional and global player in the ICT sector.

Massive investments have been pumped into the development of the sector since 1998, with mobile phone firms alone having poured close to a billion dollars in the past four years to expand their networks. "According to the World Bank, there may be a direct link between broadband penetration and Gross Domestic Product (GDP) contribution, a 10 percent increase in broadband penetration may yield an improvement of 1,38 percent in GDP contribution. ICT alone contributes 15,2 percent to Zimbabwe's GDP," said Shamu.

Shamu said failure to develop telecommunications infrastructure would only increase the development gap between Zimbabwe and the developed world. "Telecommunication is vital not only for growth but also helps countries to remain competitive within the increasingly information oriented global economy," said Shamu.

ICTs are improving the lives of many people in Zimbabwe and Africa. Many have been exposed to ICTs in different ways such as buying goods and services online, spending messages or sending e-mails to business counterparts worldwide. Shamu said progress had been made to improve connectivity in Africa through submarine fibre cable projects. Major inroads are being made by many African countries including those that are landlocked to set up territorial fibre backbones.

"Backhaul networks connecting our countries to the submarine cables landing station to our national centre in our countries should have high capacity and look into the future for bandwidth demands. People need more bandwidth and you as the experts need to make sure that the service we deliver must meet the need of the people. We need to address the issue of affordability so that as more people get connected, more revenue will be realised which translates to increased tax revenue for the development of our countries," Shamu said.

With the capital intensive manufacturing sector in disarray following many years of undercapitalisation, and the tourism industry in the intensive care due to a decline in global arrivals, the ICT industry can easily plug the gap and play its role as a sector of immense wealth generation. In the past five years, Africa's mobile phone market has expanded at a pace faster than that of the European Union and the US, with subscribers moving to 650 million. The continent is rapidly becoming an ICT leader. Innovations that have been spreading faster in Africa, such as dual SIM card mobile phones and the use of mobile phones as payment platforms have become an integral part of the continent's economic systems.

ICT could help Africa overcome its infrastructure inadequacies, satisfy rising consumer demand, boost regional trade and diversify economies. This could open a new chapter on a continent that has traditionally relied on raw materials for economic development. Today, Africa's iGDP (which measures the internet's contribution to overall GDP) remains low, at 1,1 percent but it is expected to continue improving.

According to the latest report on African internet trends from browser service Opera Mini, Zimbabwe is the country with the highest representation of local content domains, with four of its top 10 most frequented websites being local. This indicates that the Zimbabwean mobile broadband user is a huge consumer of local content, something which startups should explore as an opportunity.

In Zimbabwe, apps could clearly be applied to boost existing industries, including clothing, agriculture, banking and the media. New opportunities are waiting to be exploited as well. These include creating new apps and computer games, developing computer-generated graphics for use by movie studios around the world, setting up English-language call centres and producing analysis or data management for international financial organisations. All of these activities are value additions of the highest order, and most definitely something that Zimbabweans can do today.

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