Mellisa Fernandes in Zimbabwe
Gweru — Like most countries in the Sub- Saharan Africa region, is still typified by vast swathes of rural communal areas that tend to lag behind in the adoption of new technologies and in the process slowing down national economic development.
Experts say improving internet penetration essentially requires the mobilisation of information and communication technologies (ICTs) that can be utilised for poverty eradication.
Already Africa Watch Trust is expediting the development of an inclusive digital economy by setting up digital hubs more commonly known as Open Internet Centres (OIC) in marginalised communities to foster innovation and then develop new businesses.
OICs are temporary structures that are modular and easy to fabricate and deploy compared to permanent structures. They can, therefore, be moved from one area to another if the need arises.
Said Africa Watch Trust Executive Director Clive Tatenda Makumbe recently:
“We have identified ICTs as one of the pillars and cornerstones for economic development.
“It is, therefore, our endeavour as AWT, is to make sure that every person in Zimbabwe has access to ICTs and has the basic ICT literacy. We are building Open Internet Centres which are crucial in empowering citizens of Midlands province.
“Access to ICTs and effective participation in the digital economy is critical in improving the quality of life for all the citizens.
“The aim of the Open Internet Centres concept is to create centres where the community can access and use ICTs to promote their businesses, advance their education and improve their livelihoods.”
In a 2018 paper titled “Bridging the Rural and Urban Digital Divide”, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) — an intergovernmental economic organisation — says affordability and digital literacy are some of the key elements in policies that seek to address such a problem.
Reads part of the document:
“Barriers to broadband uptake in rural and remote areas are many and varied. The main barriers related to broadband adoption include the high cost of serving rural areas. Affordability can, of course, also be a barrier for urban areas though this may not relate to the higher cost of providing service as in rural areas …Digital literacy is the set of knowledge, skills, and behaviours that enable people to understand and use digital systems, tools and applications, and to process digital information.
These capabilities and aptitudes link strongly with a population’s capacity to be innovative, productive and creative, and to participate in democracy and the digital economy. Given that the Internet is increasingly the platform of choice for providing access to core services, including health care, banking, and government services, digital literacy becomes increasingly important for facilitating meaningful access to these services. Even where broadband Internet services are available, individuals may not be able to use the service to its fullest potential based on their level of digital literacy.”
And Zimbabwe’s policymakers seem to have full awareness of this.
First things first, the OICs are completely free and accessible for those intending to use them.
And as Mr Makumbe has highlighted:
“The Gweru OIC is the Midlands’ provincial OIC and provides free training on basic skills in ICTs. To date, 9,000 members of the community have undergone free training in the use of computers throughout the province.
“The establishment of both conventional Open Internet Centres undoubtedly has downstream effects in the form of new employment opportunities.”
The significant role of reducing the rural-urban digital divide is something the Ministry of Information and Communication Technology, Postal and Courier Services fully appreciates.
“As we walk towards Vision 2030, as we are bridging the rural-urban divide, Government is committed to the attainment of a digital economy … The coverage that we have achieved thus far has transformed the lives of people in unprecedented ways,” said the ICT Minister Jenfan Muswere.
He adds: “Knowledge in the use of ICTs is now a basic need and an essential skill for productivity. Research and development in the use of ICTs is key, and in this respect the Government has taken the necessary steps to facilitate research and development through the establishment of these Community Information Centres in order to motivate the development of home-grown solutions to our socio-economic challenges.”