Thursday, 11 December 2014

Digital Economy in Zimbabwe.

Zimbabwe’s average local broadband speed has reached a new high of 6.5 Mbps in the month of May according to NetIndex. Before now, the highest average ever reached was 5.8Mbps. Local broadband speed, loosely explained, is the rate at which one can access internet content from a locally hosted website or app.
This new internet speed ranks Zimbabwe among the countries with the highest local broadband speed in Sub Saharan Africa with only Ghana, Kenya, Namibia and Madagascar ahead who have 7 Mbps, 7.2 Mbps, 10.4 Mbps and 13.2 Mbps respectively.

These developments are largely due to the heavy investments that companies like Liquid Telecom and others have done in laying fibre networks across the the country connecting with undersea cable routes. This has brought relatively fast internet and more areas are now set to be connected to the internet.

But what does these developments mean for the economy of Zimbabwe?

It means a digital economy is opening up in the country. A Digital Economy refers to an economy that is based on digital technologies.

The widespread adoption of handheld computers, mobile phones, digital cameras, satellite navigation, embedded sensors and a host of increasingly interconnected devices marks the beginning of a shift towards a world of ubiquitous computing that will ultimately see people served by many thousands of computers.

ICT is one of the fastest growing sectors in the economy of Zimbabwe and it is obvious that a greater  number of the population is employed in the ICT industry. If we aggregate the numbers of people employed by all the 3 mobile network operators( MNOs) and the downstream industry of retailing of airtime vouchers cards and other value added services like Ecocash  one can have an insight into the power of a digital economy in Zimbabwe and Africa.

However, if small economies like Zimbabwe are to benefit from this ICT revolution that is currently underway, we need to first appreciate the immense benefits that this sector has to our economy. The results are all there to see in the employment creation capabilities of the ICT industry. It is from this firm understanding that we can give this sector the attention and priority it deserves in policy making.

Having clearly ascertained the benefits in ICT for our economy, we need to ask ourselves one pertinent question that will drive us toward creating the capacity and preparedness to benefit from these revolution. Do we have the skills to tap into the developments happening around the globe with regards to ICT? Indeed, our people now have greater access to the internet. The statistics are encouraging. We now have internet penetration rates of over 50 %, one of the highest figures on the continent. The question we need to ask is, what are the places that Zimbabweans are visiting on the internet? Beyond social media platforms and accessing their emails, what activity do Zimbabweans do on the internet? With the power to access internet, also comes the power to stop at certain places, we are sites. With that ability as well, comes the power to create CONTENT! Beyond Facebook, Twitter, and other new sites that internet users visit, do we see any other meaningful activities from internet users? Zimbabweans will not benefit from ICT developments, if they do not have digital skills that can make them compete in this connected global village. Inasmuch as we laud the developments that have been taking place with regards to internet connectivity in Zimbabwe, these developments will not mean much to the ordinary young graduate who is coming out of college with diminishing prospects of being gainfully employed. However, the only way of giving people the power of the internet is to build skills and capacity that can make it possible for them to create content that can be monetised on the internet.

Indeed, we seem to have gotten it right with regards to connecting people to the internet. What we need to get right Now, is to build ability to be productive on the internet. Much of the content we are consuming on in the internet is not produced in Africa, it is produced elsewhere, notably, USA and other European countries.

How do we get our people to begin to do basic things like creating blogs and start blogging? How do we create mobile application developers in Zimbabweans with Android and IOS development skills? How about animators and filmmakers? Hardware makers? Young engineers who create internet hardware applications? Such is the kind of conversation that we need to begin to have in Zimbabweans in order to have a lot of people joining this bandwagon.

In 2014, we have seen the local technological ecosystem growing especially with coming on board of technology hubs like Muzinda Hub, HyperCube and others. Tech competitions like the ZOL StartUp Challenge are very commendable and we need to build on this backdrop in order to get more people equipped with ICT skills. Notably, Muzinda Hub is running a digital skills scholarship meant to impart digital skills to young people and working on job placements or finding an entrepreneurial opportunity for them. These initiatives need the support and backing of the government to give them the nationwide appeal and momentum to make significant impact in the economy.

Digital economy is here and it is growing and for young Zimbabweans to compete on the global stage they need relevant skills. Now is is the time to join this bandwagon and build digital skills for the 21st century.