ICT progress also celebrated in Botswana golden jubilee

By John Churu, Gaborone, Botswana

Tomorrow all roads lead to the national stadium where the nation of Botswana will be celebrating a golden jubilee of independence. Yes, the country will be turning fifty years. And for a country, which was ranked one of the poorest in the world to being one of the second world (developing) countries, the achievements are phenomenal.

A recent statistical account from the Statistics Botswana office chronicling the evolution of technologies in the country has satisfactorily defended the fact that since 2000, the growth of the ITC sector in the country has improved and gone from strength to strength, this according to selected statistics indicators from 1966 to 2016. 

 According to the 2011 ICT Statistics Report, the ICT industry is growing; particularly in mobile cellular services, which outpaces the development of fixed telephone lines and internet service provision. The number of mobile subscribers has increased from 106,029 in 2000 to 2,900,263 in 2011; a 2,635% growth. According to the report, Mobidensity (the number of mobile cellular subscriptions per 100 inhabitants) has increased by over 1000% percent from 13 subscriptions in 2000 to 143 subscriptions in 2011, (see table below). The ICT sector in Botswana also includes postal services, print media and radio and television.

Not to beat our own drum, the steady growth figures of the ICT sector have also been corroborated by trusted international think-tanks. The Global competitiveness Report released today the 28th of September put paid to the doubts about the fast pace at which the sector has been developing so far.

According to the report,”The establishment of the Innovation Hub is now starting to show some results as the Innovation Pillar has improved from102 last year to 84 this year. Though the quality score of this Pillar is still low at 3.2 out of 7, the Hub’s efforts are worth celebrating. The Report shows that there has been some improvement in the Capacity to Innovate, Company Spending on Research and Development and University-Industry Collaboration in Research and Development. Initiatives linked to the likes of the Human Resource Development Council Research and Innovation Grant probably contributed to this improvement.”

Through the well crafted Botswana government’s Maitlamo ICT policy has seen the country forge ahead with its aim of becoming one of Africa, and subsequently the world’s leading providers of ICT. In 2010, an in-depth study of the ICT sector was undertaken by the Swedish Trade Council, determining that Botswana has invested heavily in the national fibre network, and has invested in international connectivity. Botswana has invested in the East Africa Submarine Cable System (EASSy), greatly expanding connectivity capacity to the region. The Botswana Government is also pursuing access to a West African submarine cable. The expectation in the next 2-3 years is expanded, rapid, reliable and cost effective connectivity. In the plan is the so called Projected Southern African connection via major international cable projects: SAT-3/WASC/SAFE, Seacom, EASSy, ACE, MaIN OnE and WACS and a lot more others still to come.

This has resulted in the development of policies that aim at improving issues like ICT in education with the development of ICT related skills in children and young adults. The growth of the e-commerce has been commendable and has enhanced the way business is conducted in the modern age. Recently, the Botswana Investment and Trade Centre (BITC), introduced its trade portal to much pomp and fanfare. This is one way of making sure that the country will not be left out and is not rooted in the traditional ways of doing business which might not be compatible with modern trends.

The phenomenal of the growth in mobile and mobile banking has also meant that the financial services sector is a step ahead of international trends and is cognisance of the tricks crooks employ to outwit the banking and other non-banking service providers. Most local banks if not all of them have heeded the call to go the technology route like a duck takes to water. We now also have online retaining thanks to pioneers like Sefalana Holdings.  

Other opportunities that sprouted as the ICT generation began to take root in Botswana include but not limited to the fact that ICT investment in Botswana presents an opportunity for growth in R&D and global competitiveness in ICT, and that an objective of National ICT Policy is to utilise ICT to facilitate economic diversification and foreign direct investment (FDI), Infrastructure development: widespread fibre-optic network and e-government services, communications and security, e-health, e-education, e-tourism, including mobile access to e-government.

The involvement of women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM), has been topical for many years in the country. It is pleasing to note that efforts are being exerted to get the practicalities of that issue.  

At a recent BITRI conference, Prof Mpuchane proposed corrective strategies to addressing lack of parity in STEM, with solutions including enhancing education by using mass media and social networks, involving the girl child in STEM from a young age and early education, creating an inclusive curriculum that involves teachers at teacher training level, funding girls’ education and study grants, including women’s specific needs research, especially on issues affecting them challenges, legislating positive affirmative action for the benefit of women, as well as career -guidance and counselling, mentorship, job-shadowing for the girl child.

”Legislation,” Prof Mpuchane proffered,  “would be in the form of – Government policies on equal access to education, hiring, promotion, retention and in STEM programs specifically and a reward system for institutions that reflect parity. Another tactic would be mainstreaming gender issues and interpreting statistics relating to women in STEM for members of societies to openly discuss challenges and come up with solutions.”

In trying to give credence and answer to the question “How can global collaboration realize the internet's potential to benefit humankind, The WEF said the exponential growth in digitization and internet connectivity is the “backbone” of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. “It has the potential to propel societies forward, enable innovative business models and help governments address legitimate policy concerns. Digitization doesn’t just enable what we do, it transforms it — not only business models, but also the policy landscape and social norms.”

The above analogy can be true for Botswana as the country takes in its strides the past fifty years of democracy and good governance. As the whole population and peoples of this great land appear at the stadium in a jovial sea of white black and blue, so will the internet too. 

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