The Sunday Mail
Zimbabwe — 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 bridging the urban-rural digital divide essentially requires the mobilisation of information and communication technologies (ICTs) that can be utilised for poverty eradication.
The Zimbabwean Government, through the Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (Potraz), is expediting the development of an inclusive digital economy by setting up digital hubs — more commonly known as Containerised Village Information Centres (VICs) or Community Information Centres (CIC) — in rural and previously marginalised communities to foster innovation and then develop new businesses.
Typically, policies to increase access are sometimes addressed, within regulatory frameworks or national broadband plans, using specific funds that are created for this purpose, and in Zimbabwe’s case the particular fund in question is the Universal Services Fund (USF), which is administered by the regulator.
The CVICs are an initiative of the Ministry of Information and Communication Technology, Postal and Courier Services through Potraz to establish a special type of Community Information Centre (CIC).
CVICs are set to address ICT needs for people living in areas where conventional CICs could not be established at post offices.
CVICs 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.
Official figures from the regulator, 146 CICs have been established countrywide.
Of these, 107 are already operational. This brings the total CIC and CVICs established countrywide to 170.
Said Potraz director-general Dr Gift Machengete recently:
“The Government has identified ICTs as one of the pillars and cornerstones for economic development.
“It is, therefore, our endeavour as POTRAZ, to make sure that every person in Zimbabwe has access to ICTs and has the basic ICT literacy. Containerised Village Information Centres are crucial in empowering the people of Zimbabwe.
“Access to ICTs and effective participation in the digital economy is critical in improving the quality of life for all the citizens of Zimbabwe.
“The aim of the Community Information Centre 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 its February 2018 paper titled “Bridging the Rural 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 CVICs or CICs are completely free and accessible for those intending to use them.
And as Dr Machengete has highlighted:
“The Gweru CIC is the Midlands’ provincial CIC and provides free training on basic skills in ICTs. To date, 11 637 members of the community have undergone free training in the use of computers throughout the country.
“The establishment of both conventional Community Information Centres and Containerised Village Information 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.”