‘ICT to drive economic growth under NDS1’

Analysts are increasingly optimistic about the potential of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) to drive economic growth and development, with many believing that it will be a key driver of prosperity going forward.

National Development Strategy 1 (NDS1) covers the period from 2021 to 2025 and focuses on key development priorities for the country. The main aims include infrastructure development as the strategy highlights the importance of improving infrastructure, including roads, energy, water supply, and ICT, to support economic development and enhance connectivity.

Among other aims, NDS1 emphasises improving access to quality education, healthcare, and social protection to enhance human capital development and reduce poverty.

Economist Dr Prosper Chitambara said Government has been making strides in offering digital services, from online tax filing to e-healthcare systems.

“These initiatives have improved efficiency and transparency in Government operations, trying to curb corruption and enhancing public services.

“Going forward such services are key as they move investment faster through linkage of services and less paperwork thus driving quicker action and driving the economy in the right direction,” he said.

This comes as the ministry of ICT has consistently been underfunded with the Treasury allocating at most 39 percent of their budget bid in the past five years.

For the 2024 budget, the ministry bid for $2,3 billion but has been allocated only 3,46 percent equalling $80 million in the pre-budget.

Analysts and economists believe the sector will be the driver for job creation, financial inclusion, agricultural transformation, education and skills development and entrepreneurship in the pursuit of an upper middle income economy by 2030 vision.

Economic analyst Gerald Madziva added that the ICT industry has been a notable source of employment opportunities.

“With the proliferation of mobile phones and the expansion of internet connectivity, many Zimbabweans have found work in various ICT-related fields, such as software development, digital marketing, and customer support. This has helped reduce unemployment rates and improve living standards for many. With the growth of the sector we surely expect more investments and jobs to be created,” he added.

In recent years mobile banking and digital payment platforms have expanded financial inclusion, allowing more people in both urban and rural areas to access financial services. This has not only improved the lives of individuals but also contributed to the formalisation of the economy.

“ICT tools and platforms have been deployed to modernise agriculture in the country. Farmers can access weather information, market prices, and crop management advice through mobile apps, leading to increased agricultural productivity. This is revolutionary in our situation and it has led to bumper harvests and better yields,” Dr Chitambara added.

The growth of the sector has driven the development of educational resources and e-learning platforms, enabling more Zimbabweans to access quality education. This, in turn, enhances the skill set of the workforce and promotes innovation.

Mr Madziva speaking on entrepreneurship said: “The ICT sector has become a fertile ground for entrepreneurs. Start-ups and small tech companies are flourishing, contributing to economic diversification and innovation. All this has brought products that have helped minimise costs and efficiently use funds in the economy.”

While the growth of ICT in the country is undeniable, it is not without its challenges.

Analysts and experts stress the importance of addressing these challenges to ensure the sustained growth of the sector and, consequently, the broader economy.

Economist Gladys Shumbambiri warned that despite significant progress, access to ICT services remains unequal, with many rural and low-income areas still lacking connectivity.

She added that bridging this digital divide is crucial to ensure that all Zimbabweans can benefit from the ICT revolution.

Other concerns raised by Mrs Shumbabiri included lack of adequate regulatory infrastructure to promote growth of the sector, “The Government must create an enabling regulatory environment that promotes investment, innovation, and competition while safeguarding consumer interests for a wholesome benefit.”

“As the use of ICT grows, so does the threat of cyberattacks. Strengthening cybersecurity measures is essential to protect individuals, businesses, and Government entities. Also expanding the ICT infrastructure, including reliable internet access, is vital to ensure that the sector can continue to thrive and contribute massively to the economy,” said a telecoms expert Dr Sean Dozva.

The experts said investing in digital literacy programs is essential to ensure that all citizens can fully participate in the digital economy.

Herald

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