WATCH: Zimbabwe ramps up ICTs investments

ZIMBABWE is accelerating investments in Information Communication Technology (ICT) infrastructure projects as it narrows the digital divide to unlock wider potential from diverse economic players and leapfrog the economy to prosperity in line with Vision 2030 targets.

The adoption of ICTs is already impacting positively on service delivery through the introduction of e-Government services to the general citizenry, while private sector players are also transforming their operations using modern computerised technology, which has been credited for enhanced production efficiencies and reduced costs, which are a huge boost in terms of product competitiveness.

The growing ICT infrastructure development has brought about the positive disruption of conventional ease-of-doing business models across sectors as more service providers embrace smart education, smart health, smart agriculture, research and development, capacity building and skills upgrades in ICTs, among others.

Yesterday, President Mnangagwa officially commissioned the second phase of the Fibre Optic Backbone Network project in Somabhula near Gweru, Midlands Province, in yet another milestone investment in broadening the digital economy.

President Mnangagwa also launched three ICT policies — the Reviewed National ICT Policy, the Smart Zimbabwe 2030 Master Plan, and the National Broadband Plan — at Somabhula Secondary School in Vungu outside Gweru.

The Fibre Optic Backbone Network project is spearheaded by a foreign investor Bandwidth and Cloud Services (BCS) Group Limited.

Over US$18 million was invested in the first phase of the project, which started in Beitbridge along the railway line past Rutenga, Somabhula, Bulawayo and Hwange to Victoria Falls

https://youtube.com/watch?v=3GNsdpwc644%3Ffeature%3Doembed

The second phase of the fibre optic project has seen the network extending from Somabhula via Gweru to Harare as well as Bulawayo-Plumtree and Harare-Mutare.

In the final phase, the fibre optic system will be installed from Rutenga to Chikwalakwala to cover the whole rail network in the country before extending into Zambia and the region.

Zimbabwe has an excess of 20  000 km of fibre optic network and President Mnangagwa, who had an opportunity to witness a demonstration of the laying of the fibre optic network, said it was an honour to witness the project, and a privilege to launch the three policies.

“The fact that we are launching these important policies and the fibre optic backbone network here in Somabhula demonstrates that the Second Republic is walking the talk and committed to realising development that leaves no one and no place behind,” he told the large gathering that included senior Government officials, business leaders and ordinary people. 

“The policies we are launching today are in line with our National Development Strategy where we aim to make sure that all our communities have access to affordable, fast and safe digital technologies. This has become important as societies and economies are now very dependent on ICTs.” 

President Mnangagwa said the revised National ICT Policy outlines the guiding framework and development priorities for the ICT sub-sector, which will help promote digital know-how, innovation and the use of Artificial Intelligence and machine learning, while also strengthening the country’s cyber-security measures.

“At the end of the day, my administration is creating a good environment for the growth of a digital economy, which empowers our communities, no matter where they live. 

“So, this policy will make sure that learners and young entrepreneurs, whether here in Somabhula, or Kanyemba or Gokwe, or Binga all have the same opportunities as those in our big cities like Harare and Bulawayo,” said the President.

He noted that the Smart Zimbabwe 2030 Masterplan would see the country achieve more creative societies, through the use of technology. The quality of life of all Zimbabweans is also expected to improve through the use of ICTs.

“Digital technologies must go beyond the use of ICT for social media and entertainment. We must use the infrastructure that my Government is putting in place to improve service delivery in healthcare, education and agriculture, among many other aspects,” said President Mnangagwa.

At the continental level, he said Zimbabwe was nominated to lead the Smart Agriculture Flagship Project under the Smart Africa Alliance, adding that the country is already using ICT and geospatial technologies to predict weather patterns, as well as for land planning and crop assessments, among basic information management within the agriculture sector.

President Mnangagwa said the National Broadband Plan highlights the country’s determination to close the digital gap and guarantee universal access to reliable and high-speed internet connectivity.

Zimbabwe is, therefore, implementing more initiatives for knowledge sharing, social inclusion and economic growth through the expansion of broadband infrastructure and network coverage.

“In addition, the policies we are launching today provide sufficient guidance to the ICT sector. All parties, including civic society organisations, businesses and the general public, are called upon to play by the rules. Ignorance is no defence,” said the President.

He reiterated that ICTs must never be deployed or used to promote self-hate and denigrate the country or to spread falsehoods, malicious information or immoral content.

“We must use ICTs to protect and promote our identity, unity, love, harmony, peace, development as well as production and productivity,” said the President.

Guided by the philosophy “Zimbabwe is open for business,” he said the Government continues to grant licences to more service providers to deliver backbone network facilities and network services.

President Mnangagwa also said the new companies entering this space are expected to increase Zimbabwe’s internet connectivity, adding that there must be affordable, usable products and services to all the communities.

“Data prices must be affordable. I want to commend the Bandwidth and Cloud Services (BCS) for deciding to invest in Zimbabwe. This is an international company, which is operating in a number of countries in Africa that partnered with one of our country’s telecommunication organisations, Dandemutande, for the provision of a fibre backbone project, which is being commissioned today,” he said. 

“The outstanding part about this project is that it is riding on our existing infrastructure of the National Railways of Zimbabwe.”

The positive development has seen the revamping and upgrading of the NRZ signalling system from analogue to digital and provides data links and Wi-Fi hotspots at NRZ sidings and stations, which will in turn benefit communities along the railway network.

“This is most commendable,” said the President as he challenged the ICT ministry to roll out similar critical infrastructure to other communities countrywide.

He pledged the Government’s commitment to continue availing resources for the growth of the ICT and telecommunications sector and commended the strides in mobile network penetration, which has increased to 97,5 percent, while the internet penetration rate is consistently growing, currently at 70,1 percent.

Since the expansion of deployed fibre optic networks, there has been an unprecedented creation and growth of diverse ICT-enabled services, in banking and finance, telecommunications, security, transport and tourism sectors, among others.

“I urge communities to take advantage of these developments to create wealth by improving the viability and profitability of their enterprises and projects,” said President Mnangagwa. 

“Small and medium enterprises, artistes, music and cultural industries, women, the youth and farmers, among others,    must exploit online platforms, as well as ICT-driven productive and trading networks.”

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