Can ICTs improve living standards in Zambia?

Many initiatives have been undertaken, mostly by civil society organisations, towards the bridging of the digital divide between the north and the south. The pressing concerns have been on the ability of Information Communication Technologies (ICTs) to improve the standards of living of the poor in societies. If harnessed and directed properly, ICTs have the potential to improve aspects of our social, economic and cultural life. Appropriate technology for Zambia is not just a desire but also a real need. Among Zambia’s greatest challenge today are poverty and HIV/AIDS. In addition to this challenge we are faced with a language challenge which hampers communication. Given that 73 languages are spoken in Zambia, could the country not develop a technology that contributes towards narrowing the linguistic gap? These challenges can be seen as opportunities to make a difference, rather than liabilities to marginalise Zambia.All stakeholders have a leading role to play in the Information society, especially through partnerships. The conference observed that the government had a leading role in developing and implementing comprehensive, forward looking and sustainable national e-strategies.

The commitment of civil society was important in creating an equitable civil society and in implementing ICT related initiatives for development.

ICTs can thus serve as an engine for development in the New Millennium and help achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

The conference was a unique opportunity for all key players to develop a shared vision of solutions and tools to bridge the digital divide and create a global society.

Government also took this unique opportunity to launch the first draft national ICT policy.

There are draw backs in how governments in Africa have paid lip service to the development of technology. Although many of these governments have created regulatory bodies, put in place legislation and requested for technical assistance towards the development of information and communication technology, all these steps remain but a charade.

More often than not, the setting up of regulatory bodies is simply done to fulfil donor conditions. There is no follow up afterwards to ensure the harmonisation of these new entities with already existing structures.

Despite the high demand for Internet services, the Zambian government seems keen on clinging onto monopolies as opposed to inviting more internet service providers. As a result cost remains prohibitive for the majority of the rural populations.

There is an urgent need to depoliticise issues that affect national development. The provision of information in Zambia needs to be facilitated by the acquisition of information and technology tools for the people, and in so doing empower them to fully participate in the global information technology process. The onus here really lies with the government in their structuring of a policy that is all inclusive and will take into consideration submissions from all stakeholders. There is also need for publicity of the draft ICT policy on government’s part to ensure participation from all.

Drawing from past experiences, important submissions from civil society and other stakeholders will not be taken into full consideration by the government. And when there are no contributions, the government will ask why, it is this kind of trend that brings out the apathy in people especially when something looks like it is only for the benefit of a few in the upper circles of society. Government needs to understand that when it involves the masses on larger a scale and appreciate their contributions, the people will be interested and involved and thus policies made will be a true reflection of the people’s needs towards improving their living standards.

The first step in empowering people in the age of new communication technologies is to help them achieve more technological literacy, so that they can use technology to help themselves and to help them make meaningful contributions on ICT issues that affect their livelihoods. The best resource in the world is the human resource; if we keep this in mind then we are heading for progress.

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