By Jenfan Muswere
Fellow Zimbabweans, ladies and gentlemen.
Today, we celebrate the World Telecommunication and Information Society Day (WTISD) whose theme is Connect 2030: ICTs for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). I salute you with a deep sense of honour and hope as this is happening at a time when the world is grappling with the Covid-19 pandemic.
In these trying times, many lives have been lost, businesses disrupted with all kinds of social restrictions being imposed. Ladies and gentlemen, it would be remiss of the global community, if the role of information and communications technologies (ICTs) in the ongoing fight against Covid-19 were to go without due acknowledgement and recognition. With ICTs, we have seen business continuity in particular, for the services sector, where physical presence is not necessary such as banking and commerce and even education, which have gone online. E-meetings, including international ones, are happening online as evidenced by heads of states who are having virtual summits on ICT platforms. Families and friends are able to keep in touch while maintaining the tenets of a global lockdown; responders are enabled in their indispensable, life-saving work. Thanks to ICTs!
We are vesting our confidence in the power of ICTs as part of our arsenal to win the war against the pandemic. Indeed, ICTs are the magic wand that will help nations address and contain the spread of the virus.
Our contribution to fighting the pandemic has seen us mobilising operators in the setting-up of a call centre and providing a toll-free number 2019 for any Covid-19-related emergencies. Furthermore, we have assigned operators with additional 3G and LTE spectrum for free, up to December 2020 to enable them to increase capacity of their data offering. This goes to show how seriously we are leveraging the use of ICTs to fight the pandemic, and we believe that in the fullness of time, we will do more.
Ladies and gentlemen, I find solace in that this year`s theme reiterates the importance of ICTs in sustaining our lives and development in general. I cherish the opportunity presented by this occasion for me to reflect on the importance of universal connectivity to broadband and the progress made thus far towards ensuring universal broadband connectivity. More importantly, we need to reflect on how we have lined up our resources, in particular ICTs, in the enablement, assembly and mechanisms for the achievement of SDGs.
Accordingly, we will continue exerting our efforts towards this vision through fostering an enabling environment for the promotion of inclusive, access and the development of relevant, people-centric ICT services. Our strongest desire is to see the Zimbabwean society utilising ICTs for quality livelihoods; highly assured public safety; increased productivity in agriculture, and manufacturing; efficient delivery of government and commercial services; health and education as well as other public utilities such as transport and electricity across the country.
To this end, we have registered significant progress in terms of access to ICTs as evidenced by the extent of network population coverage, by 2G, 3G and LTE networks currently standing at 93,4%, 83,9% and 35% respectively. Strides have also been made in the adoption and use of ICTs as evidenced by the growth in the penetration rates over the past decade, whereby the mobile penetration rate increased from 50,4% in 2010, to 90,6% in 2020; the internet penetration rate has also grown exponentially from just 11% in 2010 to the current internet penetration rate of 60,6%.
Additionally, we have established the innovation drive which is aimed at supporting young innovators in cultivating their ideas, deployment of technical solutions and equipping the youth with the necessary skills and resources that will enable them to create employment not only for themselves, but for others as well. Resultantly, we successfully hosted the inaugural Hackathon in February 2020. We have also conducted extensive consumer education and awareness programmes across the country in order to sensitise users of postal and telecommunication services on their rights and responsibilities, as well as appreciating the challenges they face and resolving them.
Indeed, all our efforts are guided by the ITU’s vision to connect the unconnected through prioritising universal access, harmonising efforts to connect everyone to the global digital economy and guaranteeing that connected life is harmless and reliable.
My fellow countrymen, it is against this background that I urge everyone — no matter where you are, no matter your position in life, no matter your age, gender or creed — to embrace and enjoy the tremendous benefits of ICTs. ICTs are the defining factor between enlightened progressive societies and benighted backward societies, more so as we approach the Fourth Industrial Revolution. So you are better off joining the bandwagon than being left behind!
In conclusion, ladies and gentlemen, I would like to encourage all stakeholders — be they regulators, operators, academia, consumers and policymakers in all sectors of government — to genuinely and extensively collaborate to foster the uptake of ICTs. This will assist us in fighting Covid-19 or any other calamity that may come after. Together we will achieve!
I leave you with the following African proverb by Chinelo Orkparanta: “Between true friends even water drunk together is sweet” — be part of the Connect 2030 conversation.
l Jenfan Muswere is the ICT, Postal and Courier Services minister.