BY ANGELA COLLINGS
The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the need for African governments to pursue rapid digital transformation.
Digitisation has the ability to transform economies and people’s lives, however the pandemic also illustrated a stark reminder of Africa’s growing digital divide.
To address this governments throughout Africa are prioritising the digital economy and committing significant investment in the ICT sector.
The telecommunications sector plays a pivotal role, because it is recognised as one of the most innovative, and one that leads future change, playing a role in every sector of the global economy, connecting businesses and consumers.
Over the last decade countries like Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, Ghana and Rwanda have been at the forefront of driving greater digital inclusion by prioritising the telco sector.
However, the pandemic has propelled countries that have lagged to step up efforts, Zimbabwe is one such country.
Earlier this year the Zimbabwean government announced that it will boost investment in the ICT sector. This, Finance minister Mthuli Ncube says is an important element in Zimbabwe’s National Development Strategy (NDS) for 2021-2025 which; “seeks to facilitate the attainment of a digitally enabled economy, where all sectors embrace ICTs to improve efficiency and effectiveness, in line with the global trends.”
Recent comments by Zimbabwe’s ICT minister Jenfan Muswere, indicate that the country has taken seriously the challenges the Covid-19 pandemic highlighted.
Muswere believes that the pandemic has shown that Zimbabwe must develop robust telecommunication infrastructure so that every citizen has access to reliable data and internet services coupled with computers and smart phones.
According to Zimbabwe’s Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (Potraz) data and internet services will continue to drive telco sector growth.
In its 2020 third quarter report, the regulator found there was a surge in the use of internet and data services during the period as the market shifted to digital platforms.
It is anticipated that data usage will continue to remain critical going forward.
Potraz director general Gift Machengete has said that it’s imperative that the telco sector adapts to the new normal.
“Importantly, that data and internet services are more accessible and affordable to every Zimbabwean.”
Some of the interventions that are currently being implemented include extending Zimbabwe’s broadband infrastructure, 13 more telecommunication tower sites are to be constructed as well as expand and optimise the mobile network by setting up 1187 sites for the deployment of 2G, 3G, 4G and 5G services.
Added to this Potraz has gazetted amended regulations governing the telco sector.
Technological advancements in the telco sector has resulted in some of the current licencing, regulation and enforcement provisions becoming inadequate or obsolete.
Therefore, the regulator finalised the Converged Licensing Framework, National Broadband Plan, and Value-Added Services (VAS) Framework.
Specifically, Machengete says; “this will increase the number of data players in the market especially the retail end, which will have a positive impact on data services.”
Dovetailing off this, last week, Potraz gazetted the Telecommunications Traffic Monitoring System (TTMS) Regulations.
This technology gives the regulator the ability to independently monitor and account for national and international telecommunications traffic.
In late 2020, Potraz announced that it had signed a deal with a leading telco regulatory technology firm, Global Voice Group (GVG).
The benefits of TTMS is increased revenue assurance, combatting network fraud and enforce billing integrity across all communication networks available in the country.
This capability is important because it has long been known that Africa’s telco regulators have been challenged by the self-declaratory system.
Regulators are heavily reliant on operators to provide accurate and authentic information about sector performance without independent assurance tools to monitor compliance.
This has proven to be ineffective as highlighted by the number legal battles between regulators and operators in Africa.
This capability also allows Potraz to access accurate, real-time data on market dynamics, which leads to better governance.
The key to good governance is without doubt transparency — this is what revenue assurance and oversight systems like TTMS bring.
Ultimately, this will ensure the creating of a fair and competitive telco market that attracts new players who will bring innovative solutions that will ensure all Zimbabweans have access affordable quality services and products.
Without doubt Potraz has shown that the Zimbabwean government has taken seriously the challenges highlighted by the Covid-19 pandemic.
In a short amount of time, it has adapted its policies, prioritised investment in the ICT sector that has meant it can swiftly deploy interventions that will make a significant contribution towards a digitally enabled economy.
*Angela Collings is a strategic communications specialist, who has local and international companies as well as civil society organisations as clients.