Community Information Centres (CICs) are helping to overcome the age, income and gender divide in pursuit of promoting an inclusive society, Dr Jenfan Muswere, the Minister of Information Communication Technology (ICT), Postal and Courier Services has said.
He made the remarks at the official opening of the Brunapeg CIC in Matebeleland South Province yesterday.
Throughout history, technology has been a dominant force in driving economic growth that uplifts countries and their people. The world is currently going through a time of immense change due to the 4th Industrial Revolution.
Zimbabwe stands to benefit tremendously in this new era as a result of great opportunities provided by CICs that play a critical role in ensuring the inclusion of communities in remote and unserved areas in this digital transformation.
“Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, allow me first and foremost, to reiterate the Government’s commitment to the attainment of a digital economy and a knowledge society. The overriding aim of our digitalisation agenda is to use the power of technology to enhance people’s lives. ICT infrastructure is the foundation of digital economies. We cannot talk of any digital services without reliable internet connectivity. As a government, we have created an enabling environment for both public and private sector investment in telecommunications infrastructure and internet connectivity.
“This stance by Government has seen both public and private players investing immensely in the sector. Indeed, if we continue in this trajectory together, we can achieve the target of ensuring that every person has safe and affordable access to the Internet by 2030. This will ultimately contribute towards the attainment of the Digital Economy aspirations of our National Development Strategy (NDS1) and the SMART Zimbabwe 2030 Master Plan. These blueprints seek to exploit the potential of ICTs in our quest to attain the Vision of becoming an Upper Middle-income economy by 2030,” Dr Muswere said.
The minister said building human resources with the right skills is a key driving force for digital transformation.
Digital literacy is essential for people to take full advantage of new job opportunities and benefit from services that will become available on the digital platforms that are being created through the 4th Industrial Revolution. It is for that Dr Muswere called upon youths to take up careers in the different spheres of the ICT industry.
“Digital technology is rapidly developing in diverse fields which include mobile communications, robotics, artificial intelligence (AI), the internet of things, and 3-D printing, among many others. In education, computer-based adaptive learning and remote technologies are enhancing learning outcomes in schools. Telemedicine and the use of big data have great potential to improve health services.ICT is reducing barriers such as time and mobility constraints and promoting access to markets. Fintech, for example, is helping those in remote areas to access financial services. All these fields provide numerous opportunities for those who would have pursued studies relating to them,” Dr Muswere said.
Speaking at the same occasion, Dr Gift Machengete, the Director-General of the Postal and Telecommunication Regulatory Authority (POTRAZ) said ICTs are the bedrock for economic growth and development and a cornerstone for economic emancipation.
He said POTRAZ believes that access to affordable, quality ICTs is a basic right of every citizen in as much as access to clean water is a basic right.
“In this regard, through the Universal Services Fund (USF), POTRAZ has embarked on a number of projects aimed at ensuring Universal Access to ICTs. One such project is the Community Information Centre (CIC) Project which has seen the deployment of Internet access points to rural and marginalised communities. Under this project, Internet surfing and ICT training facilities are deployed either at existing post offices or in remodelled container units such as this one here at Brunapeg, whose official opening we have just witnessed.
“Honourable Ministers, apart from the obvious advantages Community Information Centres pose in terms of e-government, e-learning, e-health, e-agriculture and e-commerce, the centres can also be used as Innovation Hubs, which will allow village communities to develop their own ICT applications. Requisite training in coding may be needed for this, and such training can be provided at these very sites. This will enable youth from rural communities such as Brunapeg, to participate in the various innovation initiatives in the country and to ultimately monetise their innovations,” Dr. Machenghete said.
In the same vein, youths from rural communities can also be trained at Community Information Centres to become creators of local content, which content can also be monetised. On the other hand, community radio stations and community newsletters can be operated from Community Information Centres, thus creating awareness and employment for local communities.
Thus, it is apparent that Community Information Centres create employment and business opportunities for the rural folk and hence, help decongest cities through limited rural to urban migration. Essentially, a lot of money can be made from CICs as they can be leveraged to turn rural communities into Economic Production Zones.
Apart from Community Information Centres, POTRAZ is collaborating with the Ministry of ICT, Postal and Courier Services on several other projects in the country aimed at improving ICT access and use and bridging the digital divide.
Focusing on Matabeleland South Province, the Authority has erected four (4) shared base station towers in the Manana, Hangwa, Maitengwe and Mayobodo areas. The Province boasts of thirteen (13) Community Information Centres courtesy of POTRAZ, one (1) of which is a containerised unit – that is Brunapeg, while twelve (12) were set up at Post Offices. Noteworthy is that all thirteen (13) Community Information Centres are operational. A staggering 1542 people have been trained at the three (3) Community Information Centres with training facilities in this province that is Jahunda, Maphisa and Beitbridge. Today’s launch of Brunapeg Village Information Centre will bring the number of centres with training facilities to four (4).
Moving on to other projects, POTRAZ, through the Universal Services Fund has provided connectivity to 76 schools from this province under the Schools Connectivity Program and a further 38 schools are earmarked to benefit. Furthermore, the Authority through the same fund has distributed 540 laptops to 6 schools in the Province under the Connect a School – Connect a Community Project. A further 428 laptops were also distributed to 49 schools from this province under the ongoing E-Learning project.