Speaking during the virtual World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) Forum, Dr. Jenfan Mufwere, the Minister of ICT, Postal and Courier Services said the digital economy offers opportunities for increased productivity even amidst global challenges like COVID-19.
Dr. Muswera was among the High-Level Panel Policy Session 7 Speakers at the WSIS 2020 Forum that tacked issues on “Digital Economy and Trade/Financing for Development and the role of ICTs.”
Below, Spiked Online Media reproduces, Dr. Muswere’s presentation.
What are the success factors for trading in the digital economy and how has Zimbabwe fared since the advent the COVID-19 pandemic?
Last year, when my predecessor delivered Zimbabwe’s Policy Statement, we thought cyclone Idai was the worst kind of disaster that could befall us. Yet here I am, this year, not able to mingle and mix with you my fellow High level Participants and grappling with an even bigger disaster, the Covid-19 pandemic, one that has fast tracked the whole world into a full-fledged digital economy, including Countries that were slowly moving towards that state and those who had not moved an inch, toward it.
The digital economy offers opportunities for increased productivity, entrepreneurship, innovation, job creation and access to new markets.
There are a number of critical success factors for trade in the digital economy, some of these relate to businesses, some to Governments or Policy Makers and some to consumers.
For Business, a number of factors are critical, chief among them,
- The ability to adapt to changing environmental circumstances, hence those businesses which could only do business physically, were crippled during the Covid-19 lockdowns.
- The development of data driven decision making and
- A shift in distribution channels
Given the multifaceted nature of the digital economy, it is imperative that policymakers adopt a holistic approach to address a wide range of policy areas to maximize potential benefits, while mitigating the relevant risks. Critical Policy Interventions, include:
- Promoting through subsidies and tax breaks and other policy related acts, the construction and installation of adequate ICT Infrastructure, supported by adequate energy infrastructure.
- Facilitating free flow of data, while protecting privacy
- Ensuring that public data is re-useable and discoverable
- Cutting the bureaucracy and,
- Enhancing connectivity and inter-operability of digital platforms across all Sectors, and
- Promoting innovation and entrepreneurship.
Governments need sufficient capacity to understand the changes in international technological and policy landscape in order to come up with appropriate regulatory regimes. The regulatory regime itself, should be inter-operable. Without this happening, Policy Makers can retard the pace of development. Covid-19 has shown how glaringly most Countries were not ready for digital trade, as there were serious outcries and in some cases demonstrations, for people to access physically, what could have been accessed online, during the COVID 19 related lockdowns.
Advanced technological and digital skills are essential to the development of an innovation culture, which is a prerequisite for success in the digital economy. It is therefore, incumbent upon governments to foster innovation hubs and bring together universities, laboratories, start-ups and large businesses, to innovate for the good of the economy and development. Zimbabwe has thriving innovation programmes and a wide reaching ICT skills training programme and both should see the country increase its pace of development, both technologically and economically.
Due to the forward looking policies of the Zimbabwean Government, Zimbabwe has fared pretty well in terms of trade, both with external partners and among businesses and consumers, within the Country. The ICT Policy of the Government, which resulted in a robust ICT Infrastructure network being installed throughout the Country, comprising both fibre and wireless technologies saw over 8.7 million internet subscriptions being recorded in the course of 2019. This has seen the economy and trade, becoming digital. With a total of 105 new base stations comprising 33 new 2G base stations, 40 new 3G base stations and 32 new LTE eNode base stations, the country could never go wrong.
When borders closed during the pandemic, online transactions between businesses in Zimbabwe and other Countries, become the norm, with delivery of goods between Zimbabwe and South Africa using a relay technic for drivers, so that crossing borders was minimised.
The Policy on electronic payments, which saw Zimbabwe even before the Covid-19 pandemic, become largely ,a cashless society, helped tremendously, as there was no shock experienced by Zimbabwe regarding payment modes. It has been business as usual, with payments using the point of sale machines, mobile banking systems and other electronic forms of transfer.
The immediate fast tracking of the money transmission, mobile banking and money interoperability Regulations 2020, facilitated increased traffic cross banking and telecommunication network.
The robust communication network, enabled the current online learning systems which schools and tertiary institutions are using in Zimbabwe so that students learn from home. Business meetings and social meetings, as well as church meetings, are now being held remotely, while most of Zimbabwe’s work force is working from home, assisted by the increased connectivity, and e-meeting platforms.
With regards to safety of transactions, use of electronic systems and building confidence in the use of ICTs, a Cybersecurity and Data Protection Bill, which is set to become law shortly, is being debated in Parliament. In a nutshell, Zimbabwe has all the ingredients for successfully managing trade in the digital economy, both at home and abroad.
I thank you.