[CAPE TOWN] Zimbabwe is expected to pass legislation that could help it take better advantage of information technology, despite the economic crisis that has gripped the country.
The Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Bill, which would pave the way for implementing a strategic ICT plan launched in February, is currently awaiting cabinet approval before it goes to parliament for further scrutiny.
It is expected to repeal and amend existing legislation to create a single ICT law. The bill will also put in motion the strategic plan to develop telecommunications and Internet infrastructure, and enhance capacity to produce local software and hardware, Nelson Chamisa, Zimbabwe'sICT minister, told SciDev.Net.
The five-year ICT plan, scheduled to start this year, aims to address issues such as cyber-security; ICT utilisation andinfrastructure development; e-business and e-government; and ICT investment and partnerships.
Chamisa said the plan would transform the local ICT sector and build upon momentum already in play since last year.
But according to a report by Technology Strategies International, a technology market analyst, ICT still has a long way to go in Zimbabwe.
The report, 'Investment opportunities in the ICT sector in Zimbabwe: 2010', released last month (March), notes that the number of fixed telephone lines run by state-owned operator TelOne has grown by just three per cent annually in the past five years, reaching 365,400 subscribers by the end of 2009. And only 3.9 million people out of Zimbabwe's population of 11 million was a mobile phone subscriber.
Chamisa emphasised the need for the coalition government to work together on the ICT strategy and engage other stake holders.
He said the strategy will help transform Zimbabwe into a knowledge society. He added that the plan will get finances through private-public partnerships, though he could not release any figures yet.
"To successfully implement this plan, 75 per cent [of commitment] is about the political will of politicians and policy makers, 25 per cent are the resources that we need," he added.
Robert Ndlovu, a Zimbabwean ICT consultant based in the United States, said that if implemented as planned, the strategic plan will boost Zimbabwe's international bandwidth, which will mean faster access to online resources.
But Soul Kabweza — an Internet consultant and editor of an online ICT magazine, Techzim, based in Harare, Zimbabwe — told SciDev.Net: "The plan does not address head on the current skills shortage in the ICT profession in Zimbabwe". The plan is welcome and seems promising, he said, but it is lacking strategies for building and retaining ICT skills in the country where skilled professionals have been lost in the past ten years.