By The Solutions Tower Staff.
Zimbabwe is one of the rare countries in Africa with a history of commitment to investing in technology and ICT related initiatives. Zimbabwe, over the years, has developed relatively advanced ICT service delivery capabilities across industry and government, but perhaps it has been its own worst enemy through lack of strategic planning and execution of its governance systems that has kept it rooted at the bottom of the competitive ladder. The United Nations’ e-government readiness reports ranked Zimbabwe at position 134 in 2016 and 123 in 2014 out of 193 member states. The level of e-government development in Zimbabwe is still low and also declining due to lack of proper direction and priority investment.
Technology is a broad term commonly referred to as an understanding of how knowledge is creatively applied to organise tasks involving people and machines to meet sustainable goals. Technology is primarily concerned about taking action to meet human needs and makes effective use of organised ways of doing things to advance human lives to lead a better life. The advent of digital technology has revolutionarised the way, pace, complexity and ease of doing business globally into an interdependent common village. The isolation of Zimbabwe during the UDI era from 1965 and the subsequent sanctions and poor governance ethos have condemned this nation to the doldrums of economic prosperity.
However, despite this lackadaisical governance approach, it is worth noting that the history of technological revolution in Zimbabwe dates back to the forgotten era of centuries ago when indigenous hunters made and used an impressive array of tools. There is the bow which was made from giant raisin tress called “uta”, knives, axes and until the advent of colonial rule, villagers also dug pits lined with poison tipped stakes or “hunza” where wild game such as buffalos were captured. In his book, “Transient Workspaces, Technologies of Everyday Innovation in Zimbabwe”, Clappeton Chakanetsa Mavhunga, An Associate Professor in MIT’s Program in Science, Technology and Society argues that it is critical for a historical rethink about the trajectory of technological innovations in Africa in general and Zimbabwe in particular. Mavhunga challenges the idea that technology can only come from laboratories and factories outside Africa. Just like any other aspect of African life, relatively few studies of African technology have been written from an African point of view.
The disruptive effects of colonialism dating back to 1890 are evident in Zimbabwe, with its impact and bias towards foreign driven technological revolution. The UDI in 1965 declared by the Rhodesian Front under Ian Smith contributed to its own disruptive effect, technologically inspired by sanctions led by the British government. The restrictive nature resulting from the sanctions significantly reduced the scope and pace of technological advancement and innovation to cater for and meet the needs of the indigenous people as a consequence of racial segregation and discrimination. These unfair practises gave rise to a war of liberation, culminating in majority rule in 1980 under Mugabe. The protracted war focussed on destabilising key technological developments during this time that helped propel the continued stranglehold on power by the Smith regime. This war isolated the indigenous Africans to protected villages that hindered and disabled their ability to advance their technological innovations and capabilities.
The advent of majority rule in 1980 saw the adoption of infrastructure and technological capability that sustained the Smith regime through the worst sanctions then. Although the Ian Smith regime was able to develop and advance its own technology internally which sustained it for UDI era with minimal assistance from outside Zimbabwe’s borders. Zimbabwe adopted infrastructure in 1980 that was highly functional but was not designed to meet the needs to the entire nation. This put a lot of pressure on Mugabe and his government to confront these challenges head on. After years of attempting to meet the growing technological demands of a fast growing population, Zimbabwe is on the brink of implosion largely due to a slap dash approach to planning and implementation. The scourge of corruption, greed and lack of dynamic vision, Zimbabwe is failing to manage and sustain most of its strategic technological facilities.
Of worry most is the static nature that has characterised Zimbabwe’s technology infrastructure in defiance of the natural revolution cycles which drive technology. The Netflix movie Silicon Cowboys can demonstrates how this cycle has evolved since 1982 when IBM rolled out the first mainframe computer. Zimbabwe has overlooked Bell’s Law on the birth and death of technology that states that roughly every decade, a new class of lower priced and more complex computing devices emerge that have a disruptive effect that shapes the destiny of our ways of living and doing business absolutely. It is the insistence on rehabilitating archaic technology across industry and government that has become a serious impediment to transforming Zimbabwe’s economic growth today. This cuts across our railways, road infrastructure, electricity power grid systems, mechanical technology driving the manufacturing industry, extractive technology in the mining sector, ICT driving retail banking and technology driving e-government services.
The historical development of e-Government in Zimbabwe can be traced back to 1999. The Government of Zimbabwe (GoZ) through its partnerships with the National Economic Consultative Forum (NECF) and support from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). Zimbabwe has benefited previously from many assistance programmes such as the 2012-2015 Zimbabwe United Nations Development Assistance Framework (ZUNDAF) which was succeeded by the 2016-2020 (ZUNDAF) strategic framework supporting national development priorities as informed by the 2013-2018 Zimbabwe Agenda for Sustainable Socio-Economic Transformation (Zim Asset) and geared towards the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as well as other international commitments, norms and standards.
Despite all this support, Zimbabwe has systematically failed to optimize on the existence of Wide Area Networks and application systems such as SAP software, civil service payroll, national registration system and the passports system, the pension system, the RTGS system and other online e-Business systems such as the G2B and G2C capabilities and outdated infrastructure that links these systems to rural areas. Zimbabwe is facing its economic liquidity crisis as a direct result of failing to optimize and upgrade its infrastructure to accommodate mobile banking technology in preference to holding on to its archaic banking systems. Zimbabwe needs a paradigm shift in its system of governance which is bottling technological revolution and misallocating priorities and resources to make it a consumptive nation that has crowded out rejuvenation of local industries to compete with global competitors who embraced new technology to provide goods and services at a much cheaper and better quality output level.
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