If there is any ideal time to boost ICT entrepreneurship as an economic diversification tool in our country it is now. This is so partly because Botswana continues to be ranked as a laggard along other sub-Saharan Africa countries when it comes to performance of this particular economic sector.
As shown on the 2014 Network Readiness Index (NRI) our country is ranked at position 103 out of 148 countries with a below average score of 3.4 out of 7. Perhaps to share a little more on this particular report, the NRI considers a number of indicators, among them the political and regulatory environment and effectiveness of law making bodies.
Other pillars that are also looked at entail the rate of software piracy, availability of latest technologies, availability of venture capital, procedures and number of days needed to start a business and government procurement of advanced technology.
The major reason why our country should actively diversify its economy towards ICT can also be said due to the potential in this sector given the number of graduates in the sector, both employed and unemployed.
Our view is that with over to 3,000 unemployed graduates in the ICT sector atleast by March 2011 and a tertiary institution enrolment that stands at about 31000, policy makers in the ICT sector should be doing more to capitalise on the current situation. They need to up their game and insure that unlike in other sectors, locals are brought on board to drive the economic diversification.
In short, we are of the view that ICT graduates and by extension citizens who have interest in this sector should be empowered through capacity building, employment and education and skills development. This citizen economic empowerment that we suggest would help build local capacity and build confidence for international investors.
The sad reality is that at the moment, within the ICT sector, citizens get only 10 percent of funds spent on ICT in Botswana, mostly work (projects) given by the government through its departments and parastatals. The remainder as we may all rightfully guess goes to foreign-owned projects. But do we really feel comfortable in this current scenario where citizens remain spectators in the development and growth of this vital sector?
It is quite evident that elsewhere in developing economies, policy and law makers are busy harnessing their innovation potential to reinforce resilience against turbulent markets and sustain rapid economic growth. In their quest, many countries are now turning to information and communication technologies, in their role as key enablers of innovation and new employment opportunities. Why can’t we do the same here?
Our opinion is that despite all the hindrance that our fellow citizens face, there should not be a slight doubt that our country’s potential to diversify its economy away from the mining sector can only be harnessed through the Information and Communication (ICT) sector.
The excitement that has come about as a result of the expansion of this youth oriented sector over the past few years also provides evidence of the potential that lies ahead for the diversification of the domestic economy.
In addition, traditional industries such as agriculture, mining, manufacturing and tourism will benefit from the introduction ICTs into ongoing operations.
The Local Entrepreneurs Authority (LEA) would certainly agree with us that their clients, being SMEs need online initiatives which could also used as training platforms for provision of necessary tools to move their businesses on-line and use the internet as a vehicle for increasing productivity and sales.
The general agreement between us and ICT policy makers should be that although much progress have been done, it is quite evident that severe weaknesses still persist in the sector precisely in response to business and innovation ecosystems. This trend, as anyone would tell seems to have resulted in very low positive economic and social impacts.
The trend as such calls for a professional regulation that requires improvement in driving the economy to not just a knowledge economy but also an economy that is led by the ICT sub sector.
We recently got in contact with a consultation paper presented to Botswana Communications Regulatory Authority (BOCRA) under the World Bank-Botswana, Reimbursable Advisory Services Project on Economic Diversification and Competitiveness. The paper note specific reference to reviewing the ICT regulatory framework in the local sector precisely the licensing.
The paper, we hear provides the first initial background on the intended option to move to a Unified Licensing Framework (ULF) in Botswana. It has also emerged that the overall framework recommended factors in the wider ambition of Botswana to become an ICT hub in the region and move towards a knowledge economy.
BOCRA should be reminded to do something about the World Bank revelations that while Botswana may have one of the highest levels of access to mobile telephony in Africa, the majority of our people still do not have affordable access to broadband speeds for Internet connections.
The bank is right to note that the enhanced ICT services required for effective participation in the knowledge economy and society continue to elude the vast majority of the country, and there is some evidence that Botswana’s competitive position in ICT is slipping, as measured in international rankings.
Indeed markets figures as published by BOCRA on the local media recently do show that retail and wholesale prices in Botswana continue to inhibit the deployment of services and their usage by consumers.
These figures should be a reminder to BOCRA as a regulator that their focus should be the creation of conditions for effective competition. We share the sentiment with World Bank that the BOCRAS’s ability to regulate the domestic market will require more than just having a framework.
The fact that the government has already invested a lot in the ICT sector as shown by establishment of entities such as BoFinet is a good sign that atleast there is someone who is doing something right at the government enclave. There is no doubt that the Botswana Innovation Hub is a good initiative that could benefit Botswana if used properly managed.
In addition the small population also give the government and other donors an upper hand to empower the marginal communities with gadgets that can use them to tap in technological innovations and solutions.
The Bottom-line is that there is need to create more partnership particularly between leading ICT academia such as Botho University will accelerate the development of promising technologies as well as commercialisation which in turn result in economic diversification.
It is therefore our submission that the anticipated regulatory reform by BOCRA should as such be used as a tool to develop and enhance entrepreneurship within this vital ICT sector.