Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Botswana needs to make huge investments in digital literacy

As Botswana continues to search for openings to broaden economic opportunities for citizens, perhaps the less talked about avenues has to be digitalization of the economy.

Data is fast emerging as a solid mainstay for advanced economic.

Botswana too can join the bandwagon.

But there are precedent conditions that need to be made available.

There has to be a solid target. Preceding that target there has to be a solid desire, preferably announced in a budget speech spelling out exactly how such an initiative could, first be financed and then rolled out.

The natural starting point has to be at primary school level. Pre-schools too could be involved.

Already there are signs that going forward, data will be the only game in town.

There is need for a framework on how to go about preparing and participating in that eventuality.

For Botswana the good thing is that it will not be like starting from scratch.

Already in place is the Botswana Innovation Hub, which is doing a significant work on incubation.

But what the country needs is a large scale and more ambitious plan that deliberately goes to the earlier years of schooling.

But there has to be political commitment too. That involves mapping and resourcing a long-term national path.

Countries that do not prepare to become digital players will be left out for good.

There is no limit to what such data could be used for.

Large scale global entities worth trillions today solely exist for the purpose of churning out data.

Data is an intangible commodity. But it is growing increasingly integral in today’s world of commerce, business and law – at local, national and international levels. Similarly, data is also growing very expensive.

It can be used in financial services and also in back-office processing hubs.

In the advent of Special Economic Zones Areas that Botswana is mounting, data processing is crucial.

And perhaps most importantly digital services operations know no physical boundaries.

And more importantly several specialized niches could still be carved out to become suppliers to other industries like banking, insurance, aviation, manufacturing, transport and many others.

Botswana faces a stubborn form of unemployment that simply refuses to go away and instead keeps growing.

The good thing about Botswana is that the population remains youth. And also, trainable.

Thanks to Botswana’s huge investment on education, these young people are already technologically savvy.

Given Botswana’s current position, investing in digital literacy deserves a serious attempt.

Digital literacy could actually provide the key to economic diversification that has for so long proved elusive.

The world over, digital startups are not only creating jobs but also opening the much-needed new frontiers in terms of investments and financing models.

The world is already in the middle of an information and technology information.

But it is not ending any time soon.

It will keep growing and getting more sophisticated for the foreseeable future.

Trying to stop it or ignore it is a waste of time.

In fact those trying to ignore or stop it risk being washed ashore.

Only countries that prepare and make room to participate in it will survive.

A few years back Mauritius became a pioneer for Africa when Government started a process to roll out tablets and laptops to school children – for free.

That process has fast-tracked a revolution that was already in place to digitalise the Mauritian economy.

Schools have all been connected with internet.

And the country has consolidated its ambition as a world class centre for international financial services.

Indeed, the country has its sights fully trailed on becoming Africa’s version of Singapore.

The outside world is using Mauritius as a gateway into the African market which has over a billion people, boasting countries with some of the world’s fastest growing economies.

The upshot of it is an economy that has been growing non-stop for forty years.

Like Botswana, Mauritius is an upper middle-income country.

But unlike Botswana Mauritius has a plan that includes infrastructure and also a time table to transition to a high-income economy.

Crucially, Mauritius has already created Cyber City, its version of Silicon Valley.

Emphasis has been placed on reforming education by creating a balance between academic and technical streams.

It is hard to see how we can become participants in the fast emerging era of automation if we are unable as a country to digitalise.

With the right mindset, Botswana too can become a digital economy.

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