Thursday, February 9, 2023

Remote does not have to mean out of reach

In recent years, technology permeated almost every aspect of our lives as we witnessed a surge in digitalization across sectors. Access to the internet is a lifeline for thousands of Batswana to work, learn, access critical information, and stay connected with friends and family. But, a question to consider is whether there is equal access to technology across the country.

According to the World Bank collection of development indicators, compiled from officially recognized sources, the rural population (% of the total population) in Botswana was reported at 28.44 % in 2021. There is a significant number of Batswana who have limited or no access technology, particularly to the internet, thus finding it challenging to keep up to date with the news, and have fewer opportunities to educate themselves.

The Information and Communications Technologies (ICT) sector offers numerous advantages to bridging the apparent digital divide: greater access to information, cost reduction in the labor sector, greater connectivity between people, etc. To close meet the goal of becoming an information society, the technology required should be as diverse as the landscape to be covered. This therefore calls for more collaborative efforts and deliberate investments especially in areas that are in dire need.

On the other hand, there are many tell-tale signs that Botswana is currently putting in place initiatives towards establishing itself as a Knowledge Based Economy (KBE),while simultaneously trying to bridge the digital divide at various levels of the socio-economic hierarchy. According to the 2022 Budget speech delivered by Minister of Finance and

Economic Development, Peggy Serame, there are four flagship projects under the guidance of the SmartBots project positioned to fast-track the country’s digital transition: accelerated digital connectivity nationwide; moving Government services online; leveraging smart technologies to address food security; and transforming the education sector.

The government of Botswana is also currently employing a rural connectivity initiative that projects to connect 500 villages with digital infrastructure. Internet access will be available to clinics, schools, businesses and municipal building in regions that were previously not connected. Although bridging the digital divide is a possible feat, continued effort to reach the aspired goal of transforming from a resource-based economy to KBE ought to be actualized and expedited.

Nevertheless, there is no single solution to the various conditions: density challenges, financial considerations, and geography. Considering the nature of the technology solutions required, developing strategic partnerships with the government, telecommunications regulators, device manufacturers, service providers, and learning institutions will help reach our goal of becoming a globally competitive, knowledge and information-based society.

Having traversed around the world, I have seen cost effective solutions that may put Botswana ahead within a short space of time especially with regards to addressing rural connectivity challenges. Technology is getting more and more diverse and mobile operators have options that afford them to fall on a range of infrastructure products. For instance, some markets within the continent seem to pay glowing tributes to affordable solutions that have seen them connect the unconnected even in areas where connectivity had been a thorny issue for many years. A case in point is that of Ghana. Just last year, a Ghanaian Minister of Communications Ursula Owusi-Ekuful commissioned a cost effective mobile connectivity base for far flung communities of Ghana to enable them access mobile network. That milestone clearly indicates that no one has monopoly over knowledge but partnerships come in handy. Shared solutions via partnerships can drive our countries and the continent forward. I would like to believe that Ghanaian initiative can be to Botswana as useful as it is to Ghana.

Huawei takes cognizant of the fact that rural connectivity expansion in Africa is a key issue and we remain committed to collectively find common solutions. Solutions such as the RuralStar can have a positive impact on the growth of rural mobile internet coverage. Rural Star is a cost effective innovative rural network solution that supports 2G, 3G and 4G connectivity.

To date, the rural network solution has been successfully deployed in Kenya, Namibia, Mali and Zambia. Once we all come to the fore; the private and the public sector and decide to be deliberate about rural connectivity, we shall trigger rapid growth in mobile connectivity and broadband internet access. We shall continue to witness the power of digital transformation and all its burgeoning effects in terms of economic and social transformation.

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