NEW BOTSWANA ICT STRATEGY – AMBITIOUS BUT ACHIEVABLE?

Alongside the liberalisation changes, the Government of Botswana was also launching a new ICT policy that in its words “provides (the country) with a clear and compelling roadmap that will drive social, economic, cultural and political transformation through the effective use of Information and Communications Technology (ICT)”.

This ICT strategy has three things usually missing from national ICT strategies elsewhere in Africa: the resources that will be applied to bring it about; clear targets with timelines; and a structure for implementation that explains who will do what. That said, the plan is extremely ambitious but as it concludes:”Although the challenge is significant, the tasks are clear and achievable. Botswana has an unprecedented opportunity to chart a new and exciting future for its children. A future filled with countless opportunities and few boundaries. It is now time to move forward at Internet speed”.

The Policy is called Maitlamo and builds on Botswana’s National ICT Vision and Objectives that were developed in April 2004. They are as follows:

“Botswana will be a globally competitive, knowledge and information society where lasting improvements in social, economic and cultural development is achieved through effective use of ICT”.

- Creation of an enabling environment for the growth of an ICT industry in the country;

- Provision of universal service and access to information and communication facilities in the country; and

- Making Botswana a Regional ICT Hub so as to make the country’s ICT sector globally competitive.

An ICT Legal Framework has been produced as a companion to this Policy. The Framework provides a review of current legislation in Botswana and identifies appropriate policy actions that need to be taken to establish a trusted and secure e-Commerce environment.

Seven Task Forces have been put together to develop key aspects of the ICT Policy, focusing on the following areas:

- Community Access and Development

- Government

- Learning

- Healthcare

- Economic Development and the ICT Sector

- Infrastructure

- Legal and Policy

Highlights of the National ICT Policy include:

Connecting Communities Programme

Hundreds of Community Access Centres will be established throughout the country. These access centres will provide citizens who do not have computers and Internet access at home with an “on-ramp to the Information Superhighway.” Centres will be tailored to the specific needs of the community and will provide easy access to information and services relating to healthcare, jobs, education and government services etc. Far more than a simple Internet café, these sites will offer training, education and assistance to the community and ensure that local residents learn to use ICTs for maximum social, cultural and economic benefit. Training in business start-up and e-Business will also be provided to local companies and entrepreneurs.

National targets for the Connecting Communities Programme are:

- All communities over 2000 inhabitants to be connected to high speed network access by 2016

- 50 fully functioning Community Access Centres by December 31, 2010

- 100 fully functioning Community Access Centres by December 31, 2012

- All public libraries and/or book rooms connected to high-speed network access by December 31, 2010;

- 5 Mobile Internet Units, with high speed satellite access, deployed by December 31, 2007;

- Complete coverage of al of Botswana by national radio and TV (public broadcasters) by December 31, 2008; and

- A measurable increase in employment, wealth generation and healthcare awareness in communities that maintain working high-speed networks in excess of four years.

Government on Line

The policy places Government at the centre of the policy:”Government must act as the catalyst for Maitlamo, as it will be the trigger for many ICT related initiatives across all segments of society. Designed within a broader public sector reform initiative, the Government on Line programme will make all appropriate government information and services electronically”.

National targets for Government On Line include:

- All appropriate government information on-line by December 31, 2007;

- All appropriate government services on-line by December 31, 2009;

- All government employees to receive formal e-Government and Customer Service Training within one year of joining the public service – starting January 1, 2008.

ThutoNet

This programme is pivotal to the entire Maitlamo initiative and aims to provide the literacy, skills and knowledge required for both formal and non-formal learners in the networked world. The programme will provide all schools in Botswana with modern computers and access to the Internet. All teachers will be trained how to use ICTs as a classroom tool and formal ICT education will introduced into the school curriculum to help prepare the nation’s children for success in the digital age. Locally produced educational software will be produced to assist with e-Learning and ensure local content and subject relevance.

National targets for ThutoNet are:

- All schools and libraries with computers and Internet connectivity by December 31, 2010;

- All teachers to receive ICT training by December 31, 2010;

- ICT content and curriculum development available at all levels of the education system by December 31, 2010; and

- A recommendation that a 1:7 computer to student ratio be introduced into all schools by December 31, 2012 has been proposed, however the exact ratio has still to be determined.

e-Health Botswana

This programme will introduce a number of ICT initiatives aimed at improving the health of Batswana and improving the overall efficiency and effectiveness of the healthcare system. Simple applications such as a Healthcare Portal and improving health related information delivered over the radio and television will provide rapid benefits. Over time, more sophisticated solutions such as Telehealth (healthcare advice provided over the telephone) and Telemedicine (healthcare services provided over the Internet) will be introduced.

e-Health Botswana targets include:

- All health facilities in which care is available for more than ten days per month to be connected by December 31, 2008;

- All Batswana have appropriate access to health information on-line by December 31, 2009; and

- Services to provide health services remotely available across Botswana by December 31, 2010.

ICT and Economic Diversification

The strategy for enhancing the ICT sector in Botswana will be focused on the further development of the International Financial Services Centre (IFSC) and positioning the country as an attractive location for Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) investment. In addition, traditional industries such as agriculture, mining, manufacturing and tourism will benefit from the introduction ICTs into ongoing operations. This programme, in conjunction with the Connecting Communities and Government on Line initiatives will also focus on training and assistance to SMEs to provide them with the necessary tools for moving their businesses on-line and using the Internet as a vehicle for increasing productivity and sales.

Targets for the ICT and Economic Diversification Programme include:

- An additional 15,000 to 17,000 new jobs created in IFSC and BPO centres;

- Domestic ICT Sector to double in size based on demand from Maitlamo driven initiatives;

- Measurable growth in agriculture GDP and employment;

- Measurable growth in tourism revenues and employment;

- 30 export-ready manufacturing SMEs, operating on-line; and

- Non-mining sector at least 80% of GDP by 2009.

Connecting Botswana

This programme will assist in the design and deployment of an enabling technical infrastructure for Maitlamo. It will provide adequate, affordable, reliable and sustainable ICT infrastructure solutions to enable full connectivity to homes, communities and establishments, and the delivery of health, education, public services and e-Commerce solutions to everyone in the country. The initiative will identify the technical requirements to support the rollout of Maitlamo and develop a “future-looking plan” to ensure that the country’s ICT infrastructure is constantly evolving and improving. Providing electricity and Internet access for remote and rural communities is of particular importance to ensure equity and Universal Access, and will be a key focus of the programme.

National targets for Connecting Botswana are:

- Competition in all areas of ICT implemented by December 31, 2008

- 50% of citizens will have access to reliable power and connectivity by December 31, 2010

- Access to ICT technologies is available to all citizens by December 31, 2016

An initial funding estimate of 950M Pula has been identified as being necessary to support the design and implementation of the ICT Policy over the next five years. Exact funding requirements will become more clearly defined as each of the various programmes and projects are designed in greater detail.

A series of "Fast-Track Projects” have been identified. They will be introduced over the next twelve months and will provide the necessary platform for accelerating the country’s connectivity programme in subsequent years. Costing estimates to support year one fast-track initiatives are expected to be in the region of 35M Pula.

Currency note: 100 tebis = 1 Pula. 1 Pula = US 22 cents.

(Our thanks to Cuthbert Lekakau of BTA for inviting us and all his staff for a well-organised event.)

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