Zimbabwe has once again been ranked last among southern African economies that are developing their information communication technologies (ICTs).

According to the World Economic Forum (WEF)'s Global Information Technology Report (GITR) released last week, Zimbabwe ranked a dismal number 105 in a survey that included 115 economies in 2005-2006.

The report, which uses the Networked Readiness Index (NRI), measures the degree of preparedness of a nation or community to participate in and benefit from ICT developments.

The NRI examines an economy's ICT condition on three dimensions: the general macroeconomic, regulatory and infrastructure environment for ICT; the readiness of the three key stakeholders -- individuals, businesses and governments -- to use and benefit from ICT; and their actual usage of the latest information and communication technologies.

Harare's ranking is a considerable slide from its 2004 position, when it was number 94 out of 104 countries, ahead of neighbouring Mozambique, which ranked 96th. In the 2005-2006 report, Maputo is ranked number 101, four places ahead of Zimbabwe.

At position 37, South Africa leads sub-Saharan Africa in terms of networked readiness while Mauritius (ranked 45th) and Botswana (ranked 56th) trail South Africa. Tunisia, which is ranked 36th, leads as the highest-placed African country. In total, Zimbabwe only outmanoeuvred two other African countries, Chad and Ethiopia, which anchor the rankings at positions 114 and 115 respectively.

Overall, the United States climbed four places this year to replace Singapore on the top spot in ICT, confirming its position as an information and communication technology powerhouse.

Singapore, Denmark, Iceland and Finland were next, confirming the ICT dominance of Asia and the Nordic countries.

With record coverage of 115 economies worldwide and published for the fifth consecutive year, the GITR has grown into the world's most respected assessment of the impact of ICT on the development process and the competitiveness of nations.

Zimbabwe's ranking means that there is little or no progress that is being made in the adoption of the latest information and communication technologies.

The crisis-torn southern African country, which is battling its worst economic crisis in 26 years, is currently hitting the headlines following reports that the government is crafting a notorious Bill empowering it to snoop on telephone and individual private emails.

The proposed law, the Interception of Communications Bill 2006, reverses a Supreme Court ruling in 2004 which declared unconstitutional some sections of the Posts and Telecommunications Act.

Harare has been scoring poorly on global economic indices as its economy declines.

Recently, the Global Competitiveness Report gave Zimbabwe the world's worst ranking (117th) for the quality of its macroeconomic environment.

Since its launch in 2001, the GITR has become a valuable and unique benchmarking tool to determine national ICT strengths and weaknesses, and to evaluate progress.

It also highlights the continuing importance of ICT application and development for economic growth.

The WEF said although technological change had always been a central engine of economic growth, what had been significant about the past decade was the acceleration in the pace of change.

As more and more countries made efforts to improve their macroeconomic and policy environments, technology and technological innovation appeared to have entered a "golden age" when they were emerging as the key drivers of growth and development, it said.

John Chambers, the president and chief executive officer of Cisco Systems, co-authors of the report, said: "Networking and communication technologies are enhancing the way people communicate and exchange ideas, opening the next horizon for creativity, innovation, growth and competitive advantage.

"The strong link between the Networked Readiness Index and global competitiveness has increased and is evidence of the critical role that these technologies play in any economy or company's strategic plans. The GITR will provide all of us with greater insight and help to guide our future decisions." said Chambers.

Financial Gazette