It's decision time on Maitlamo, the National ICT Policy master plan that is intended to transform Botswana through the effective countrywide use of information and communications technology.

An ‘open house’ conference has been called at the Gaborone International Convention Centre on May 23-24. It will be the final public forum to debate the draft policy before it is presented to Parliament.

The Maitlamo recommendations have received comment and input from various quarters since the strategic plan was drafted, and there is a growing sense of urgency of the need to bring the document to conclusion and formal ratification by Parliament, and then move directly into concerted implementation of the key elements of the plan.

Now is the decisive stage of the whole exercise, and there are fears that the bold initiative that was taken in formulating the national ICT roadmap risks losing momentum if things do not advance speedily from here.

In short, it is time to stop talking and start acting.

As the policy planners warned at the outset: “Actions over the next twelve months will likely determine the success of the entire strategy. It will be essential for the design and implementation of Botswana’s ICT agenda to get off in the right direction and with the right level of support, enthusiasm and momentum.

“Chances of success will diminish rapidly if the recommendations get caught up in a prolonged approvals process or if the project is not adequately embraced at the highest levels of Government.”

It is against this background that the final Gaborone conference will take place. Attendance is open, but will be strictly by advance registration on a first-come-first-served basis. The closing date for registration is May 18 (details - Page 11).

The keynote address to set the scene on the opening morning will be by the Minister of Communications, Science and Technology, Pelonomi Venson. The Deputy Permanent Secretary in the Ministry, Lash Motlhatlhedi, will give an overview and progress report on the formulation of the National ICT Policy.

International speakers will share insights and perspectives on national ICT policy experiences in other parts of the world, including Africa, Singapore and Malaysia.

The conference will divide into groups for breakaway sessions based on the seven task forces that drew up the Maitlamo plan. These are -

- community access and development
- government
- learning
- health care
- economic development and the ICT sector
- infrastructure
- legal and policy

The closing address will be given by Marianne Nganunu, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry.

The conference follows wide-ranging comment and input to the draft policy document by BOCCIM (Botswana Confederation of Commerce, Industry and Manpower), BITS (Botswana Information Technology Society), Cobit (Citizen Owned Businesses in Information Technology) and others.

Vigorous initiatives to accelerate capacity building and entrepreneurial development are among the actions called for.

It is noted that annual ICT expenditure in Botswana might be approaching a billion pula, about P250 million of it from the Government sector and about P750 million from other sectors.

“This is very encouraging and demonstrates significant domestic demand for ICT products and services,” says the Maitlamo document. “However, much of this revenue goes directly abroad and not to local companies.

“Based on this impressive internal demand for ICT products and services, the urgent need is stressed for increased domestic development of specialised ICT skills and on-the-job training. These initiatives will ensure that young graduates have a career path in Botswana’s emerging ICT sector, and thus strengthen capacity building and citizen economic empowerment.”

The main thrust of such a scheme would be to create employment opportunities for Batswana at all levels. Monitoring, benchmarking and measurement strategies are envisaged.

Win-win and smart partnerships, joint ventures, and joint ownership programmes between multinational corporations and citizen businesses would be encouraged through preferential procurement to develop the business acumen and entrepreneurial spirit of citizens. Such partnerships would stimulate the development of citizen businesses, grow their market share and prepare them to be globally competitive.

Recommendations call for the introduction of grants for ICT research and development and innovation, venture capital and loan financing to promote a business friendly environment for start-up enterprises, and also to enable the “incubating and hatching of ICT savvy ideas and innovations by citizens”.

The goal is defined as “the development of a culture of lifelong learning and re-learning to equip our people with business skills and technical competencies, and an innovative and entrepreneurial spirit to exploit the opportunities and to succeed in the increasingly growing e-lifestyle of our nation”.