Professor Norman Nyazema
Opinion & Analysis

Transforming Africa, Zim through IT requires critical thinking

By Norman Nyazema

ON Thursday April 27, 2023, the Daily News carried an interesting story about a large turnout at Econet’s Zimbabwe International Trade Fair (ZITF) stand.

The stand, it was reported, did justice to the ZITF theme, “Transformative Innovation, Global Competitiveness”.

The report also mentioned that Econet had an upcoming 25th anniversary themed, “Building Memories Together”.

That got my attention as I vividly recalled what happened during the court battles before Econet got its licence to operate. The Attorney General at that time had argued before High Court, Justice MacNally, that Zimbabwe was not ready for the cellular telephony technology that the company was going to introduce into the country. The rest, as they say, is history!

It is also interesting that ZITF coincided with the Transform Africa IT Summit in Victoria Falls where The African Development and Smart Africa launched a US$1.5 m project to enhance digital trade and e-commerce.

The purpose of the project, it is hoped, is to create harmonised e-payment policies to enhance digital trade and e-commerce and obviously create a huge market for companies in the data storage and management business.

It is important to emphasise that relevant and efficiently implementable policies and a regulatory system have to be in place, urgently. It needs to be borne in mind that the use of the data must be done without compromising individual privacy.

Certainly, today, data can drive development and economic prosperity as long as the policies are implemented in such a way that ensures vital information is ethically used. A critically thinking general public, therefore, has to be aware of that, in no uncertain terms.

There is no doubt that the use of technology in day-to-day government projects and investment in digital technology, can create more efficient services and economic growth.

Having said that, it is indeed not surprising that Transform Africa, Smart Africa Alliance board, composed of heads-of-state, is chaired by Rwanda President Paul Kagame.

The reason it should not be surprising is that only four years ago, 2019, Rwanda took a bold decision to revamp its education system. It had been facing a number of challenges. These challenges included high school dropout rates, nutrition, teaching hours, teacher recruitment and management and the need to develop a reading culture.

After a wide rigorous consultation, Rwanda came up with the Education Sector Strategic Plan (2018 – 2024) which included STEM, ICT, Innovation, Research and Development as key national priorities. Fun enough this also included recruitment of teachers from Zimbabwe.

Rwanda’s ESSP was much like the Zimbabwe Education strategy which the government would love to refer to as a philosophy. There is no time to philosophise, things are not looking good, if the truth be told.

Anyway, in addition to the ESSP, the Rwandese single Ministry of Education made up of Basic Education, Technical and Vocational and Higher Education sectors put their heads together and came up with a Competency-Based Curriculum.

The curriculum included entrepreneurship and business development, citizenship and national identity with an emphasis on critical thinking, creativity and innovation, research, problem-solving and lifelong learning.

The minister of Education in charge of the sectors that speak to each other, encourages strong focus on quality teaching, learning and research and continuous professional development.

My hat off to Kagame for leaving matters regarding quality teaching, learning and research in general and ICT in particular, to critical thinkers who can do the best job of it.

Kagame is not the chancellor of any of the public universities in Rwanda. The gentleman is aware that higher education institutions in Rwanda were established by the colonial government to meet the labour needs of the time. Now Rwanda wants to prepare graduates for the modern job market where ICT has to be aggressively harnessed

Today, education, innovation and technology, productivity, economic output, resource-allocation efficiency, infrastructure and investments and trade, are important measurable determinants of how well a country is doing on the global scale. One cannot forget other determinants such as the country’s character, civility and determination, governance and the rule of law, all of which reinforce each other whether in strength or weakness.

For Zimbabwe, we can also include geology (i.e. minerals in the ground) as another important determinant relatively easy to measure though the implication of having them might change.

After all is said and done, it is clear that the major purpose of transforming Africa is about economics, a subject that came out of the study of moral philosophy. Moral philosophy explores the nature of morality and examines how people should live their lives in relation to others. Sadly, some economists tend to side step moral philosophy and claim that is for the politician to deal with.

Covid-19 has demonstrated how wrong such economists are, especially when one looks at how the pandemic exposed the weakness of our health system.

If we are to harness ICT and transform Africa smartly, we have to be cognizant of what health and health systems are all about.

Health is definitely not about the absence of disease. It is about life!

Africa in its quest for transformation smartly needs to continuously take seriously the broader sense of the 1948 WHO Constitution preamble definition of health, which states that ‘ health is a state of complete physical, mental, and social well being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity’.

Others have redefined health as ‘a dynamic state of well-being characterized by a physical and mental potential, which satisfies the demands of life commensurate with age, culture, and personal responsibility’ or ‘a condition of wellbeing, free of disease or infirmity, and a basic and universal human right.

Whatever definition is adopted, it is important to situate it within the context of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, SDGs based on the UN agenda “Transforming our world: the 2030 agenda for sustainable development”. Unfortunately, Africa and especially Zimbabwe, cannot pick and choose from the goals because all the goals speak to each other in a way

In summary, with proper ICT policies, data used well with all the determinants mentioned earlier, shall drive Zimbabwe development and economic prosperity for the good of a healthy nation. We need to critically think about how we can have more technology companies on our soil to avoid another form of colonialism.

Lastly, as someone passionate about health issues, I hope and pray that Zimbabwe geology, as a determinant mentioned earlier, shall be mobilized using IT to strengthen our health system which is in intensive care.

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