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Village containerised information centres, bridging digital gap

Nick Mangwana Special Correspondent
Devolution is one of President Mnangagwa’s flagship policy. This policy is centred on bringing services and development as close as to the point of need as possible.

The point of need in this case is where the people are. Devolution empowers people and in the Zimbabwean context one cannot talk of devolution and leave out the empowerment of the rural population. In this technological age Government of Zimbabwe has put information and communication technologies (ICT) at the centre of both the addressing and the uplifting the livelihoods of the rural poor.

One of the projects, which the Government has rolled out is the Containerised Village Information Centres (CVICs). This is a project being delivered by the Ministry of Information Communication Technology and Courier Services and Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (POTRAZ).

The centres are funded through the Universal Service Fund which is supported through a levy on postal and telecommunications service operators’ earnings. CVICs are temporary structures, which can be moved from one area to another if the need arises, they are easy to fabricate and deploy compared to permanent structures. The portable nature allows them to be redeployed should the location of the point of need shift.

This is a very imaginative project to bring ICT to the people and it started in November 2018. The CVICs are furnished with modern computers that are connected to the internet. Provision of internet connectivity, LAN and WiFi access points for internet connectivity is done upon operationalisation to avoid monthly fees.

Computers are also deployed upon operationalisation for security reasons. This clearly is a well thought through project as ICT offers opportunities to introduce new activities, new services and applications into rural areas as well as enhance existing services. This is designed to play a significant role in combating rural poverty and foster sustainable development through the creation of information rich societies and supporting livelihoods.

Government believes that, if ICTs are appropriately deployed they can realise the differential needs of rural people. They can become powerful tools of economic, social and political empowerment and the Government believes in an informed citizenry hence this project.

This project was embarked so as to address ICT needs for people living in areas where conventional Community Information Centres (CICs) could not be established. These centres were established at post offices. But post offices were not devolved enough to have establishments at village level. This is where these fabricated containers come in.

Most of these provide basic electronic services such as internet surfing, electronic mail service, printing, scanning, photocopying and document binding. These are the kind of services that every person living in a modern world should have access to. But people living in rural areas were excluded from accessing things which are taken for granted in developed countries.

Government of Zimbabwe in the Second Republic could not allow the exclusion from Information Communication Technology (ICT) and ICT-related services by members of these marginalised, unserved and underserved communities. This is what led to the enrolment of CVICs throughout the country in a bid to further the knowledge and appreciation of ICTs. Furthermore, ICT gap between urban and rural populace also made the establishment of containerised information centres in villages for the provision of services to the general public.

Everything now evolves around ICTs. They have become a major backbone for national economies everywhere. It therefore offers unique opportunities for Zimbabwe to leapfrog into the attainment of its aspirational Vision 2030. ICT allows people, anywhere in the world, to access information and knowledge almost instantaneously and President Mnangagwa repeatedly says we should not leave anyone behind.

Therefore, Government identified ICTs as an important economic development catalyst as they are one of the pillars and cornerstones for economic development.

To date all 24 containers have been deployed targeting high traffic areas in rural areas. Site surveys and pegging for all the proposed sites for the CVICs were done prior to deployment.

The sites are: Potraz HQ (pilot study) Manoti Business Centre, Selous Post Office, Rutenga Business Centre, Nyanyadzi Post Office, Nkayi Post Office, Chirundu Post Office, Bikita Post Office, Rafingora Township, Dorowa Post Office, Buhera Command Centre, Maranda Growth Point, Binga Post Office, Majuru Growth Point, Mahusekwa Business Centre, Nyadire Teachers College, Nyachuru Business Centre, Madziwa Business Centre, St Albert’s Mission, Maranda Growth Point, Tongogara Business Centre, Mnene Mission, Kamativi Business Centre, and Karanda Mission Hospital.

The containerised information centre deployed at Potraz HQ is already operational. Three deployed in Binga, Karanda and Selous are at the setting up stage whereby they are deploying computers and furniture, setting up wifi connectivity, ZESA power connectivity and ablution infrastructure.

Establishing infrastructure without ensuring that people are trained would be short-changing the people. Members of the community are therefore given free training in the use of computers. Government’s strategic objective is to make sure that every person in Zimbabwe has at least basic ICT literacy and has access to ICTs.

The training is catered for all age groups and is deliberately gender sensitive. This training has generated so much interest within the communities and most training sessions are oversubscribed with people wanting to be trained in basic ICTs.

A lot of people are talking of access to information and the provisions of section 62 of the national constitution. The actualisation of these provisions led to the Freedom of Information Bill. Government is not only legislating, but has gone much further to promote that access to information. And CVICs are an ideal tool for equitable access to and processing of information in rural areas as well as in towns.

Access to ICTs and effective participation in the digital economy is critical in improving the quality of life for all citizens.

The aim of setting up CVICs is to achieve universal access to ICT services and ICT development in the underserviced areas and marginalised areas. Underprivileged children should not remain in deprivation in rural areas. They should be able to spend time playing computer-based games and on play stations. The objective behind the establishment of the centres is to enable communities to access and use ICTs to promote their businesses, advance their education and improve their livelihoods.

There should be ICT diffusion in Zimbabwe and digital divide should be narrowed with a view to closing it.

This is part of the reason the Government is rolling out community stations and building more transmission sites in rural areas. This Government does not feel threatened by an informed citizenry. It has full confidence in its policies and is comfortable with having them subjected to informed scrutiny.

In fact it prefers that as a countervail to current misinformation and disinformation. There should not be digital divide between individuals, households, businesses in rural areas and those in urban areas or people at different socio-economic levels with regard both to their opportunities to access information and communication technologies (ICTs) and to their use of the internet for various needs.

This is why the Community Information Centres Model had to be adapted to suit rural areas. Most post offices are mainly in town and a few are in remote areas, therefore, depending on demand the organisers of the project are using containers as the CICs. The initiative is also aimed at bridging the said digital divide and ensuring that the population is geared up for the fourth industrial revolution where ICTs are proving to be of dominance.

CVICs also set to improve information sharing within communities themselves. Government intends to take this initiative to a higher level by making a provision of e-Government content to citizens’ countrywide and improved access to information.

Challenges

Policy implementation without challenges only happen in utopia. There are places where the implementation of this project has hit snags with some people trying to cash in. In Matabeleland North, Matabeleland South and Mashonaland East provinces, some Rural District Councils (RDCs) were demanding payment of administration fees annually by POTRAZ.

One may try to understand the revenue raising needs of the local authorities, but to demand such for community-oriented projects such as this smacks for greedy. These are not profit generating projects so sounds quite unreasonable to make such demands. These demands affected deployment for sites such as Stanmore, Brunapeg, Tshelanyemba and Kamativi and Mahusekwa. We cannot afford to stall projects just because some people have seen opportunity to make money. We should engender a spirit of community services.

Beneficiary communities are excited as the CVICs impact the general populace on personal and community development. Community information centres are crucial in empowering the people of Zimbabwe. Access to ICTs and effective participation in the digital economy is critical in improving the quality of life for all citizens.

Efficient and affordable ICT infrastructure and services allow countries to participate in the digital economy and to increase their overall economic well-being, competitiveness, digital inclusion, poverty reduction and improved health. CVICs are coming handy as a vehicle for socio-economic development for the citizenry across the country and should be embraced and supported by all.

This Government is leveraging on the social benefits to derived from ICT, from the spillovers and positive externalities associated with diffusion and its greater use and related improvements to the skill base. This Government also recognises the economic activity that may result from electronic commerce (e-commerce) hence its appetite to proliferate this project throughout the country.

Source :

The Herald

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