Zambia’s digital transformation journey and its role in economic development, trade and investment
Economy, Opinion, Telecom

A decade ago, Zambia seemed to be one of the many countries in our region that was struggling to keep pace with the demand for development in ICT due to a variety of circumstances.

By Mark Townsend, CEO Liquid Telecom Zambia, Author

Government and its regulators recognised that if the country wished to enhance ICT development, increased levels of competition in the ICT space was required. This would open doors for new players to compete with more established incumbents on price, thereby driving down costs for the average consumer.

The Government, through Zambia Information and Communications Technology Authority (ZICTA), has embarked on widespread construction of communications towers. Last year the figure for new towers was approximately 400, this year it stands at over 1,000.

However, we still have a long way to go to achieve the same levels of success in other spheres, especially when it comes to internet penetration. This is largely because while the quality of connectivity service in Zambian cities where large populations of people who own smartphones are located is relatively good, in more rural areas many people are still relying on 2G, which makes even having a coherent phone conversation – let alone a WhatsApp call or video conference – impossible.

At Liquid Telecom we believe that to make internet connectivity a compelling business case in the rural areas, we’re going to need to rely on more Government intervention and support. Zambia is relatively well-placed in terms of the existing infrastructure that has been put in place over the past decade, including internet connectivity infrastructure, but we’re a long way off from where we need to be. Ideally what we’d like to see is full utilisation of this infrastructure. For example, as of 2017 only 20% of the ICT infrastructure that had been deployed and was available for use was being utilised. Much capacity still had not yet been fully absorbed.

Let’s take a moment to discuss exactly what ‘digital transformation’ means for Zambia and the steps that we need to take to unleash its many possibilities:

First, we need greater automation, which will allow us to eliminate certain time-consuming tasks and processes. The areas where we need to apply our sharpest focus are education and healthcare. We also need to enable the Government’s ‘Smart Zambia’ programme, which includes digitising most of the civic work (for example, councils, lands departments, births, and deaths).

We need to make digital platforms, processes, and tools available to businesses of all sizes to boost their profitability and efficiencies including – but not limited to – mining, tourism, retail and manufacturing. We also need to consider the consumer perspective with respect to this paradigm of large-scale digital transformation (for example, video connectivity, TV-on-demand, IoT-based security for homes).

At Liquid Telecom we believe it’s now more critical than ever to close the gaps that exist between this nation and others who are further down the road than Zambia, to ensure that this country is ready and able to ride the unstoppable wave of digital transformation that’s now becoming an increasing part of people’s lives, education, livelihoods and employment prospects.

Let’s look back with pride and celebrate the progress we’ve made over the last decade, and use these experiences, insights, and learnings to enable our course to success.

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