afrol News, 20 November - By Bonifacio Antonio (SARDC)
With only 60,000 computers available throughout the country, less than one percent of Mozambique's 17 million people have access to modern information technology. It is not surprising that the country finds itself lumped with nations that are classified as marginalized in terms of the Technology Achievement Index (TAI).
The index was introduced in the 2001 edition of the Human Development Report (HDR) and aims to capture how well a country is faring in the creation and dissemination of technology and building of a human skills base - reflecting capacity to participate in technological innovations of the network age on a global scale.
The HDR ranks countries in four different categories with TAI values raging from 0.744 for leaders like Finland to 0.066 for laggards like Mozambique.
Countries with TAI of 0.50 and above are classified as leaders, whilst those with values between 0.35-0.49 are regarded as potential leaders, those with values ranging from 0.20 and 0.34 are dynamic adopters and those with values below 0.20 are classified as marginalized. South Africa and Zimbabwe are classified as dynamic adopters.
The group of marginalized countries, where large parts of the population have not benefited from the diffusion of old technology, comprise Mozambique, Nicaragua, Pakistan, Senegal, Ghana, Kenya, Nepal, Tanzania and Sudan.
Although it still has a long way to go to catch up with the rest of the world in the field of information technology, Mozambique is determined to face the challenge.
As part of an effort to disseminate technological awareness among Mozambicans, the government organised an international symposium on Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Policy Implementation Strategy in Maputo in October. Issues discussed at the symposium included education and the development of human resources, health, governance, and infrastructure and universal access.
The event, held under the theme "Ensuring Access to Information Technology by Laying the Foundation of Knowledge Society", also attracted the interest of the private sector.
The general objective of the implementation strategy for an ICT policy is to ensure the development of an information technology society in Mozambique, the government says.
In addition, other specific objectives comprise the expansion of the coverage of ICT, especially access to the Internet, and the creation of an electronic network for the government and public entities, which will raise the effectiveness and efficiency of state institutions.
With about 80,000 telephone lines and a teledensity (telephones per hundred inhabitants) estimated at only 0.46, Mozambique has one of the lowest telephone coverage indices in the SADC region. To make the situation worse, 98 percent of the lines serve only urban population, leaving the rural areas, where 72 percent of the population lives, marginalized.
Studies indicate that in order to be satisfactory, a teledensity of 35.5 is an ideal target. At the present rate of network expansion in Mozambique, it would take two generations to reach this target. This is a colossal challenge and the country cannot afford to wait for such a long period.
Addressing the symposium, Mozambican president Joaquim Chissano stressed that the investment in education, including ICT learning, is fundamental for human development and must be the basis of the strategies for national ICTs.
- The main engine of the economy is ITCs which are responsible for the growing interdependence of today's world, Chissano said. "Unfortunately, the majority of the developing countries, especially the African countries, have little benefit from this digital revolution," he added.
However, Mozambique's poor record in terms of access to information technology has to be seen in the wider African context. Although an ICT revolution is underway worldwide, of the approximately 200 million Internet users, only 12 percent are from developing countries while one percent is from Africa. This is clearly one of the manifestations of the digital divide as exemplified by Mozambique.
In terms of access to the Internet, Mozambique has an average of one user to every 1,700 inhabitants, which roughly translates into around 10,000 connections countrywide. This figure is slightly better than the African average of one connection for every 5,000 people, but much less than, for example, the South African average of one in 65. In European and North American countries, the average is one in four.
However, taking into account that subscriptions to the Internet are frequently shared amongst several people, the real number of persons with access to the Internet in Mozambique could be considerably higher than 10,000 Internet users.
President Chissano believes that the best solution is for the country to "adopt suitable methods, which will allow for the mass use of ICTs".
By Bonifacio Antonio, Southern African Research and Documentation Centre (SARDC)