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Technology | Economy - Development

Information Minister commits Zambia

Misanet, 12 December - Zambia's Information and Communications minister, Bates Namuyamba told the World Summit on Information Society (WSIS) meeting in Geneva, 11 December, that Zambia will next year implement the countries Information Communications Technology (ICT) policy.

But civil society has said the Minister's promise is just another academic exercise and political propaganda.

Speaking before thousands of delegates and journalists Namuyanmba said Zambia has completed its preparatory phase and remains to start implementing the long awaited ICT policy.

This came after ITU Secretary-General and Secretary-General of the Summit Yoshio Utsumi appealed to world leaders to share the powerful information and communication technologies (ICT) with the most impoverished economies.

Zambia is one of the impoverished countries with no ICT policy meeting in Geneva and campaigning for the creation of a Digital Solidarity Fund.

The aims of the summit is to bring all stakeholders to a round table to foster a clear statement of political will and concrete plan of action to shape the future of the global information society and to promote the urgently needed access of all countries to information, knowledge and communication technologies for development.

The minister said Zambia supports the vision.

However critics of Zambia's history of implementing police think Zambia is still very far away room bridging this digital gap.

A source from the civil society group said Zambia's economy and the present infrastructure and political will do not favour any meaningful technological development unless donors support the country both in policy formulation and implementation.

He expressed fear that should the country be given funding without proper monitoring, the funds would be diverted to less important areas such as presidential trips and Minister's emoluments.

This is the same fears being expressed by the donor countries, especially, Japan, USA and others opposed to the creation of the Digital Solidarity Fund.

Zambia has not committed money to technological development and it is highly unlikely that it will be provided for in the next budget.

The Minister said for Zambia to be part of the growing world she needed to bridge the digital gap and that the government was determined to make it work.

Zambia has held two national symposiums on ICT, the first in 2001 and the second earlier this year.

Both symposia have concluded that Zambia's infrastructure in its current state does not support growth of ICT.

More than half of the country is rural with poor road infrastructure and no electricity. The phones too are a problem. Except for the springing up of internet cafes in towns most rural dwellers have not head of an internet, most schools; even colleges do not have computers.

And due to the political instability and general mistrust for a politician, most people are skeptical of improving ICT in Zambia. They fear it might be used for political expedience. An example of how Zambians do not favour and trust the development of ICT is during the run-up to 1996 elections when MMD brought a computer company called Nikuvu to conduct the registration of voters and produce voters' cards and register using computers.

Most people, especially opposition members protested that because of computers elections would be rigged.

- With this kind of history it simply means they can not even support the use of advanced technology to count votes, one delegate observed.

A country like Zambia raved by HIV/AIDS and other diseases people needed information and survives.

But in Zambia, most people are not only deprived of access to information but they don't even have tools for accessing it. And like what Mr Utsumi said, until we address the injustices of the digital divide, we cannot embrace the promise of cyberspace with a clear conscience.

By Peter Chilambwe, for Misanet in Geneva

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