ICT ALLIANCE TACKLES RURAL NAMIBIA

DESPITE all the strides made in the development of technology in the country, it is still sad to see that only 7% of the country’s population has access to Information and Communication Technology (ICT).

The absence of ICT to a majority of people around the country could also lead to a reduction in development, something the Government should not want to see.

In order to curb this anomaly, the ICT Alliance is garnering for support from its members, the Government and other players in the industry to at least bring the figures of ICT penetration in the country to acceptable levels.

According to the chairperson of the ICT Alliance, Lodewyk van Graan, this could start by making internet available to all schools in Namibia.

“Every child must have access to the internet for free. We have in our country’s constitution a clause that protects children’s rights and among those rights is the right to education. Therefore, if we are not providing young people with internet, we are depriving them of basic education because nearly all knowledge these days is IT-based and our lives are now governed by modern technology,” says Van Graan.

The ICT Alliance is lobbying for support from its members, who are suppliers and users of ICT products, to work with Government and other development agents to come up with rural based initiatives to make sure every school should at least have internet facilities and also encourage the study of computers in schools as part of the curriculum starting from the primary level.

The ICT Alliance has been working closely with the Ministry of Information and Communication Technology and the Ministry of Education to come up with an ICT Policy that has a clear bias towards the development of ICTs in rural areas.

“With the new E-Governance Strategic Plan that the Government is planning to implement, the ICT Alliance is doing a lot of work to make sure it’s not aimed at the privileged few but the rural communities. I must say that this is something the Government understands very well and have adopted entirely as part of their development efforts. This is the only way we can boost knowledge and achieve penetration of new markets for suppliers,” he says.

Van Graan adds: “The few schools that have set up ICT centres have been finding it difficult to have members of the public come and utilise the facilities as they have not been made aware of the benefits of such centres. It is therefore important that those who are already using ICTs must spread the word about the benefits of the internet to other communities that may not be exposed to new technology. Government and the donor community have been doing their best in this case but all players in the ICT industry be they users or suppliers, should play their part.”

The ICT Alliance is a stakeholder organisation comprising of members from Government, private sector, ICT end-users, tertiary institutions such as Polytechnic of Namibia and Unam, IT suppliers and in fact, anyone who uses ICT in Namibia. The organisation was started in 2000 as an industry-based lobby organ but later spread out to include other sectors.

“The ICT Alliance of Namibia is committed to the successful development, positive growth and ethical conduct of the Information and Communication Technology society in Namibia. What sets it apart from the rest is the way in which the ICT Alliance functions. The board is elected by its members and members of the board donate their time to the ICT Alliance in service of the ICT society.”

This commitment takes many forms such as support of developmental initiatives, ensuring close cooperation between the public and private sectors and serving as cabinet approved advisor to the Government. The ICT Alliance has several subcommittees that focus their expertise and efforts on specific areas. These include subcommittees focusing on Industry, Policy, Universal Access and Capacity Building.

The ICT Alliance was instrumental on an advisory capacity, assisting the Government in forming the Ministry of Information and Communication Technologies. The Government has shown great vision in consolidating its ICT infrastructure and services under one ministry that has in its stable the appropriate professional skills to look after ICT as one of the most powerful developmental tools that a country can have.

The highlight of the alliance’s involvement in Government initiatives was working with the Ministry of ICT in drafting the Communications Bill that was passed into Act of Parliament in 2009.

Members of the ICT Alliance are strictly bound by their Code of Conduct to ensure that private companies, especially the suppliers remain ethical in their dealings with the public.

According to the chairman, there have been a few cases of unscrupulous suppliers of computers and equipment that have been short changing the consumers but fortunately none of them were members of the alliance.

He acknowledges, however, that those whose names are associated with such acts would not be granted membership of the alliance until they show that they have attained a certain level of responsibility.

Membership and involvement into the ICT Alliance activities is on a voluntary basis and member companies are expected to be part and parcel of the country’s ICT development and get endorsed as suppliers that have good conduct.

He also says, however, that the ICT Alliance also protects the interests of its members and lobbies to have issues that affect the industry discussed at cabinet level.

He cites two key issues that affect the industry at the moment and these are the small market that Namibia has and access to skilled people in the ICT sector. In order to address these issues, the alliance has engaged Government through the responsible ministries.

“In a country that has just above two million people, industry cannot grow much through market size but rather through sophistication and opening up of new markets that has not been taped into before in rural areas. If the industry opens up this market then there will be more demand of ICT products in the country,” he says.

In terms of skills development, Van Graan says Namibia suffers a lot through its immigration policies by not allowing skilled labour from other developed countries to come and impart knowledge in the country.

He says, almost all players in the industry have in one way or another suffered because ICT products are imported from other countries but there will be no skilled manpower to assemble and service them.

In this regard, he adds, the ICT Alliance has engaged the Ministry of Home Affairs to loosen the red tape whenever companies want to acquire special skills from elsewhere.

He agrees, however, that whoever comes into the country must impart the knowledge and skills to local people so that they can be empowered to serve their own communities.

Government, he says, should move faster with providing internet bandwidth with a larger capacity than what is currently available. Van Graan says it is his hope that by the time the undersea cable that joins Africa to Europe currently being constructed jointly in the Atlantic Ocean is finished; Namibia would be ready to have the same internet access as countries in Europe or Asia.

“This will make internet cheaper and accessible to more people, hence bring about more development. If you go to China right now you’ll find that people pay less than N$100 per month in unlimited internet access anywhere in that country. In some cities there are hotspots that offer free internet and the country benefits a lot from tourists who come to have the facilities here. Namibia could also take a leaf from such initiatives.” PF