Why ICT in Zambia is undeveloped

Although Zambia lies in a constraining geographic position of being landlocked, this may be an advantage for the country because being centralized forms a strategic point of delivery which could make the country a natural central hub for exporting services that can be offered internally, regionally and indeed globally.

The country’s geographic position hinders easy trading but offers a huge potential to connect and supply all 8 neighbouring countries. Alas, this is not the case!

Zambia is medium sized country geographically landlocked in the heart of Southern Africa, the country was colonized by Britain until the 1964 when it attained political independence.

Despite being politically free; it can be argued that Zambia is still economically enslaved by the country’s dependence on donor aid, sub-standard imported products and heavy reliance on developed countries processing its economic output.

The population of Zambia has grown from 10.8 million in 2000 to 15.6 million in 2015. Zambia is a wealthy nation endowed with arable land and natural mineral resources yet it remains very poor as such it was ranked 138 out of 186 on the human development index by the United Nations in 2009.

The economy of Zambia is highly dependent on copper mining and on agriculture as economic drivers. As a ‘least-developed’ country, Zambia is suffering from high levels of deprivation and poor infrastructure, especially in rural areas and remote villages. Literacy levels are very low confirming the old adage that says ‘the best way to hide something from Black people is to put it in a book‘.

Zambia has 3 mobile network providers and at least 15 internet service providers (ISPs). The fixed telephone network offered by the state owned Zamtel remains extremely limited in range and usage because the service is largely confined to the main urban areas such as provincial capitals.

Like many other countries in the Southern Africa, Zambia has experienced a rapid increment in mobile technology ownership and usage since the boom of the mobile phone industry. The number of mobile phone subscriptions has risen from less than 500,000 in 2003 to more than 3 million in 2015.

The ICT sector has achieved remarkable development in the past decade with major reforms and formation of an ICT policy. However, access to the internet and mobile services still remains low in spite of recorded huge mobile phone penetration levels of about 35% as compared to 0.02% growth 14 years ago.

The fundamental question any reasonable observer would ask is ”what could be the cause of the stagnation?” Below are possible challenges that have continued to hinder the growth of the ICT in Zambia.

1.) High ICT costs.

ICT equipment is very expensive for the vast majority of Zambians citizens because the cost of personal computers (PCs) and accessories such as routers or modems is increased by the high rates of importation taxes. In addition, the costs for broadband services are high. As a result, only the well-to-do in Zambia have access to the internet in their homes or offices while most internet users heavily depend on internet cafes or subscription to internet promotions offered by mobile network operators.

2.) Lapses in regulatory framework.
ISPs complain that the inflexible regulatory regime is a major challenge to their expansion. The time taken for new technologies to be approved has drastically slowed down the implementation of innovative services. The fact remains that there has been no high-level, identified champion for ICT in the Zambian government nor even the private sector. An enabling national climate for ICT investment and adoption is crucial but it requires closer cooperation between different government ministries and between government and the private sector, including effecting transparent public–private partnerships. Other regulatory issues raised by local stakeholders through the Panos London ICT in Zambia survey report include: the implementation of universal access, including the development of broadband access, the lack of regulation on the sharing of communications resources between operators, the absence of performance monitoring, uncertainties concerning the regulation of internet content, inadequate power infrastructure to support ICT services, the implications of convergence between telecommunications and other communications sectors in terms of regulation and licensing.

3.) Unequipped programmers and developers.

It’s not that there is a lack of capable developers in Zambia, oh no! There are so many that you’d be surprised. The main issue is that they are unequipped to handle what is necessary to turn this country into a commercial tech powerhouse. There are plenty Colleges that offer ICT courses here and there, but the majority of Zambian students are only exposed to outdated learning materials or cannot afford to enrol in a world-class programme. As a result, many go the self-taught route in the hopes of becoming the next Mark Zuckerberg. Nobody is collectively working of turning Zambia into the next India. “Let’s learn programming and let’s be hella good at it.” Instead, there is a lot of half-baked work floating about. Either the design is bland or the UX (user-experience) is horrible. If the developer is good then they are unavailable either due to high demand or a high price point.

The lack of a commercial mindset breeds a poor working culture. Commercial in the sense of making a sustainable lucrative living from their programming skills. However, most developers are distracted by their “Facebook” projects that they never focus on delivering the best quality work that they can do. They spend resources and time on trying to create the next Facebook or LinkedIn which is sad because the potential is unfathomable considering the digital revolution and the rise of virtual reality.

No wonder most big companies contract non-Zambians to do even simple work like building a website. Zambian developers are either too expensive, too distracted or too incompetent to deliver high-quality work.

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Author: Andrew Zaraki Nguvu

Andrew Zaraki Nguvu is a business consultant specialized in all areas of accountancy, management, recruitment, finance, sales, legal, venture capital and marketing. He is an award winning social entrepreneur, innovator and business enthusiast.

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