A technician setting up a satellite receiver for Macha Works / Macha Works
Information and communication technologies (ICTs) are increasingly important in achieving development goals and promoting citizen participation. Zambia is one of a number of countries in the Southern African region that have sought to include ICTs in their national development plans. This policy brief summarises a review of the successes and failures of this approach in Zambia, and considers the next steps that are needed to meet the information and communication needs of the coming generation.
ICTs have received growing attention in recent years from development practitioners, policymakers, government officials and civil society organisations in Southern Africa. They are believed to contribute to improving development outcomes in two main ways:
- ICT-based knowledge and products contribute directly to wealth creation
- the use of ICTs contributes indirectly to national development through its impact in social and economic sectors such as agriculture, health and education, and by empowering individuals to take advantage of new opportunities.
Individuals also benefit from the availability and use of ICTs in a number of ways – for example, by substituting phone calls for travel, which saves time and money, and by using ICTs to obtain information on prices, for their own produce and for purchases.
In these various ways, ICTs can have a significant impact on a country’s ability to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
There are, however, also constraints on the potential impact of ICTs in many developing countries. These constraints include inadequate technical infrastructure, limited human skills to use available networks and services, the relatively high cost of communications equipment, and poor policy and regulatory environments. These factors reduce the scope for countries and communities to realise the potential of ICTs for development (ICT4D), and may even increase exclusion and marginalisation. The difference between access to and use of ICTs in urban and rural areas, and between prosperous and poor members of society – often called the ‘digital divide’ – has been of particular concern.