Botswana Poised to Reap the Benefits of the Transformative Potential of the Digital Revolution
Digital technologies have spread rapidly in much of the world, transforming the worlds of business, work and service delivery. The World Bank Group’s, World Development Report of 2016 defines the broader development benefits from using these technologies as digital dividends. These returns to digital investment have boosted growth, expanded opportunities and improved service delivery.
The report titled, Digital Dividends, states that, “Countries that complement technology investments with broader economic reforms reap digital dividends in the form of faster growth, more jobs and better services.” However, it observes that in countries where the fundamentals are weak, digital technologies have not boosted productivity or reduced inequality.
Presenting the report at Botswana Innovation Hub earlier this month, co-author Tim Kelly said, “It is widely acknowledged that the adoption and use of ICT’s for government and trade by countries can contribute significantly to the development and renovation of established economic and social sectors by reducing unemployment, especially among the youth and boosting efficiencies in service delivery.”
The report advises that for countries to reap the full benefits of the digital dividends they must promote competitive business environments, increase accountability and upgrade education and skills-development systems to prepare citizens for jobs of the future.
In Botswana where the economy has historically been agriculture driven until 1967 when diamonds were first discovered, it has now emerged that over reliance on narrow volatile external markets has proved unsustainable and it is forecast that mineral revenue will decline substantially over the next two decades. For this reason economic diversification continues to be promoted, and the values of free enterprise economy encouraged through the drive to create a more competitive and investment friendly environment in which the private sector can flourish.
Government initiated structural and strategic shifts that will take the country beyond its mineral endowments and shape it into a knowledge-based economy. The government has, as a result, put a lot of effort into creating an enabling environment through sound macro-economic policies and an increased budgetary provision for sectors that are targeted at diversifying the economy as well as creation of sector capacity through skills development, access to land and capital, and low tax rates and exchange control liberalisation.
Permamant Secretary in the Ministry of Infrastructure, Science and Technology (MIST), Dikagiso Mokotedi is adamant that government has laid a solid foundation to enhance technologies and reap benefits of the transformative potential of the digital revolution.
Mokotedi says, “In creating an enabling environment, the Government of Botswana developed the first Science and Technology Policy in 1998 which was followed by the establishment of the Ministry of Communications Science and Technology in 2003, with the mandate to establish strategies for harnessing Science Technology and Innovation for economic development.”
The Permanent Secretary goes on to say that, “A strategic blueprint, the Botswana National Research Science and Technology plan (BNRST) document that lays down the foundations for an implementation strategy for Science, Technology and Innovation was completed in 2005. This identified key areas to focus research and innovation aligned to the then existing research and development institutes.”
He says under the current National Science, Technology and Innovation Policy of 2012, and its implementation plan, there is a specific provision for setting up appropriate administrative structures, research and development funding instruments and strategic projects that lay down a strong future foundation in Science, Technology and Innovation through a number of key interventions.
Government’s initiative to establish new institutions such as Botswana Innovation Hub, Botswana International University of Science and Technology (BIUST) and research institutes like Botswana Institute for Technology Research and Innovation (BITRI), the University of Botswana’s new teaching hospital all bear testimony of governments strategic initiatives to promote research, technology transfer and innovation with commercial emphasis and relevance to Botswana.
Mokotedi says commercialisation of Research and Innovation is essential for economic growth. He however says it also requires funding, “Researchers burn money to generate knowledge and Business burn knowledge to generate money”. Therefore, with this synopsis of the policy setting for Science, Technology and Innovation, the government is facilitating creation of synergies among government, academia, private sector, industry and businesses through the Botswana Innovation Hub. Government is facilitating for policies that support commercialisation of research and innovation and Botswana Innovation Hub, which is set up to contribute to the country’s development and competitiveness, offers a unique platform through which the low hanging fruits of the digital revolution can be harvested to allow citizens to enjoy the bountiful harvest of digital dividends.
By Tigele Mokobi