Nambia: Harnessing Knowledge Through Technology
New Era (Windhoek)
allAfrica.com NEWS
7 January 2008
Posted to the web 7 January 2008

By Catherine Sasman
Windhoek

A pre-requisite for economic growth in a globalising world is how nations can harness knowledge through the use of technologies. Knowledge today has become an independent commodity driving social, economic and political transformation.

It has thus become imperative for developing countries in particular - long burdened with often outdated modes of operations and rusty antiquated technologies and importantly information communication technologies (ICTs) - to catch up. For the development of a knowledge-based and technology-driven economy, the Namibian Government realises that investment in education, infrastructure and technologies, research and development systems, telecommunications and ICTs, are necessary.

The Government and other relevant stakeholders are reported to have made some strides to align the country's institutions in this matter, despite the critical shortage of the necessary agencies and qualified and experienced personnel in innovation and ICTs to drive this process. Notwithstanding these challenges, some headway has been made in the formulation of policies to set the country on its way to concerted development in these areas during the National Development Plan 2 (NDP 2) period.

In 2004 the Namibia Information and Communication Technology Policy and the E-governance policy were gazetted. In 2005 the National ICT Policy for Education was designed. Also, a number of cross-sectoral programmes and projects relating to innovation and ICT utilisation were prepared and implemented. Some of these are to be continued during the NDP 3 period.

Rapid expansion in mobile communications was reported, and Internet subscriptions have increased. But a glaring 'digital divide' inside the country has remained, and is ascribed to the huge rift in the socio-economic status of people and different levels of education. Another important impediment is access to electricity, particularly in rural areas, severely limiting the roll out of ICT services.

The Government has also recognised that policy constraints disallow private initiatives and entrepreneurs from delivering technology solutions that would suit low-income groups.

To transform Namibia into a knowledge-based technological driven nation requires political and financial commitments. And information management is essential for development planning.

NDP 3 thus identified a number of sectors to improve on its score of its "technological readiness and innovation".

Technical Readiness Namibia is said to have one of the best ICT infrastructures in Africa, and it ranks 66th among 126 countries on the technological readiness index (TRI). As far as the adoption of technologies by firms is concerned, the country ranks 92nd. However, its ICT infrastructure is mostly urban-based.

The country also ranked 75th on the score on an enabling legislative environment. A comprehensive legislative framework to better the country's position is sought with its Information and Communication Technology Policy drafted this year amid numerous delays to take in all aspects that influence the development of ICT. This has involved the revision of the 1991 Information Policy governing the media sector, and updating the Namibia Communication Commission (NCC) Act of 1992 to take into account the convergence of telecommunication and broadcasting services.

Once these drafts have been enacted, the Government intends to establish a Data Protection Centre and to reinforce the mandate of the NCC.

Also identified, is the need to develop content and protect Namibian indigenous languages on the Internet, as well as to protect the young from "unsuitable material" on the electronic media.

As far as mobile phone subscriptions go, it is estimated that there are 800000 mobile users, a combined figure for both MTC and Cell One. Namibia has four Internet Service Providers (ISPs) who operate in all major centers. In 2004 the International Telecommunications Union estimated that 3.38 users per 100 inhabitants had access to the Internet in Namibia. The 2007 Internet World Statistics indicated that the country has 80600 Internet users, which is a penetration rate of 3.9 percent, which forms 0.2 percent of Internet users in Africa. On this score, Namibia thus ranks 100 out of 126 countries.

About 7.2 percent of the population has access to personal computers, which is 18 percent of the urban population and only two percent of those living in rural areas. Namibia's ranking here is 55th out of 126. Innovation Namibia's number of scientific works and scientific publications from research is negligible. Here, Namibia ranks 105 out of 126 countries, and this is blamed on the fact that it sorely lacks qualified scientific personnel, as well as the Government's failure to fund research and development.

And there is virtually no public sector company with its own research unit. Namibia's ranking here is 80. Perhaps disappoin-tingly, is that there is minimal collaboration between the countries tertiary institutions - Polytechnic of Namibia and the University of Namibia - and industry on collaborative research projects. The Government is called upon to encourage cooperation between the tertiary institutes and industry through the provision of incentives and infrastructure. But the country suffers severely from its deficiency in scientists and engineers (ranking: 122). It is hoped this critical shortage will be addressed through the newly adopted Educational and Training Sector Improvement Programme (ETSIP) and desired increased funding in research and development to enable more junior professionals to receive advanced training and mentorship.

Further, Namibia has outdated legislation on patents - possibly because there has hardly been any use for it due to the country's complete inactivity on the development of its own patents. According to the Ministry of Trade and Industry, 95 percent of all the patent and design applications have been received from South Africa, with only five percent submitted by local Namibians.

Communications

An important goal of NDP 3 is to improve the communications sector through innovative use of technology. This will mean the need to improve access to affordable ICTs, adequate ICT training and awareness, improved ICT security and the management of e-governance activities. Again, with the rural/urban disparities in access to ICTs, some progress has been recorded. And tele-density has increased to 65 main lines per 1000 people.

Research, Science and Technology Namibia has a framework policy for research, science and technology to address the fragmented and poorly coordinated science and technology system, and everything that flows for this. In 2004, the Research Science and Technology Act was passed which aims to establish a national system for research, science and technology management, development and financing.

Other pieces of legislation, the National Biotechnology Policy and the Bio-safety Act, were completed, but there was a failure in the implementation of these due to the lack of human capacity. Information and Media NDP 3, like the plans before it, strives to promote the development and access to scientific, technological and business information, and to promote entrepreneurship in the media and information sectors.

Citizens' access to the media and information is viewed as progressive: television penetration is 66 percent (urban) and 37 percent (rural); 80 percent of rural dwellers can access radio, against 85 percent in urban centres; daily newspapers reach 18 percent (rural) and 35 percent (urban). Although there has been a decrease in newspaper titles than at independence, access to the media and variety has grown over the last number of years, with independent radio and television broadcasting emerging quite strongly. The aim of NDP 3 is to see an expansion of radio and television networks, as well as to support the establishment of multipurpose community media centres.

This period will also see a revision of information policies and the promotion of Namibia's nascent film industry, both in terms of increased local productions and selling the country as a sought-after international film location.

Copyright © 2008 New Era. All rights reserved. Distributed by AllAfrica Global Media (allAfrica.com).