FINANCE Minister Felix Mutati during his budget speech delivered to the National Assembly on Friday, November 11, 2016, admitted that low application of Information and Communication Technologies in industries and inadequate skills among citizens are challenges to the attainment of socio-economic development and competitiveness.
Thus, to address this challenge, Mr Mutati said Government launched the Smart Zambia Master Plan whose vision is to have â€œa prosperous and globally-competitive and knowledge-based developed countryâ€.
Many developed countries today are basing their economic planning and growth on knowledge and information.Â Knowledge is now recognised as a key driver of productivity and economic growth, leading to a new focus on the role of information, technology and learning in economic performance. According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) (1996), theÂ termÂ â€œknowledge-based economyâ€Â stemsÂ fromÂ thisÂ fullerÂ recognitionÂ ofÂ theÂ placeÂ ofÂ knowledgeÂ andÂ technologyÂ inÂ modern economies. In this case, knowledge can be viewed as a resource embodied both in human beings (human capital) and technology.
Thus, from Mr Mutatiâ€™s budget speech pronouncement, it is evident that Zambia envisages having a country that recognises the role of knowledge and technology in economic growth. In order to achieve this, Zambia needs to be stronglyÂ dependentÂ onÂ theÂ production,Â distributionÂ andÂ useÂ ofÂ knowledgeÂ than everÂ before.
It is also evident that Zambiaâ€™s main economic objective as outlined in the Revised National Sixth National Development Plan 2013-2016 (R-SNDP) is aimed at achieving the objectives set out in the Vision 2030 of Zambia becoming a â€œprosperous middle-income country by 2030â€. Thus this objective needs to be made central and urgent if our country is to join the ranks of the high income countries.
But in order to achieve this, a lot needs to change in the way our country perceives the role of innovation, science, and information and communication technology in national development. For instance, it is evident that our countryâ€™s universitiesÂ engageÂ little inÂ researchÂ and only a fewÂ haveÂ adoptedÂ a proactive entrepreneurial approach in exploiting their research findings and in engagingÂ withÂ theÂ private sector.Â Â From the recent global university rankings, it is clear that none of our countryâ€™s leading tertiary institutions are ranked among the top universities either in Africa or in the sub region. Thus, linkages between our universities and industry remain limited and the tertiary education system is contributing less than it could towards the strengthening of the innovation system. Zambia also lacks the benefits of having world-class research institutes which could serveÂ asÂ conduitsÂ forÂ technologyÂ fromÂ abroad,Â asÂ wellÂ asÂ theÂ meansÂ of developingÂ localised or indigenous technology in specific areas that would helpÂ create local industrial hubs.
Therefore, there is need to consider making universityâ€“industry linkages more attractive by offering some grants to universities on condition that our universities pursue collaborative ventures with the private sector. Both Government and the private sector should contribute to the funding for research facilities and for basic research at our universities. This should include block grants, grants for specific programs, as well as scholarships for specific programmes such as science, mathematics and engineering studies.
TheÂ medium-termÂ needÂ thus, isÂ forÂ the country to have aÂ focusedÂ strategyÂ backedÂ by strongÂ leadershipÂ fromÂ bothÂ theÂ government and private sector.Â In order to achieve this, joint and coordinated efforts are needed to embed technological change into an industrial economy and also localize the process of innovation.Â A sustained and consistent emphasis on technology backed by effective policies can drive home the importance of technological dynamism for Zambiaâ€™s economic future.Â Â The effectiveness of such efforts can be seen from Asian countries such Korea, Japan, Singapore, Taiwan, China where an unwavering commitment to developing a knowledge-based economy has contributed to technologicalÂ ascentÂ fromÂ a mere initialÂ baseÂ ofÂ natural resources and human capital.
In the end, promoting innovation as a key resource for future socio-economic growth should be a key priority for our country. There is an urgent need therefore, to implement an agenda that promotes innovation and knowledge-based economy for the country. Zambia cannot afford to fall behind in this competitive global knowledge economy if the country is to attain â€œa prosperous and globally competitive knowledge based developed countryâ€ as stated by the Finance Minister during his 2017 budget speech in parliament.
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