2022-03-10 13:01:25

Botswana seeks to achieve its aspiration, as stipulated by Vision 2036, of transforming itself from an upper middle-income country to a high-income country by 2036. Vital to this Vision, is Botswana’s goal of becoming a knowledge-based economy anchored in the development of a cutting-edge Information and Communications Technology (ICT) sector.

The vision carries forward the government’s commitments set forth in Maitlamo, Botswana’s first National ICT Policy. This policy sought to harness the capacity of ICTs to catalyze national transformation in order to make Botswana a globally competitive sub-Saharan ICT hub. In line with this, the Economic Recovery and Transformation Plan (ERTP) and the recent Reset Agenda, also prioritize digital transition as it has the potential to enable high productivity and competitiveness. Given the importance of digitalization in spearheading the achievements of Botswana’s aspiration, this article discusses Botswana’s digital performance as indicated by the 2021 Institute for Management Development’s (IMD) Digital Competitiveness Report.

To succeed in such a rapidly shifting landscape, a country and its citizens have to be able to adopt and explore new digital technologies that will transform government practices, business models, and society in general. This is what the IMD World Digital Competitiveness ranking quantifies. The rankings assess the capacity of 64 economies to use digital technologies in order to transform themselves. The assessment is undertaken by observing a country’s performance in three areas, referred to as factors, essential for promoting digital transformation. These factors are Knowledge, Technology and Future Readiness.

2. Factor Ranking

Botswana’s rank under the knowledge factor is 64th with a score of 32.58 out of 100. According to IMD, the knowledge factor refers to the intangible infrastructure that underlines the process of digital transformation through the discovery, understanding and learning of new technologies. These aspects are captured by indicators that measure the quality of the human capital available in the country, the level of investments in education and research as well as the outcomes of these investments (e.g., registered patent grants in high-tech fields or scientific publications in academic journals).

Botswana ranked 63rd under the other two factors being the technology and the future readiness factor with a score of 23.35 and 16.18, respectively. The Technology factor assesses the overall context through which the development of digital technologies is enabled. This includes criteria that tracks how friendly regulation is, how it facilitates innovation in the private sector, the availability of capital for investments and the quality of the technological infrastructure in place. On the other hand, the Future Readiness factor examines the degree to which governments, business and society at large are adopting technology. Examples of indicators included in this factor are the diffusion of: internet retailing (e-commerce); of industrial robots and data analytics tools in the private sector; and of e-government services.

3. Strengths and Weaknesses

One of Botswana’s overall strengths is the total public expenditure on education under the knowledge factor, ranking 1st. The other remarkable performance ranking 2nd is the low level of entrepreneurial fear of failure which demonstrates Botswana’s future readiness.

Some of Botswana’s weaknesses under the knowledge factor are the low high tech patent grants (64th), low digital/technological skills (63rd). With regard to the technology factor, the major challenges are low internet bandwidth speed (63rd), low level of high-tech exports(63rd), intellectual property rights (62nd), low funding for technological development (63rd) and poor banking and financial services (60th) to support the digital transition. The major weakness under the future readiness factor was the development & application of technology where Botswana was ranked last (64th).

4. Way Forward

These rankings demonstrate that initiatives that support the digital transit need to be urgently fast-tracked, if the country is to be globally competitive and also realize its knowledge-based economy ambitions. Botswana is working on accelerating its transition to a digital economy by investing P3.1 billion through the Economic Recovery and Transformation Plan (ERTP). The initiatives to be implemented under this plan include marketing Botswana to investors as having the fastest, cheapest internet in Africa, establishing a ICT Hub, accelerating the Digital Land Registration and undertaking a digital diagnostic (World-Bank funded). These initiatives will definitely go a long way in addressing the digital gaps in Botswana.

Opportunities are available to leverage ICTs and e-commerce in support of private-sector development. ICTs have emerged as powerful tools to support business growth, increasing operational efficiencies and productivity across sectors. In countries with a robust entrepreneurial culture, e-commerce can often lead to a rapid increase in the number of business-to-consumer interactions. This can also lead to an increase in e-commerce uptake by engaged consumers, which, in turn, can incentivize further entrepreneurship. By leveraging this dynamic, there is an opportunity to create a virtual cycle helping to drive the growth of the private sector and further diversification. It is on this premise that it is recommended that development of the National e-commerce strategy be accelerated.

Some of the measures outlined in NDP 11 include the training of ICT personnel in this area and should continue to be accorded priority in order to enhance the ICT/digital contribution to economic and export diversification, as well as the creation of high-quality jobs. Botswana should also strive to achieve the goal of universal access to reliable high-speed networks so as to improve competitiveness and attractiveness to domestic and foreign investors. Equitable and affordable access to broadband connectivity will fuel creativity and enable innovation among businesses by providing a platform that supports entrepreneurial advancement, access to information and active citizen participation in the information society.

According to the IMD World digital competitiveness report, leading economies mainly sustain their digital competitiveness through their performance particularly by remaining adaptive and agile. Agility dictates that firms are able to transform their business models to take advantage of new opportunities. Adaptiveness requires, on the other hand, the willingness to participate in digital-related processes; For example, to engage in internet based (on-line) purchases. To improve agility and adaptiveness in the digital space, Botswana needs to intensify efforts of promoting digital literacy and awareness at the national level.