E-life phenomenon transforms lives in rural areas

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“I USED to wait for my son who worked at Olivine Industries in Harare to bring me newspapers. I remember him leaving a heap of the papers and I would read them for over a month. Yes, the news articles were stale, but during those days, that was the deal. But life has changed. With my phone, I am now a receiver of mobi news, every day. There is no need for me to wait for newspapers from Harare anymore,” 69-year-old Kizito Purauzeni of Chikurumadziva Village in Wedza says with a grin on his face.

BY JAIROS SAUNYAMA

Purauzeni is one of the millions of people who live in Zimbabwe’s rural areas who have taken the bait of information communication technologies (ICTs) phenomenon that has hit across the globe.

He is no longer part of the village men who would converge every monthend at the nearby rural primary school headmaster’s house so that they would catch a glimpse of the country’s dailies and weeklies, so that they would get acquainted with the current affairs of the country.

“The headmaster at Chikurumadziva Primary School was the source of our news. Each time he went to Rusape on pay day, we knew that he would bring a copy of a newspaper. Those villagers enthusiastic about the nation’s current affairs would then converge at his house where he would read the news to us. That was then, but all is now in the past. We are now receiving and sending news using our phones,” Purauzeni says.

The world has become one as the interconnectedness intensifies, leading to great improvements in communication systems.

The gap between urban residents and rural folk as far as information reception is concerned is no longer that visible.

Zimbabwe’s rural areas are no exception and e-life has become the way of life, not only in the homes, but in the fields, on the way to the diptanks as well as at the shopping centre.

It can be e-commerce, e-health, e-learning and online video chat and all those fantastic changes that the world has experienced in the past 20 years, the rural folks are now part of this.

However, not all rural people have yet tasted the merits of ICTs, as some parts of the country are still lagging behind.

Renowned Marondera tobacco farmer Fari Mangwiro (51) says the introduction of mobile phones was indeed a blessing in disguise.

“Developments within the past two decades have resulted in the transformation of people’s lives due to a surge in technology. The mobile phone, practically unknown for some years ago, has become the most common gadget within the rural set-up.

“Both commercial and peasant farmers have been brought together; technology has made our lives easier. We can now access information on any issues, even that concerning our operations. Farmers do get crucial farming tips anytime on their mobile phones. Social media applications have become a source of useful information,” Mangwiro says.

Recent statistics reveal the latest percentage of mobile phone users as being 51% of the population.

With just the click of a button on your computer or phone, you can access the world.

Social media networks like Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp have become the norm with many people in Zimbabwe using them for various purposes.

Former Information, Communication and Technology minister Nelson Chamisa, at the African Union summit held in 2010 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, said every aspect of life is slowly, but surely transforming into an e-world, both for the haves and have-nots.

Gone are also the days when elitism was measured by the type of scotchcart, expensive clothes or the number of cattle in the communal areas.

Nowadays, it is measured by the kinds and extents of technology.

After selling their tobacco at the auction floors, young rural farmers head straight to IT shops to secure perhaps the latest gadgets in the land.

However, according to ICT expert Samuel Chindaro, government has not done much to support ICTs in rural areas.

He said improvement can only be noticed if government introduces a vibrant ICT curriculum starting from primary school.

“In the area of ICT provision to communities, the government has done virtually nothing in this area in the rural areas, and the little in terms of ICT that prevails today is just the provision of mobile phone services promoted by private companies. The government could do more, even in the prevailing power shortage conditions to promote ICT in rural areas. There are initiatives which can be launched to cover the lack of ICT facilities, such as the old and trusted use of community radios, and the opening of post offices,” Chindaro said.

“The use of local rural radio promotes social interaction by bringing people closer together, stimulating communication and enhancing the value of local knowledge. It helps rural people to be better informed about their own environment and their community’s problems. In this way, they can more actively participate in development programmes and activities which allow them to improve their own lives.”

He said provision of community-shared ICT centres in rural areas should be prioritised and that pilot projects could be launched at rural centres to provide learning models for future expansion.

“The availability of Internet facilities would be ideal, but this should not be an impediment for launching such centres. There are a large number of university/college students who can be mobilised to support such initiatives,” he said.

ICT minister Supa Mandiwanzira recently said his ministry was building a robust fibre optic backbone to ensure a reliable Internet and mobile phone connectivity to the entire population.

“There has been a tendency by State enterprises operating in the same sector duplicating infrastructure and government is keen to avoid such duplication.

“We want to consolidate such infrastructure and there is also need to consolidate and build an extensive network that is not only commercially-driven, but also driven by the need for equitable development. We must offer 70% of our population in the rural areas the same connectivity that is offered in the urban areas,” he said.

With government still not there as far as ICTs are concerned, for now, Purauzeni’s intimate relationship with his mobile phone has resulted in him becoming the oasis of information in his village.

He has taken over the powers that used to be bestowed upon the local school headmaster.

But according to Chindaro, if properly implemented, ICTs can facilitate speedy integration of rural areas and enable the enhancement of a number of sectors including education, health care, small enterprises and agriculture.

“The Zimbabwean government must re-evaluate their priorities and promote the use of ICT in rural communities so that they can access the knowledge and information they need to improve their living conditions,” he said.