Vital for govt to take digital transformation seriously

The 2022 United Nations e-government knowledge base, ranks  Zimbabwe as number 139 and 148 on the e-government development and e-participation indices, respectively.

Towards the end of November, various media outlets reported on the encounter of Zimbabwe's first education minister, Dzingai Mutumbuka, who allegedly lost his home to fraudsters, in a crime involving the forgery of his title deeds.

The property, valued at US$600 000, was sold for a meagre US$140 000 and the High Court ordered the former minister to vacate his property.

Mutumbuka appealed against the decision at the Supreme Court but he eventually lost the appeal as well.

It is reported that criminals are working in collaboration with officials, conveyancers and unscrupulous police officers, to carry out such title-deed fraud, across the country.

This matter brings the importance of the digitisation of government services, into the spotlight.

If the government had managed to create a digital framework for the authentication of title deeds, the criminals in this case, would have been deterred and the property owner would not have so regrettably lost his asset.

The 2022 United Nations e-government knowledge base, ranks  Zimbabwe as number 139 and 148 on the e-government development and e-participation indices, respectively.

This shows that there remains room for improvement and catching up with countries which are ranked above the nation.

The government has so far managed to make some of its services available on digital platforms.

These include visa applications for foreigners, some passport application processes for locals, the oncoming digital ID application process and the electronic international trade system (ZeSW), among others. However, much still needs to be done, as most government departments are still reliant on paper-based processes.

The archaic systems will continue to have a negative bearing on efficiency, citizen satisfaction, security of processes and cost.

Thus, the government needs urgent actionable policies on digitisation and digital transformation, in order to avert the negatives.


Digitisation is the process of transferring paper-based documents and analogue files (audio, video, etc) to digital format.

In Zimbabwe's case, this would mean capturing paper-based birth certificates, identity documents, passports, driver's licenses, and so forth, on digital platforms, then storing them in that format, for future use and accessibility, by the personal owners or the government.

It also includes the transformation of old videos and audios of national or historical significance, into digital mode. Such transformation is crucial because it enables the data (information) to last longer than it naturally would. For instance, a paper goes through degradation through time.

Similarly, old videos and audios on cassette tapes and compact discs will not be compatible with future media technologies, such as digital TVs, audio systems and computers.

For Zimbabwe, digitisation would be extremely expensive if it were to include all government documents (of significance) ever produced.

In that, regard, the government may decide to digitise a few priority areas, instead.

For example, all the country's title deeds may be deemed a priority area, due to the spike in title-deed fraud.

Additionally, it may also be wise to include IDs from a certain year (perhaps 2000), going forward.

In July, the Ministry of Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services, signed an MOU with Russia, which is meant to give Zimbabwe assistance in its digitisation and digital transformation.

In order to make the collaboration practicable, it is strongly suggested that the ministry prioritises the previously mentioned priority areas.

This is because attempting to cover the digitisation of all government data may prove insurmountable.

After a successful digitisation process, the government will then need to embark on a system-wide (government-wide) digital transformation.

Once more, due to limitations, this can be done on a gradual, incremental basis, whilst guided by an overarching strategy which will ensure that all ministries will eventually be impacted, over time.

Digital transformation

Digital transformation is a government-wide transition from paper-based and analogue processes to digital processes.

It might have a strong resemblance to digitisation, but digital transformation goes beyond uploading paper-based and analogue records to a digital platform.

Instead of issuing paper-based birth certificates and identity documents, in the first place, digital transformation will ensure that the documents will be issued and used in digital format, from the beginning.

Digital transformation has been made necessary, by the swift modernisation of society, alongside the higher expectations of citizens, who now demand the government to be as efficient as online stores and other businesses, which they transact with, on a daily basis.

Shrinking government budgets, owing to growing debt burdens also mean that cost-efficient methods such as digital transformation, will assist to reduce budgetary pressures.

The higher frequency of systemic disruptions, such as Covid-19 pandemic and extreme weather (floods, heatwaves), have also added to the limitations which can curtail the efficient provision of government services. For instance, if there is a flood, citizens in some areas will not be able to visit government offices, to apply for or collect their essential documents.

Expectedly, some would miss other crucial personal or business deadlines, due to that.

On the other hand, digital transformation would mean that citizens can access such documents online, regardless of the weather or conditions outside.

Additionally, the younger generation, especially those born after the year 2000, are increasingly becoming digital-natives (digitally proficient).

Thus, if the government does not make the required digital transformation, these digital natives and future generations, may fail to obtain useful documents such as IDs, on account of their unavailability, digitally. This can result in unruly citizens, since they would be existing under a government which is incapable of understanding or delivering their basic needs.

Tellingly, this would also have a negative bearing on the country's economic and social development.

Accomplishments, thus far

Zimbabwe has managed to digitise some key government services along the way. Some of those are outlined hereunder.

The country already has an e-Government Unit, in the office of the President and Cabinet (OPC), which has the responsibility of managing Zimbabwe's digital transformation.

As early as the 2010s, a website named ZimConnect was effectively streamlining and providing some government services online.

Through it, some aspects of company registration and liquor licensing were made accessible to the general public.

Unfortunately, the website is currently dysfunctional. There is also a web portal with the domain- "", which was designed to create access to all government ministries on one platform.

Nevertheless, the "" website is still very limited and barely functional.

In the civil registry area, some aspects of the new passport are now accessible online.

The government has also announced plans to create online application for ID documents, although it is still at a conceptual stage.

Public hospitals are working on e-health processes, where patient records and other details are managed and preserved online.

Chitungwiza Hospital was the first to tentatively use this system, in 2013, which was later adopted by other public healthcare facilities around the country.

However, healthcare officials insist that unreliable electricity supplies make the system ineffective. As a result, they still use it alongside paper-based processes.

In February, 2021, the President officially commissioned the National Data Centre (NDC), in Harare. It is reported that the facility will be used to  digitise and centralise government services.

It was built with assistance from the Chinese government and Inspur Group (also a Chinese firm). Ideally, the data centre would host the digital processes of all government ministries and related departments. This would naturally imply a transition from Gmail email addresses, to dedicated and customised internet domains.

For example, the "" website could be managed from the data centre.

In January, 2023, the ministry of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare, announced that it will be using technology (computers and digital capabilities) for managing government employees and providing services to citizens.

In November, Mnangagwa launched the electronic government procurement system (e-GP), in Harare. It will be used to digitise government procurement, thereby improving transparency and accountability.

The fact that government tenders can now be publicly scrutinised, also means that corruption will be curtailed. Since it is a fairly new process, time might be the better judge of the effectiveness of Zimbabwe's, e-GP. Zimra is also using the Automated System for Customs Data (ASYCUDA), for the processing of imports and exports.

The Zimbabwe electronic single window (ZeSW) is also being used to make the processing of imports and exports more efficient at the country's borders.

ZeSW means that all matters pertaining to imports and exports will be digitally processed, unlike in the past.

What is still outstanding?

Although the country has made progress, the 139th rank on the UN's e-government index, shows that more needs to be done.

In this regard, the Minister of ICT, alongside the E-Government Unit in the OPC, should provide a coordinated effort which will result in the digital provision of more public services.

Going forward, marriage and divorce certificates, driver's licenses, IDs, deceased estates, wills, census records, educational qualifications, mining claims, city council records and bills, company registrations and various business permits, should be digitally compatible (able to be issued, used, scanned and authenticated digitally).

In such an environment, new roles such as digital commissioners of oaths and notary publics will emerge. Those new roles will also need to be provided for through training and capacitation.

Ideally, the target should be to have only 5% of government services being provided over the counter (in-person). Continual and incremental investments in the government's digital capabilities should drive at the 95:5 ratio, for digital to paper-based systems.

Local IT start-ups and businesses should also be encouraged to develop relevant innovations and partner with government. In this way, it will be easier to establish cost-effective and customised (suitable) digital services for the local setting. Redesigning or revamping the “” website may be a good start. Thereafter, it may be judicious to have all government ministries and organisations linked to them, accessible via that website.


Digital transformation will also have its own challenges.

Firstly, the government will need to use its judgment in order to decide which areas should be transformed (and digitised) ahead of others.

The expense of time, cost, human resources and maintenance of digital data will also need to be prepared for.

If the government does not have impermeable methods to protect national data, cybersecurity may also be an issue.

Worldwide, hackers are increasingly confiscating public (government) data and demanding bribes or ransom, before releasing it back into the government's custody. Along the way, citizens will need to have a commensurate level of digital literacy, which will also enable them to access and use digital government services.

This can be a problem in an area with greater rural populations such as Zimbabwe and in an environment with low internet penetration.

Moreover, the restrictive cost of internet access may also break the positive momentum towards digital transformation.

Tutani is a political economy analyst. — [email protected]


Related Topics