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President Mokgweetsi Massi has said the launch of the SmartBots Village Connectivity Project is an important milestone in Botswana’s digital transformation agenda, and delivering on the promise to drive the transformation of Botswana from a resource-based to a knowledge-based economy.
In 2020 government embarked on the project to broaden the digital ecosystem through the Digital Transformation Strategy (SmartBots), that aims to drive transformation across the economy, government and society at large.
Speaking at the launch of the project in Maun on Wednesday, Masisi indicated that Phase 1 of the project has connected 1,138 public facilities in 144 villages across all districts of Botswana, covering an estimated 1,6 million Batswana (2022 Population and Housing Census). He said Batswana are now able to walk in and freely access the internet hotspots at all these facilities which have an average of 120,924 daily users.
“Teachers across the country are able to access openly available digital educational content to teach and share with their learners; while students at basic and tertiary education levels are now able to do research on their school assignments, projects and prepare for examinations,” he added.
Furthermore, the president appreciated that parents are also able to access the appropriate tools to help their children with school work while youth are able to research on their career interests, and start appreciating the path and necessary courses and skills for the desired careers.
“Batswana of all ages and walks of life, are able to connect with their friends and loved ones not only in Botswana but across the world; out of school youth are able to apply for school and job opportunities remotely. Entrepreneurs advertise their goods and services and reach their target markets more easily,” he added
The president added that SmartBots does not only have an inward focus on Botswana, but is also building on the skills and capabilities of our youth and innovators towards a knowledge work force that can compete regionally and globally. The project, he added will also help address challenges facing Botswana as a Landlocked Developing Country (LLDC) owing to its geographical and structural obstacles that make connectivity and the cost thereof significantly higher.
Masisi added that digitisation has the immense potential to unlock and enable high productivity among our people, as well as ensure business continuity during turbulent times – be it for public or private sector business and services.
He highlighted that the SmartBots Strategy could not have come at a more opportune time for the nation, especially at a time when COVID-19 negatively impacted on global health pandemic, prompting strategies to rebuild and recover from the pandemic.
“A key lesson from the unprecedented global outbreak of the COVID-19 health pandemic is that countries that were connected digitally were able to “weather the storm” better than the less connected like Botswana. This, therefore, compels us to accelerate our digitisation efforts as we “build back better from the pandemic” and ensure resilience going forward.”
For his part, Professor Vasilis Koulolias, Presidential Advisor on ICT said SmartBots does not only include village connectivity, noting that they have built an infrastructure for everything else to be built upon and grow. He indicated that the infrastructure is not just a standard system but a far much better one.
“What we did is that we got the best experts from all around the world, found out what are they are using in the countries like Singapore, United States, European Union, Belgium and Estonia among others and we then made this infrastructure a better one.” Professor Koulolias said they are hoping that very soon all of this nations will come and benchmark in Botswana.
Though he appreciated the project, Maun West MP, Dumelang Saleshando said he will be most appreciative if the technology will improve efficiency and service delivery across all government departments as this are daily complaints he receives from his constituents.
“If this technology will resolve these concerns my job as an MP will be much easier but if the answer is no and the technology is only used to socialize countrywide then there we will be nothing to celebrate for,” the MP said.