Mobile phones and social media in Zambia

August 16, 2015

While the benefits of e-governance have been observed in many high-income developed economies, there is still much skepticism about its applicability in Zambia. E-governance is the application of information and communications technology to government functions and processes so as to bring about efficient and effective governance. Unlike the comprehensive planning, political and technical support that e-governance projects in developed countries have, many of the e-governance projects implemented in developing countries do not have such an advantage and Zambia is not an exception.Furthermore, Zambia depend to a large extent on existing budgets and external funding which are extremely limited. With the rise of the Zambian middle class as per capita incomes increase, Internet usage has surged by 2,000 percent since 2002 according to recent Internet World Stats, making e-governance solutions more plausible. Zambia is estimated to have 1,000,000 Facebook users, according to a web statisticians site. The availability of low-cost handsets on the market has helped propel the adoption of smartphones and it is expected that the smartphone uptake will rise by 33 percent this year.

Although Zambia has among the lowest overall Internet penetration rate in South African countries, mobile Internet use is high, making the Zambian market a viable one. According to a Digital Consumer Report, 67 percent of regular Internet users in Zambia access the Internet on their mobile phones.Hence, there is clear potential for the development of e-governance platforms on mobile phones as more Zambians access the Internet via their mobile phones. Despite the fact that Internet penetration through computers is low; below 15 percent, mobile Internet penetration has reached 60 percent, according to the Digital Consumer Report. Furthermore, the trend of Zambians’ frequent engagement with social network sites demonstrates that this is an area that should be given due consideration in e-governance policy formulation and implementation. Using web analytics, it was found that Facebook was a popular upstream site that online users visited prior to their visit to official government websites. Over 50 percent of Facebook users in Zambia access the social media site through their mobile phones according to Facebook official data, 2013. Thus, these social media sites constitute an important channel through which updates and announcements can be made by the Edgar Lungu’s government.

In fact, Facebook is among the most popular site that online users visited in 2014 according to upstream websites that were ranked in Zambia.Facebook came second only to search engines Yahoo! and google.com. It is important to note though that the adoption of new technologies may not necessarily bridge the divide that exists within Zambian society, i.e. the differences in the level of access between males and females, urban and rural areas, and among people with different education levels, as well as people of different ages and social backgrounds. However, as the availability of mobile Internet connection becomes more widespread in Zambia,Edgar Lungu’s government will need to consider various strategies to educate the citizens on the value of ICTs and the use of e-governance initiatives to achieve better accountability, increased transparency and improved governance. Community and industry partnerships can also support this move by developing mobile phone applications to accelerate the development of e-governance initiatives in Zambia. For now, it remains to be seen how Zambians will harness the power of social media and mobile technology for more effective, accountable and efficient governance.

Contador Harrison