By Changwe Kabwe
When President Hakainde Hichilema announced his eagerly awaited cabinet on September 17th 2021, the name Felix Mutati made the list. Mr. Mutati, as a nominated Member of Parliament was appointed Minister of Technology and Science.
At 62, many people especially the Millennials felt the appointment was misplaced. They would have preferred a youthful and tech savvy person to lead the Ministry tasked with implementing the New Dawn’s government’s ambition to launch a digital revolution in Zambia.
George Mwenya Mumbi wrote on his Facebook page shorty after Mr. Mutati’s appointment that that, “as an IT specialist, I feel the appointment was unnecessary. I feel Hon. Mutati should have been assignment to any other Ministry like the Ministry of Commerce, Trade and Industry other than science and technology.
“I personally look at technology as another area that could be a source of income for the country other than just depending on mining and agriculture. This is the more reason why we needed someone within the field of IT with up to date information on technology to be Minister of Science and Technology. I therefore suggest to H.E President Hichilema to consider moving Hon. Mutati to another ministry so that a technology orientated individual should take up the Ministry of science and Technology,” Mumbi wrote.
There are many like him who feel Mr Mutati’s skills set could be better utilized elsewhere in government but for him, his agenda for the Ministry is beyond his stay there. He says he is not coming to the Ministry with a hands-on approach but merely to attempt to use digitalization to create happiness in the lives of Zambians.
Addressing a team of Zamtel top officials led by Board Chairman Danny Luswili and Chief Executive Officer Sydney Mupeta when they paid a courtesy call at his office recently, Mr Mutati said his mission is to allow every Zambians to feel the positive impact of digital transformation in their individual lives.
After listening tentatively to detailed presentation from Mr Luswili and Mr Mupeta on Zamtel’s role in driving digitalization, Mr Mutati’s response to what needed to happen in order to create happiness among Zambians through digital transformation was as clear as day and he drew a triangle for illustration purposes.
“Listening to your presentations, I get a sense that there is a triangle and at the centre of the triangle is digital transformation, that is the central theme and under it, it creates several opportunities and the triangle sits on three pillars,” he said.
Creating a ladder of authority
Mr Mutati explained that the first pillar is Access and Coverage which involves issues on the need to bridge the skills gap in the sector while the second pillar of the triangle is on Cost.
“The third pillar of this triangle is on Disruption and this is where we have innovators, both inbound and those who are all over the place working to create the latest innovation.”
He said his new Ministry is keen on promotion of disruptive technologies that will create an element of happiness through creation of jobs and entrepreneurial opportunities.
“The ambition of Government for digital transformation is to create an enabling environment which involves looking at the legal and policy framework. If you don’t have an enabling environment, you won’t achieve much. We need to create a ladder of authority for things to move. There will be no transformation if things are not clear.”
Zambia as a regional digital hub
Mr Mutati told the meeting that the second thing that government is thinking through is how to turn Zambia into a digital hub for the region.
“We are at the centre of eight countries and through the use of infrastructure, we can earn revenue by position only, we can be the Exchange for the region, take away from Kenya, take away from Rwanda and we believe we can become the Hub in the southern African region, “he said emphatically.
“How can we create a purely cashless economy? If you look away from simple systems of merely transferring money from this one to that one, a Marketeer in Soweto doesn’t want to carry money home and so they load it and withdraw tomorrow, that is not technology. That is safe keeping, you have just created a safe and that is not what we are talking about. We want practical solution to creating a cashless society.
Too fragmented to win
As a true believer in the power of collaboration, Mr Mutati wants the tech scene in Zambia to work glove in hand with the government in order to create impact in people’s lives.
“I have a sense that we are too fragmented and in silos and our work is not optimized. We are working very hard and expending energy but fragmented. So you have one guy from Smart Zambia doing this, another chap from Bank of Zambia is doing that, Zamtel is also busy cracking their heads and Infratel is also doing that. At the end of the day there is no optimization because of the silos effect. How do we deal with this fragmentation? Part of the solution is the enabling environment through a Pyramid of Authority, if we don’t have a Pyramid of Authority then you are not going anywhere,” Mr Mutati said.
He added, “If you look at how much government has spent on what they call technology, it is in millions of dollars and yet, if you to Lands, they are still shuffling papers, if you to the Zambia Police today, they are still asking you to go and line up at ZANACO to pay your fines, you for the Bank, you find a queue and you have to wait for three hours in order to pay. So a person who is paying is being restricted and yet when you say non tax revenue is not been collected, it is because you have this struggle called Smart Zambia, you have this huge asset called Zamtel which is not speaking to the needs of that person to be able to transact easily.”
The ultimate goal is happiness
Mr Mutati said he wants Zamtel to be at the centre of the digitalization drive because of its unique position in the market.
“I am talking to you as Zamtel because you belong to us and I believe you can help us create the next chapter. Once we listen to you and Smart Zambia and whatever else the P.S will bring, then we can come back here and say, colleagues, this is a round table, tell us where is the missing link. We need to listen to all our internal customers, we need to call the private sector and ask, why are you not buzzing? Why are you not rich? Who is holding your hands?”
“So when we present to the Zambian people our version of digital transformation, we want everybody to see themselves in that picture. The ultimate goal is happiness and all the various elements of happiness, whether it is jobs, or people becoming Millionaires or innovating and buzzing their minds and creating things, it’s all part of happiness.”
The writer is a Media and Communications expert and currently works for Zamtel as a Corporate Communications Manager.