ICT usage in Zambia has increased dramatically over the past few years. Amongst other indicators, the nation has experience a massive increase in mobile phone subscriptions, from less that 500,000 in 2003 to more than 3 million in 2008 – nearly one cellphone subscription for every two adult citizens. However, the nation has lacked any meaningful increase in ICT production. The Zambian economy is principally involved in primary sector activities – exporting a large amount of copper and agricultural products. While high-tech exports make-up 24.8% of all manufactured exports, ranking them 19th worldwide, the actual amount of exports comes to $221 million. When you take into account that copper mining is responsible for 60% of total exports and accounts for $5.6 billion, it is clear that the high percentage of high-tech exports is purely due to the lack of size of the Zambian economy overall.
Zambia has a fairly developed national ICT policy, dating back to 2001. Current policy is more concerned with increasing ICT usage, rather than promoting ICT production. Of the 13 pillars that make up Zambian ICT policy, only 1 is concerned with developing a local ICT industry. Hypothetically, it might make sense for the Zambian economy to focus more on promoting ICT production. Due to their reliance on copper, the entire economy of the country could collapse were global copper demand or prices to fluctuate. By diversifying their economy and making a concerted effort to increase ICT production, Zambia would be better protected from shifts in global demand for copper.
One could argue that it is important for the nation to be able to stand before it walks – i.e. Zambia should focus on ensuring that improvements to ICT infrastructure are made and that the prices of ICT equipment are reduced before focusing on improving the production capabilities of the country. However, future production of ICTs might be an interesting means for spurring employment opportunities and economic growth and stability throughout Zambia.