While some sub-Saharan African countries are making things difficult for telecommunications operators and equipment suppliers through new or increased taxes, Zambia appears to be taking a different route – at least when it comes to infrastructure.
According to the ITWeb Africa news service, in its 2023 national budget the country is now zero-rating the importation of telecommunications equipment, notably equipment used in the construction of telecommunications masts.
Finance Minister Situmbeko Musokotwane confirmed this in a statement that acknowledged the role of ICT in socio-economic development and job creation. The hope, evidently, is that such a move will attract investment, and enhance trade through the provision of e-commerce platforms in particular, as well as deepen financial inclusion.
This initiative may also be a response to last month’s statement of concern from the Common Market for Easter and Southern Africa (COMESA) over the high cost of mobile phone services, including data. COMESA mentioned the expense of setting up telecommunications infrastructure and suggested member countries should consider subsidising the process to boost mobile networks and associated services.
But that’s not all. A national digital strategy is planned, along with a review of Zambia’s ICT Act, to encourage uptake of digital services and secure investment in infrastructure and digital platforms. The aim is to create what is described as an enabling environment for the adoption and application of science, technology and innovation.
This is certainly an eye-catching policy announcement, especially considering that back in August the new government put an immediate stop to pending digital projects, including the phased implementation of digital terrestrial broadcasting systems, as it looked to avert a debt crisis.
Whatever the outcome, these new measures – and the recently announced tax delay in Nigeria – are encouraging acknowledgements that, for some countries, ICT in Africa is a sector that should be encouraged, and not just regarded as a source of tax revenue.