By Lesley-Anne van Wyk Windhoek Namibians were yesterday called on to embrace developments in Information and Communication Technologies (ICT), not to lose their competitive edge and keep striving to be players on the global field of utilizing technology. Opening a conference on Innovating Corporate and Marketing Communications, as a guide to marketing through SMS, the Minister of Information and Broadcasting Netumbo Nandi-Ndaitwah said: “As you are all aware, the world today is in the transition from a capital-based economy to a knowledge-based economy. In this transition, it is knowledge and information, and not capital alone, which are the prime drivers of economic development.” With a population of 1.8 million, 323 million SMSs were sent last year within the quarter of the population that have access to mobile communications. This is according to figures released by MTC. She highlighted that “very few companies have realized the value of incorporating SMS communications into their communications and marketing strategies”. The conference will address corporate and marketing strategies through SMS so that Namibians can use their cellular phones to conduct business transactions and to access government and other services. However, these ICT developments should not be exclusively for the urban dwellers, according to Polytechnic lecturer Leo Maruwasa. He said a study conducted in rural areas of Namibia found that a substantial majority of farmers and rural dwellers already had cellular phones. This makes it possible to send information regarding crop prices or weather conditions to the rural farmer to protect him/her from being taken advantage of by commercial farmers. It will also result in an eventual increase in productivity. He gave another example of the recent distribution of polio vaccination pamphlets by plane. This method might not have been as successful as utilising cellular phone technology. Maruwasa added that it is to Namibia’s advantage to adopt SMS technology because it is a better alternative to costly computers, software, training and maintenance of this equipment. The adoption by the Ministry of Education of ICT in all schools recently, is a reflection of efforts to bring Namibians onto an equal playing field within the country as well as the rest of the world in updating the population on the ever-evolving technological landscape. With two billion people worldwide using cellular phones to stay connected, the minister added, “these devices present an instant channel for reaching large and targeted audiences with critical messages that can save lives, fight business fraud, drive important purchases and generate a wide variety of other time-sensitive responses among citizens, customers, employees and business partners”. The minister referred to the 2004 E-Governance Policy, which outlines how the government will use ICT to provide full-time services to Namibian citizens in an attempt to completely re-organize the manner in which it conducts itself. With this policy, there is no need for citizens to interact with government officials as everything can be completed electronically and therefore outside office hours as well. The minister illustrated that in the private sector First National Bank has already demonstrated the use of this technology with their SMS updates on account activities. The minister emphasised that it is vital for a “proper code of conduct to be established by all stakeholders involved in mobile marketing and communications to protect consumers and end users from unscrupulous individuals and organizations that seek to use trickery and underhanded means to get their marketing messages across”. She also appealed to stakeholders to consider how marginalised rural communities can be brought into mainstream economic development activities through the use of these technologies so that “as we advance we are able to narrow and not further widen the gap between the rich and the poor”. The conference runs from June 27 to 28 and is organised by Digital Pangea.
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