The ruling party of Bangladesh, Awami League, envisions a �Smart Bangladesh� by 2041, seeking to build a country that would be cost-effective, sustainable, innovative and knowledge-based under the leadership of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. It believes �Digital Bangladesh�, one of its promises before the 2014 national election, is now a reality. Now, to take the country to newer heights, the ruling party said, it would make society, citizens, economy and the government smart. It is an incredibly difficult aim, and despite our remarkable progress over the past decade, we still have a long way to go.
The Awami League has set a deadline of 2041 to execute 40 megaprojects in three phases – 2025, 2031 and 2041 – in order to achieve the aim of a �Smart Bangladesh�. A political party’s election manifesto is typically built on such declarations. If the AL is elected to power in the 12th national election, which is scheduled for January 2024, it will do so and put these promises into action.
The ICT sector in Bangladesh has also grown significantly, with revenues from ICT-related work increasing from $25 million to over $1 billion and continuing to rise annually. Currently, more than 16,000 entrepreneurs, including 50% women entrepreneurs, are operating in over 8,800 digital centers across the nation to offer services to customers’ doorsteps. Our e-commerce industry has grown quickly, and with the addition of mobile financial services and the massive adoption drive brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, it will only continue to grow. Even our very own satellite has been launched into orbit.
With a wide range of digital activities, such as telemedicine, online education, virtual courts, and providing financial aid to the underprivileged through mobile platforms and e-commerce, Bangladesh benefited a lot during the COVID-19 pandemic.
With the next national election being held in less than a year, AL has once again put up a new course of action for the country, with the goal of making it a smart one. The Awami League government has successfully carried out its election promise to transform Bangladesh into a middle-income and digital nation by 2021. Currently, the Awami League government is simultaneously using digital resources to create a smart future generation.
Now a reality, digital Bangladesh was once thought to be impossibility. The work of creating a �Smart Bangladesh� is underway, too. It is a brave and ground-breaking idea to accomplish this goal by guiding a generation through psychological evolution. Every aspect of �Smart Bangladesh� would be technological.
During his three and a half years in power, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman first built the basis of Digital Bangladesh. He established a ground satellite station in the Rangamati hill district’s Betbunia in 1973. The nation became a member of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and the Universal Postal Union (UPU) in that same year. The T&T Board was also established at that time. To develop the nation, he led moves for changes in various industries, including IT.
Following the dream of Bangabandhu, Awami League set some specific goals in 2018 under its Digital Bangladesh vision launched in 2008 though many of those are still unachieved. The use of digital systems to combat corruption and provide accountability and transparency has made little progress. Bangladesh continues to lag behind its neighbors and many other countries in terms of digital service. Despite that, the government has brought new vision on �Smart Bangladesh� after �Digital Bangladesh� vision.
Several indicators show Bangladesh’s level of digitization. E-Government Development Index is one such index (EGDI). Every two years, the United Nations publishes this index. Bangladesh is ranked 111th out of 193 UN member states in the 2022 index. In terms of mobile data pricing, Bangladesh came in fifth place out of 233 nations, according to an UK company Cable.co.uk. According to the World Economic Forum’s Networked Readiness Index (NRI), Bangladesh is ranked 88th out of 131 nations. In terms of mobile internet speed, Bangladesh was ranked 141st out of 141 nations by Ookla. In Bangladesh, there are over 110 million users of mobile internet. But the nation’s mobile internet speed lags below all South Asian countries.
Over 13 crore people are using the internet in the nation at the moment; while over 18 crore people use mobile connections. Only about 38.9% of Bangladeshis utilize the internet, according to a data from the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics. Only 30.9% of people use smartphones, despite the fact that 90% of people use phones. Additionally, only over 7% of the population utilizes computers, and 63% of those people are not interested in using the internet.
For Bangladesh to really embrace the concept of �Smart Bangladesh�, a few conditions must be met. First, the concept must be implemented at every level of society. People in rural areas must be able to benefit from internet, smartphone, and web activities in a similar way to those in metropolitan areas. Our educational system needs to incorporate technology from the start. This novel idea must not encourage more social inequality.
Second, corruption must be completely eradicated in �Smart Bangladesh�. There should be no physical contact at all if a system is online. When physical contact is restricted, corrupt practices like bribery are also restricted. The biggest flaw in the idea of �Digital Bangladesh� is still transparency and accountability; this shouldn’t be the case with �Smart Bangladesh�.
Additionally, Bangladesh’s government must make significant investments to ensure cyber security on par with developed nations. The biggest obstacle to implementing digitization is cybercrime, and Bangladesh has many gaps in this regard. Our users’ information is frequently vulnerable to hacking. Even our Central Bank was hacked to move away our reserves. As we become smart, we must make sure that such events are reduced to a minimum. Additionally, in order for the general public to align with this new objective, the cost of IT equipment, smartphones, and internet access must be reduced.
Most importantly, around 30% of the populace that is over 45 million people of Bangladesh is the youth. They are the true architects of Bangladesh’s development, which is on track to become a developed country by 2041. The future of the nation will be at danger if this youth gets involved in drugs, terrorism, or politics. Due to a lack of mineral resources, our country is not highly resourced. We rely on this generation of young people to send remittances, accumulate foreign reserves, and create a “Smart Bangladesh.” The future of these young people must not be destroyed by our intolerant politics, which put them at risk from extremism and drug abuse. If the youth is not nurtured properly, �Smart Bangladesh� will only remain a dream as we will not be able to even sustain our development.
Considering the demographic of Bangladesh, �Smart Bangladesh� feels like only a dream today. However, Bangladesh made commendable progress under Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s visionary guidance. During her uninterrupted reign, we have achieved numerous unimaginable feats. We therefore think that during the next 20 years, if she and the people are devoted to this aim, we will genuinely become a �Smart Bangladesh�. And if that is the case, Bangladesh’s progress will undoubtedly be reinforced and sustained.
– The writer is Chief Editor at Mohammadi News Agency (MNA), Editor at Kishore Bangla and Chief Patron, BangabandhuShishu Kishore Mela