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Tanzania 2014 | TELECOMS & IT | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Hassan Mshinda, Director General of COSTECH, on the institution's programs.

Hassan Mshinda
BIOGRAPHY
Hassan Mshinda holds a Master’s degree in Applied Parasitology and Medical Technology and a PhD in Epidemiology. Research projects he has led have included those funded by the Multilateral Initiative of Malaria in Africa, Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, and the International Atomic Energy Agency. He has conducted several international and national consultancies assigned by the Department of International Development, Danish Development Agency, and World Health Organization. His numerous memberships include the Regional Task Force of Maternal Newborn and Child Partnership- AFRO /WHO, the National Institute for Medical Research, Tanzania Industrial Research and Development, and the Governing Board of Dar es Salaam University of College Education.

What is the mission of the Tanzania Commission of Science & Technology (COSTECH)?

was established in 1984 with the goal of advising the government on science, technology, and innovation. Our core function is to promote and coordinate research and technology development and transfer, as well as to acquire, store, and disseminate scientific information to diverse audiences. Our mission is to ensure that the country is using science and technology innovation to contribute to its economic growth and social well being.

What are some of the programs that are in action today?

In terms of trying to promote science, technology, and innovation in the country, we have a number of activities and have arranged them into strategic objectives. One of them is to promote informed decisions. We are a broker between research institutions and universities that generate knowledge and technology. We also assess which types of technology have the potential to make a significant impact on the country. COSTECH is working to create an environment conducive to the application of ICT in different sectors. Within that effort, we also promote innovation. Our organization is a platform where individuals with passion and entrepreneurial skills in ICT meet to discuss ideas. For example, Maxmalipo is now expanding its business to Burundi, Rwanda, and South Sudan, and is one of our start-up companies. The aim is to encourage entrepreneurs, graduates, and people of potential to become job creators rather than seekers. We are also the custodians of science and technology and issue grants to research projects. As you know, the country depends on agriculture as a main sector of the economy, and it contributes around 25% of GDP. If you look at the annual growth of the sector, it is still very low at only about 4%—it can't be compared with communications, which is posting 21% annual growth. The issue is to boost the sector to continue increasing productivity and making a much bigger impact in the provision of food toward a point of self-sufficiency. In order to make a contribution to those efforts, we are funding a number of research projects. We are also funding over 250 Master's degrees and PhD training courses through our own investments. All of this has been achieved because, in 2011, the President placed emphasis on science and technology. He is also ensuring that the government provides adequate funding for research. Tanzania is historically at the best level in scientific terms thanks in large part to strong presidential endorsement of science and technology, backed by the allocation of resources to R&D.

How can technology benefit citizens who still lack access to electricity, hence the means to reach modern technology?

We are looking at technology that is affordable for our country. Previously, people used to talk about appropriate technology—one interpretation is cheaper and affordable, but which is not of high quality. What we would ideally like to have is technology that is state of the art and affordable for all people. The cost of communications has fallen substantially. Due to competition, the presence of the ICT backbone pushed up all related prices, although the quality of services remains the same. We would like to have technology for more people at a lower cost. In energy, we have talked about the penetration rates of technology used in rural areas, and I believe that electricity coverage may be less than 10% of the national grid. Most of the people in rural areas depend on biomass. One question is; how can we use biomass technologies more sustainably? The second is how we can leverage renewable energy, such as wind and biofuel? This said, we are expecting gas to push down some of the costs and become widely available. Nonetheless, biomass fuel remains the cornerstone in rural areas.