STRONG IN FIBER

Tanzania 2014 | TELECOMS & IT | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Makame M. Mbarawa, Minister of Communication, Science, & Technology, on fiber optics, the potential for the country to become an ICT hub, and Vision 2025.

Makame M. Mbarawa
BIOGRAPHY
Makame M. Mbarawa has an MSc in Marine Engineering from Astrakhan State Technical University in Russia and a PhD from the University of New South Wales in Sydney. He joined Tshwane University of Technology, Pretoria, South Africa as a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Mechanical Engineering. He was promoted to the position of Associate Professor in October 2005 and finally to that of Full Professor in July 2009. Professor Mbarawa’s research interests are the combustion of gases, flue gas desulfurization, filtration combustion in porous media, soot formation in laminar diffusion flames, alternative fuels, renewable energy resources, and biomass combustion. Over the years, he has published 45 articles in national and international journals and presented 36 scientific papers at various conferences.

What are you doing to increase the use of technology in Tanzania?

As a government, to improve technology you need certain fundamental elements in place before you can pursue any new strategies. The most important of these is infrastructure, into which we have invested $200 million to build the ICT backbone. So far, we have built 7,560 kilometers of national ICT infrastructure, which has been connected by three submarine cables. Our neighboring countries, Rwanda, Malawi, and Zambia, are also using the national ICT backbone. So far, seven companies in Tanzania are using the network, namely AirTel, Zantel, Tigo Tanzania, Vodacom, TTCL, Infinity Africa, and Simbanet. What's more, companies from overseas are taking advantage of the ICT backbone, such as MTL Rwanda, U-COM of Burundi, MTL Malawi, and MTL and Airtel of Zambia. In terms of infrastructure, we also signed a new contract with a Chinese company in May 2013 to build a data center. You can have the infrastructure, but without a data center you cannot appreciate the meaning of the national ICT backbone—it represents a backup of all the information you have on your national network. The contract is for $100 million and the center will be built in Dar es Salaam. If the ICT backbone is a highway, then we also need feeder roads, and this is what we are working on, especially in rural areas. The backbone must be connected to people to fully have significance. At the same time, there is a joint venture between the government and the private sector in a PPP framework to build a metro fiber-optic network in Dar es Salaam with the involvement of Airtel, Tigo, and Zantel. We are building 90 kilometers in the city, and also do so in Dodoma, Arusha, and Mwanza. The other key component or course is policy, and, in 2003, the ICT and Communications Policy was finalized. We also have the Science and Technology Policy dating from 1986, which is in the process of amendment. We are reviewing all ICT policy, because since 2003 the sector has seen many developments. We are now trying to make sure the new policy is appropriate for the unique challenges we currently face in a rapidly growing sector. In 2000, we had 150,000 subscribers, while today they number around 26.7 million. So, you can say that we have come a long way, but equally that a lot more needs to be done, especially with regard to security issues, which are a major concern for us. We are now preparing a cyber-security act, data-protection act, and an e-commerce act, and these three components will comprise the policy.

How do you perceive Tanzania's progress in terms of technological implementation compared to other countries in the region?

First of all, I think that in addition to the factors I have mentioned, it is also necessary to make sure that people know how to apply technology. We want the people of Tanzania to view ICT as a tool and a force for social development. We also have a special program for innovators. In Dar es Salaam, we have an ICT incubator called Teknohama Business Incubator, where talented people work on projects to make the most of ICT precisely as a tool for development. When we compare ourselves with other countries, we want to be able to see Tanzania as a hub for ICT. We have a unique location compared to surrounding countries. Rwanda and Burundi lack ports and, hence, locations for submarine cables. The first thing we did in phase one was to connect with the surrounding countries, which has been very successful. Take Kenya, for example; in terms of ICT infrastructure, it perhaps has 2,700 kilometers of fiber optics, but these are just laid between the main cities. In Tanzania, we have put installed cable in every region, as part of government policy. Uganda has only one line connecting Nairobi to Kampala and Entebbe. This is around 2,500 kilometers in length, but it is not functioning well. In Rwanda, it is working well, but that is a tiny country. I think we have done a good job in comparison, which is why we expect to ultimately become a hub for the region.

What role will scientific education play in Tanzania's future growth?

In our government's Vision 2025, one of the pillars is science and technology. Without investing in this, you cannot move forward or innovate, and this is underpinned by good education. From 2010, we decided to invest heavily in science and technology, and in that year alone invested TZS30 billion. During that time, we completed the Nelson Mandela Institute of Science and Technology, which is dedicated to post-graduate study. We spent around TZS51 billion on the institution, which is located in Arusha. We did this because we knew that if you do not prepare your young scientists, you will not go anywhere. In 2012 alone, the government sponsored 295 students on Master's and PhD programs. Innovation relies on the fruit of R&D, which is why we invested heavily in the infrastructure of our research institutes, such as the agriculture institute in Dodoma. We have others in Zanzibar, Arusha, and elsewhere. And, as the government, we ensure the smooth progress of strategic, security, infrastructure, and human resource development.

“ Innovation relies on the fruit of R&D, which is why we invested heavily in the infrastructure of our research institutes, such as the agriculture institute in Dodoma. "