DIGITAL VISION

Tanzania 2015 | TELECOMS & IT | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to The Hon. Makame M. Mbarawa, Minister of Communication, Science, & Technology, on supporting tech entrepreneurs, private investment, and closing the digital divide.

The Hon. Makame M. Mbarawa
BIOGRAPHY
Makame M. Mbarawa holds 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 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.

How is the Ministry working to support Tanzanian entrepreneurs in the ICT sector?

The Ministry of Communication, Science, and Technology, through the Commission for Science and Technology (COSTECH), has established the only ICT/Technology Incubator in the region called Dar Teknohama Business Incubator (DTBi), to help ICT entrepreneurs create start-ups, and assist SMEs that will positively impact the economy and move the country closer to its Vision 2015 goals. In the two and a half years since it was formed as a public-private partnership (PPP) involving the government, the private sector, and the World Bank's InfoDev, it has accomplished much. Around 8,000 indirect and 300 direct jobs have been created across the country through entrepreneurial activities. The Ministry has encouraged ICT entrepreneurs to help solve problems in different ministries, departments, agencies, and communities. For example, an online application system for the Tanzania Commission for Universities, a management information system for the Ministry of Communication, Science, and Technology, consultations for the information system of the Immigration Department, financial inclusion through points of sale in rural and urban centers that assist local governments and the Tanzania Communication Regulatory Authority (TCRA), and support for increased revenue collection in local governments/municipalities at an increase of about 300% have been some of the projects developed under its authority. The Ministry has also advocated a better ICT entrepreneurship ecosystem. Support for the creation of the Mwananchi Business Partnership Agency to help tech-entrepreneurs create innovative solutions for the extractive industry with an emphasis on women's empowerment has been successful. The Ministry also works with ICT entrepreneurs in the country to establish different working environments (such as innovation spaces), which enable ICT entrepreneurs to meet and design various ICT-related projects. Sending ICT entrepreneurs to participate in international competitions such as the ITU Competition or the Silicon Valley Competition has been another focus of the organization.

The ICT sector currently contributes roughly 2.3% of the country's GDP. What do you expect the figure to be in the next five years?

I expect it to represent around 10% of GDP, as our government has already invested heavily in building a resilient high-speed broadband network. We have the Universal Communications Services Access Fund, which facilitates service providers to reach under-served areas. In addition, we have potential investors willing to contribute to bridge the current digital divide. With better technology to monitor the traffic of mobile operators, coupled with the introduction of new laws and the Tanzania Computer Emergency Response Team (TzCERT), more effective control of the sector will allow it to contribute more to GDP.

Dar es Salaam is set to be the fifth “Wireless Internet City" in Africa with free internet zones. What effect will this have on the city?

The city has a 91-kilometer, optical fiber network covering every access area of the city. The process of transforming Dar es Salaam into a Wireless Internet City has already begun. The Muhimbili National Hospital is one of the busiest service areas in the city at present. Our aim is to continue with our initiatives to roll the service out to all other referral hospitals, shopping malls, and public areas within the city in an effort to ensure that there is free access to mobile broadband services. Having free internet in a city like Dar es Salaam has been one of the national goals in the fourth phase of a government program aimed at bridging the digital divide and enabling even middle and low income businesses, entrepreneurs, and students to benefit from free internet zones. The communication sector is the leading sector in Tanzania, given that its annual growth stood at 22.8% in 2013, up from 20.6% in 2012.

What is the Ministry's strategy to close the digital divide, particularly in rural Tanzania?

The Ministry's strategy is mainly concentrated around fostering investment in the National ICT Broadband Backbone (NICTBB) project, the Rural Telecommunication Project, the Schools Connectivity Project, the National Addressing and Postcode System, the establishment of an ICT Park, Research and Development Projects, and the improvement of health services through Telemedicine.


How would the Ministry assess the opportunities for private investment, both domestic and foreign, in the ICT sector?

There are many opportunities, which are assured by the Ministry, as the market for services in the ICT sector is high and constantly growing. Furthermore, having a high-speed network in place, connections to international sea cables, zero-tax on computers, and an effective and efficient regulatory environment for communications will together offer major opportunities in the ICT sector.

What are the Ministry's priorities for 2015?

We aim to establish a National ICT Mega Data Center, particularly in Dar es Salaam, Dodoma, and Zanzibar. We also plan to roll out a new physical addressing and postcode system, which will comprehensively identify streets and individual residences to stimulate and facilitate governance and the delivery of mail, the issuing of loans, tax and revenue collection, law enforcement, and emergency services. We will also be working to strengthen the Universal Communication Services Access Fund (UCAF).

How would you rate Tanzania's current progress in the ICT sector within the government's Vision 2025 program?

The ICT sector so far is doing well in bringing Tanzania closer to its Vision 2025. To start with, the completion of the National ICT Broadband Backbone and the establishment of links to international sea cables have established abundant data capacity at affordable rates. The ICT sector has created massive employment opportunities that have promoted a competitive economy. In addition, available ICT infrastructure facilitates applications such as e-learning, which in turn can nurture a well-educated society. In general, ICT has done much to create a platform for more to be done to achieve Tanzania's Vision 2025.