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Makame M. Mbarawa

TANZANIA - Telecoms & IT

Strong in Fiber

Minister of Communication, Science, and Technology, Tanzania


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.

"We want to see the people of Tanzania view ICT as a tool and an enabler for social development in the country."

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

As a government, if you need to improve technology, you need certain fundamental elements in place before you can pursue any new strategies. The most important of these is infrastructure. Without proper infrastructure, you cannot do it. Concerning this, 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, and these are AirTel, Zantel, Tigo Tanzania, Vodacom, TTCL, Infinity Africa, and Simbanet. Also, 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 for the building of a data center. You can have the infrastructure, but without a data center you cannot see 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. You can have the backbone, but you must be able to connect to people, otherwise it is a waste. 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. We will also build in Dodoma, Arusha, and Mwanza. You can have all that infrastructure ready, but without clear policies you cannot achieve a lot. In 2003, the ICT Policy and the Communications Policy were finalized. We also have the Science and Technology Policy from 1986, and we have been updating this. We are reviewing all ICT policy, because since 2003 a lot of developments have come to the sector. There were no big cybercrime issues and the ICT backbone was not complete either, so it was a very different time. We are now trying to make sure the new policy is appropriate for the unique challenges we currently face. Also, the sector has grown a lot. In 2000, we had 150,000 subscribers, while today we have around 26.7 million subscribers. So, on one side you can say that we have come a long way, but equally you can say that a lot more needs to be done, especially with regard to security issues. This is a big 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 things I have mentioned, it is also necessary to make sure people know how to apply the technology. We want to see the people of Tanzania view ICT as a tool and an enabler for social development in the country. We have a special program for innovators. In Dar es Salaam we have an ICT incubator called Teknohama Business Incubator, and we have good people working on projects to make the most of ICT 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 do not have ports and do not have places to install submarine cables. The first thing we did in phase one was to connect with the surrounding countries, and this has been very successful. We want to turn Tanzania into a hub, and we want our neighbors to use us as their ICT hub. Take Kenya for example. In terms of ICT infrastructure it maybe has 2,700 kilometers of fiber optics, but these are just laid between the main cities. In Tanzania we have put the cable in every region, and the government has ensured this. Uganda has only one line coming from Nairobi and connecting 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, and we expect to one day be a hub for the region.

“We want to see the people of Tanzania view ICT as a tool and an enabler for social development in the country.”

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 with innovation. Good education is the fundamental principle of innovation. 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 to build this, and it 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 for Master’s and PhD programs. Also, before going into innovation you need a result from R&D. This is why we decided to invest a lot in the infrastructure of our research institutes, such as the agriculture institute in Dodoma. We have others in Zanzibar and Arusha and other areas. As a government, we try our best to make sure that everything is going well, from the strategic, security, infrastructure, and human resource development points of view.

© The Business Year – July 2013



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