Interview. Many Tanzanian investors have a negative attitude towards tapping huge potential in information and communication technology. BusinessWeek Reporter Ludger Kasumuni interviewed the chief executive officer of DTBi ICT Incubator of the Commission for Science and Technology, Mr George Mulamula, on challenges for young ICT investors
What achievements have been made since the ICT business incubator took off the ground one and half years ago?
More jobs have been created — about 80 direct jobs and 4,500 indirect jobs.
More ideas have been turned into bankable ideas and around 20 companies have been established. With support of development partners, an innovation fund of Sh39 million has been created and the money will be given in three years. More loans have been given to the incubatees.
The Tanzania Commission for Education has got a state-of-the-art computerised system for registering and overseeing university student enrolments.
Five incubatees have got a seed funding to finalise their prototypes. Tanzania is known regionally and internationally as a hub of ICT entrepreneurs. One of our incubatee has won a regional competition and now being sent to Silicon Valley in the US to compete there with all expenses paid for.
Our incubatees are attending international exhibitions and being offered jobs there. One of our incubates has been recognised and put on the cover of IT Africa magazine as an upcoming entrepreneur from Tanzania.
What challenges is the ICT incubator programme encountering?
Tanzanian investors do not recognise the importance of ICT entrepreneurship. So they invest more in music, sports and very little in our upcoming ICT entrepreneurs.
The mindset of many university graduates is to be job seekers rather than job creators through entrepreneurship. The procurement system is skewed negatively for young entrepreneurs so that big and external entities are favoured over these young entrepreneurs in being awarded tenders.
Banks do not understand the process of lending to technology innovators and their intellectual property assets and seeing them as high risk intangible assets thus marginalising them in favour of trade and commerce contracts that have tangible assets. Also, there is a lack of trust on local innovations even when they have international standards.
What should be done to tackle those challenges?
More advocacy is needed to change these attitudes. The media should write more on ICT entrepreneurship and play a role in this advocacy. The financial sector should be sensitised on the role of intellectual property rights and their assets should be looked upon as a trading commodity (as it is in the other countries).
The regulatory framework should be adjusted or amended to allow Tanzanian entrepreneurs get some form of preference in tendering processes, as long as they produce the required and/or international standards so to save foreign exchange.
There should be contracts that favour knowledge and technology transfer so as to build our local capacity to produce Tanzanian entrepreneurs. Advocacy in higher learning institutions should churn out graduates who also value entrepreneurship so as to become job creators.
What are your comments on Tanzania’s ICT laws and regulations?
The intellectual property law for the protection of programmes and ideas need strengthening and the current ICT policy should be revamped to include issues relating to ICT entrepreneurship and youth being given the opportunity to be creative and innovative.
Are there any young Tanzanian youths who have been successful ICT entrepreneurs?
Yes. One youth has been chosen to go to the US for presentation in California. The youth is developing an e-parliament programme that has got him recognition in the IT Africa magazine.
The other youth has developed a registration system for the universities regulatory authority that is sought in South Africa and South Sudan.
A team of young people has developed a system for use by local government authorities and it has helped the authorities increase revenue collection by 300 per cent in a short time. Another youth team developed a search engine for the Internet that gives specific information requested by a client and as a result they have been contracted by Precision Air.