During the 42nd edition of the Dar es Salaam International Trade Fair (DITF), which officially ended last Friday, we were able to see a number of new technological innovations. But, this was not exactly a new experience; it has been the case with DITF exhibitions in the last few years.
Institutions like the Dar es Salaam Institute of Technology (DIT) and the Vocational Education and Training Authority (Veta) have been coming up with new innovations that were put on show at the annual trade fair in the nation’s leading commercial metropolis.
This year we were treated to a new technology that helps water vendors. This is a machine that was designed by DIT, and which releases a certain amount of water upon insertion of a coin into the contraption. The machine can also play music to entertain water vendors and his customers.
DIT has also improved its tea vending machine so that it can now be used to dispense not only tea, but also coffee and assorted snacks.
The machine was designed last year with the technological option to dispense tea and coffee only. Then, in due course of time and more designing, improvement was made to the machine to enable it to perform diverse services in accordance with market demands.
For its part, Veta has come up with a system which enables one to control electricity switches in the home by clapping one’s hands, or using mobile telephony.
On display at the Veta pavilion was also a welding machine which uses salt water as source of energy, instead of having to use costly electricity, whose supply is erratic as a matter of course.
A few days ago, during the commemoration of Innovation Week at the Commission for Science and Technology (Costech) premises, a group of young innovators displayed a number of new innovations intended to help solve various problems in the community.
In fact, that was not the first time; such innovations have been showcased and subsequently put to use, thanks to the new technologies which provide answers to otherwise complex issues at workplaces and in households.
Despite this being the case each year during DITF and other events (including Costech’s Innovation Week), the problems for which the technologies are intended to surmount still remain unsolved today.
In that regard, it is only fair to conclude that the designed solutions have failed to meet the expectations and needs of the target communities.
Innovators might rejoice that they have come up with something which would help to alleviate challenges in the society. But the fact is that the innovations largely remain on paper.
We don’t have in place systems to ensure that innovations are incorporated in programmes meant to address challenges in society.
A few years ago, we had similar problems regarding scientific researches which end with solutions to myriad problems – but solutions that remain in filing cabinets and on shelves in research labs as a matter of course.
There are institutions such as the Dar es Salaam Water and Sewerage Company (Dawasco) and some municipalities which operate water dispensing kiosks in various parts of the sprawling city. Water dispensing machines would be an ideal solution for this, as the machines would automatically ensure that they ‘collect’ the correct payment that is commensurate with the amount of water dispensed.
As it is difficult, if not impossible, to cheat such machines, this would be one surefire way of ensuring that the new technology is put into use.
But if we continue to work this way, it is just a matter of time before the innovators realise that their work is not valued. They would then either cease to go on with innovation, or reduce their innovation pace.
For how long would such institutions and individuals continue to work on innovations which could be solutions to everyday life - but which no one seems to care about, pray?
If such innovations were taken seriously as a matter of course, they no doubt would have helped to solve problems in society - including reducing the financial burden which the government bears in the research and innovation stakes.
For instance, if an innovation several years ago by DIT on road traffic lights operations was integrated and taken up by the relevant authorities, Tanzania would not be importing traffic lights and associated technology today.
Besides, the country would today have a factory that manufactures the traffic lights for export to neighbouring countries and elsewhere.