On a stretch of Ali Hassan Mwinyi Road between Bamaga and the junction of Morocco Road in Tanzania’s commercial capital Dar es Salaam, sit the headquarters of major telecoms in the country—Tigo, Vodacom, Tanzania Telecommunications Corporation (TTCL), Zanzibar Telecom (Zantel), Halotel and Airtel Tanzania.
Also to call this place home are state-run institutions such as the Commission for Science and Technology Tanzania (Costech), University of Dar es Salaam College of ICT, Buni Hub and the TTCL data centre.
This pool of diverse entities is joined at the hip, as it were, by technology, for this area is arguably Tanzania’s newest tech hub, seen by enthusiasts as a reflection of the country’s thriving innovation ecosystem, and aptly named by tech experts as “Silicon Dar.”
While the telcos guarantee Internet connectivity, infrastructure and electricity, state-run institutions in the area are also fostering data-driven innovations through small grants for youth entrepreneurs.
Indeed, one may connect to free Wi-Fi while walking down the Silicon Dar, thanks to Raha, Cats-Net and Wi-Fi Map.
The Tanzania Data Lab, a centre for data and data-driven innovations at the University of Dar es Salaam Computing Centre, Seedspace, KiotaHub, and Hub255 are also found in the Silicon Dar.
Unlike Konza City in Kenya or Kigali innovation city in Rwanda, Silicon Dar is emerging naturally.
Jumanne Mtambalike, the chief executive of Sahara Ventures, a Dar es Salaam-based technology and investment consultancy, said the tech hub has occurred “without the inconvenience of having to pool massive resources.”
In 2011 there were only two innovation hubs and one business incubator. Buni Hub and Dar Teknohama Business Incubator (DTBI) were based at Costech while Kinu Co-Creation Hub was located further down the road. Today there are around a dozen innovation hubs on the same road.
These hubs offer opportunities and resources to hundreds of youth entrepreneurs who would not otherwise have access to the knowledge or means to turn their ideas into reality.
Information on health and medical assistance for example, has been made possible in both Kiswahili and English through the Data for Local Impact Innovation Challenge (DLIIC), which supports local developers in finding solutions for data gaps in HIV/Aids, global health, gender and economic growth.
AfyaBox, a mobile application that provides information on healthcare services, received a $20,000 grant from DLIIC in March 2017.
The team behind the app hopes to reach more than 300 people in Moshi municipality in the Kilimanjaro region where they are based, by the end of this year.
“With the grant, training and mentorship we received, we were able to develop AfyaBox. We hope to reach other parts of the county in the near future,” said AfyaBox co-founder George Elly Matto.
'Code like a girl'
Telecoms are also involved in the ecosystem through programmes such as the coding app by Vodacom Tanzania, dubbed “Code like a girl” which targets young women aged girls aged between 14 and 18 years, the cloud storage app Tigo Backup and Tigo Twende which equips users with basic IT knowledge.
“With the rise of Silicon Dar, we urge new innovators, incubators, funders, higher learning institutions and other private sector players to seize the opportunity for further technological development,” said Sahara Ventures’ chief strategist, Adam Mbyallu.
The Dar Teknohama Business Incubator (DTBi) runs the Tanzania Digital Innovation Youth Empowerment Programme which teaches young people entrepreneurship and digital literacy skills.
“DTBi came up with a mobile-based learning platform known as the Business Entrepreneurship Skills Platform, which helps to disseminate business and entrepreneurship knowledge and skills,” said Mr Mbyallu.
DTBi also helps to run “Code like a girl” in collaboration with Vodacom and dLab. It seeks to empower young women with skills on tech innovation and entrepreneurship.
“It is our hope to have more girls represented in the tech industry,” Vivienne Penessis, the director of human resources at Vodacom Tanzania said in an e-mail response to The EastAfrican.
The area is also home to several major banks and microfinance institutions which, if well exposed to the ecosystem, can provide alternative financing for post-revenue start-ups and SMEs.
Although the country’s IT ecosystem is evolving, multiple players and more work is needed to make a positive impact on the surrounding communities and turn a “smart city” idea into a reality, stakeholders say.
Barriers such as electrical outages, poor infrastructure, and the absence of transport links limit the opportunities available.
Costech director-general Dr Amos Nungu pledged to support the smart city concept.
“All prerequisite conditions to support the growth of technology, entrepreneurship and innovation ecosystem are coming into being. The bigger picture is to have a resource centre accessible to all,” he said.