What ICT lab means for Tanzania’s digital economy endeavour

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Tanzania is set to establish an advanced laboratory dedicated to manufacturing ICT equipment domestically. PHOTO | FILE

What you need to know:

  • In a move towards achieving its digital economy, Tanzania is set to establish an advanced laboratory dedicated to manufacturing ICT equipment domestically

Dar es Salaam. In a move towards achieving its digital economy, Tanzania is set to establish an advanced laboratory dedicated to manufacturing ICT equipment domestically.

One of the steps taken to kick start the plan is the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the Information and Communication Technology Commission (ICTC) and the Tanzania Industrial Research and Development Organisation (Tirdo).

The development comes when for years, Tanzanian innovators have made remarkable strides in software development, yet the hardware sector has lagged behind.

This disparity threatens the nation’s goal of becoming a digital economy hub, according to experts.

To bridge this gap, the new laboratory will focus on designing, processing, and manufacturing various ICT equipment locally, reducing reliance on imports and fostering technological self-sufficiency.

Currently, Tanzania imports all its ICT equipment, a costly practice that strains the nation’s foreign currency reserves. According to the World Bank, ICT goods imports accounted for 3.2623 percent of Tanzania’s imports in 2021.

This dependence on foreign products not only depletes financial resources but also exposes the country to risks associated with counterfeit and substandard goods.

“We cannot achieve the goal of having a digital economy if we do not have the capability to manufacture these devices locally,” said ICTC director general Nkundwe Mwasaga during the MoU signing.

By producing ICT equipment locally, Tanzania can ensure quality control and adherence to standards, eliminating the influx of counterfeit products that have plagued the market.

The Sh1 billion laboratory will produce a range of devices, including computers, mobile phones, routers, and other essential hardware.

The establishment of the ICT equipment laboratory is also poised to be a significant driver of job creation.

Tirdo director general Mkumbukwa Mtambo highlighted the potential for job opportunities, particularly for the youth. “This laboratory will help create many jobs for our youth,” he said.

“With the rise of ICT globally, it is essential for our country to be prepared to produce our own equipment and provide repair services to facilitate users’ work.”

The laboratory will not only create direct employment opportunities in manufacturing and assembly but also spur ancillary industries such as research and development, maintenance, and logistics.

This ecosystem will require a skilled workforce, prompting educational institutions to expand their ICT curricula and training programmes.

Tanzania’s digital landscape has shown impressive growth. Registered phone lines surged from 62.3 million in April 2023 to 72.5 million in April 2024, while internet users increased from 33.1 million to 36.8 million over the same period.

The number of users of mobile money transfer services also saw a notable rise. However, experts say, without local manufacturing capabilities, sustaining and advancing this growth is challenging.

Dr Mwasaga pointed out that the collaboration with Tirdo would promote more research specifically in ICT equipment, aligning with the National Digital Economy Strategy 2024-2034.

This strategy focuses on enhancing digital infrastructure, governance, skills, and innovation. The laboratory will be a cornerstone in this strategy, supporting the broader goals of digital inclusion and economic empowerment.

ICT experts laud this initiative as a transformative step. ICT consultant Benard Masatu remarked, “Local manufacturing of ICT equipment will significantly reduce costs and make technology more accessible to a larger portion of the population. It also positions Tanzania as a competitive player in the regional market.”

Additionally, the initiative aligns with the ongoing review of the National ICT Policy of 2016, which aims to strengthen the management of the ICT sector and promote the principles of digital transformation.

“This policy review, coupled with the new laboratory, is expected to enhance Tanzania’s reputation in the international ICT standards arena,” noted Mr Masatu.

Mr Tumbo Makori from the University of Dar es Salaam School of Business (UDBS) said the establishment of the ICT equipment laboratory is more than just a step towards economic independence; it is a leap towards a sustainable and inclusive digital future.

“By fostering local innovation, creating jobs, and ensuring quality, Tanzania is setting the stage that can make it be part of the leading digital economies in Africa,” he said.

“This is a visionary move exemplifying how strategic partnerships and investments in technology can drive national progress and prosperity.

Dr Mwasaga stated, “We will produce quality and affordable products to avoid challenges such as foreign currency shortages.”