Five need-to-knows about tech in Tanzania
As a tech enthusiast in Tanzania, I’ve recently been thinking about the top need to knows about tech in Tanzania notwithstanding my work around digital inclusion and advancing women’s online participation.
In Tanzania, digitalisation isn’t so easy. Barriers include:
- Accessibility (infrastructure, socio-cultural factors)
- Digital literacy (capacity,skills, know how)
- Affordability (data, devices)
- Appetite (content)
Covid-19 has amplified the need to address these challenges with a holistic multi stakeholder approach that would allow for the ecosystem however nascent in its current form to provide comprehensive, synchronized and sustainable interventions to address the digital divide. What is encouraging is that despite these challenges, Tanzania has already made significant technological strides in terms of innovations particularly edtech, fintech and agritech. So here are the 5 need to knows I could pen down from my experience, engagement and network around everything tech and digital in Tanzania
One — Our tech ecosystem is in development
That’s thanks to COSTECH — the Commission for Science and Technology — under the Tanzanian Ministry of Education, Science, Technology and Vocational Training; which oversees and promotes those two disciplines and a range of other private stakeholders you will also learn about in this piece.
COSTECH has created several programmes to push for technological transformation across different sectors, including the BUNI Hub and Dar Teknohama Business Incubator both tech incubators which have been providing capacity building and other programs support for tech start-ups and entrepreneurs in Tanzania.
Tanzania also has three annual flagship eco-system events which convene the movers and shakers of tech in Tanzania: namely Bits & Bytes; Sahara Sparks; and Innovation Week under HDIF (Human Development Innovation Fund). These events showcase local technological developments and solutions. They combine product launches, policy discussions, and interviews with developers; for the tech community, they’re the place to be! They have definitely built themselves as platforms that can be used to exhibit and push for tech trends in Tanzania, but also a meeting ground for potential investors and developers. More than 2000 startups have gained access to the stakeholders in the ecosystem through these events.
However one thing I have noticed as an enthusiast is it’s almost the same faces every year. But also, it seems there is a song sang in unison by stakeholders every year on working in SILOS which has also become quite evident through the duplicity of efforts or solutions showcased that could have had wider impact and outreach should a collaborative approach been used or a pipeline that would build on one another’s efforts in what could for example be dubbed a tech support value chain. Perhaps we need a Tanzanian tech coalition. A little bird told me Digital opportunity Trust- Tanzania, The Launchpad Tanzania, Sahara Ventures, and Ndoto hub are working towards addressing this so fingers crossed it materializes SOON.
Two- Tech Education is high on the agenda — we are going to have our own MIT
The Dar es Salaam Institute of Technology (DIT) was founded in 1977. The institute has launched several programs to cater for the industry technological needs over the years reaching over 50,000 students since its establishment. The institute has currently also established a 21st Century design studio ‘the Dar es Salaam Institute of Technology (DIT) Design Studio’ — a space dedicated to student innovation development programs. The Studio was inspired by Rice University’s Oshman Engineering Design Kitchen (OEDK) in Houston, Texas, who are their partners in supporting invention education in Tanzania.
The studio’s creative space gives students an opportunity to perform hands-on design and proto typing using the latest technology like 3D printers, laser cutters, and other supplies and resources available in the studio. Some of the impact includes the protective gear the studio was able to develop during the COVID 19 crisis in Tanzania.
Within individual sectors, including agriculture, the likes of Ifakara Hub and the WFP Innovation Hub are promoting and encouraging the use of latest technological solutions and skills development within the agricultural sector. Likewise there have been several positive efforts from the private sector through civil societies and other organisations to encourage more females to study science, technology, engineering and mathematics — STEM subjects. Some of these organisations just to name a few include Projekt Inspire, She Codes for Change and Apps and Girls. These initiatives alone have managed to reach over 2000 girls in total across Tanzania providing them with digital skills and advanced skills in coding and supporting them with app development. However with the major shift towards digitalization and young people becoming digital citizens overnight, there has been a significant rise in online harassment and cyber crime in Tanzania. Although the cyber crime law and online regulations act are quite extensive in terms of protecting digital rights, online gender based violence has been on the rise and cited as a hindering factor towards effective and active participation of women in Tanzania. There is still a big vacuum to be filled in terms of provision and awareness of digital citizenship education to go alongside digital skills but organisations like Women at Web have been working to address both the capacity building and awareness of safe online spaces to promote equal usage for both women and men to thrive.
Three — More and more digital platforms are emerging
E-commerce, e-governance, e-Learning and even e-health are slowly taking shape in Tanzania.
E-commerce platforms made their debut in the mid-2000s, these are platforms where online buying and selling can take place. COVID 19 in Tanzania did see the need to have more e-commerce platforms for online businesses considering the specific demand still yet to be met by the existing ones i.e kaymu.co.tz, kivuko.com, and, the more recently vacated from Tanzania, jumia.co.tz.
Covid-19 has aslo accelerated the launch of e-learning solutions. Some of the local e-learning platforms which were present but saw quite a surge in subscription and engagement during the crisis in Tanzania include Shule Direct, My Elimu and Smart Class. These platforms provide learning material through classes and academic materials based on the national curriculum, allowing students to continue with learning outside the school system. These platforms have enabled remote learning for hundreds of thousands of Tanzanian children during the COVID 19 crisis by enabling access to academic materials that could not be provided by the schools during shutdown. In early childhood development learning we have Ubongo Kids who are providing remote learning to pre-schoolers using the latest technological trends in animation to produce digital learning content through videos uploaded and shared in both traditional and digital platforms
Covid-19 has also presented a unique opportunity for medical professionals to fast-track digital solutions to their services. We now have Daktari App, effectively a doctor’s marketplace where doctors and their services are consulted. It has also enabled easy tracking of the nearest doctor for the patient saving time and resources for many considering the infrastructure and distance between medical centres. On the patient side, we have Jamii Insurance where Rural and impoverished communities around Tanzania are able to buy affordable medical insurance using USSD codes on their mobile phones, and take advantage of a consultation service at a very low fee. They have to date reached over 500 families in rural Tanzania.
The entertainment industry is also seeing a significant shift to digital platforms with the likes of Mkito, a Tanzanian online music platform doing relatively well in competition with other international platforms in the country.
Four — We are home to several tech startups
Smart CODES Tanzania (which also runs Smart Labs) and the 255 Hub are both Tanzanian-grown start-ups which serve as technology hubs providing and supporting homegrown digital/technological solutions to a variety of clients.
My favourite recent technological solution from a local startup is SMART KAYA, pioneered by the founder of SOMA app, Isaya Yunge. It is a digital solution that went from being a platform for scholarships and opportunities for the young, to developing a smart watch. The Smart Kaya is a technological product that incorporates artificial intelligence, it is a voice operated digital assistant that uses voice command for different functions that could also be connected to other utilities in a home i.e lighting system, music system etc — the Tanzanian equivalent of Amazon’s Alexa. The fun fact is, we can use Swahili as a language of command. The fact that it has been developed by a Young Tanzanian at the highest standards is enough to garner interest from our community, we support our own.
Five — Mobile money has been reality
Where it was once impossible to give and receive money electronically, we now have mobiles and apps that have enabled us to do just that. Tanzania’s mobile money transactions in 2019 were over 135 million TZs. These transactions were used to pay utility bills, meet business payments for different buying and selling transactions and make private transfers for general payments. Financial inclusion for many communities through mobile money has been realised.
That’s largely down to M-pesa, Tanzania’s first mobile money solution, but there are now several players in this space: Tigo-Pesa; Airtel Money; and Halo Pesa, to name a few. M-pesa also just recently opened it’s API to developers. The move is set to enhance digital user experience, making it more convenient, faster and efficient to integrate payments systems onto the M-PESA financial services platform.
Looking to the future, Tanzania is set to continue to enhance its technology portfolio and expertise.
The 4th Industrial revolution blends well with our national development strategy focused on industrialisation for it requires us to embrace the emerging technological trends in machine learning and other technologies if we are to truly leapfrog into an industrialised country.
As a tech enthusiast, I look forward to writing more on the developments and trends as they happen.