Digital Dream vs Reality: Tanzania’s Tech Ambitions Meet the Global Innovation Race

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As of 2023, an estimated 4.66 billion people worldwide are active Internet users, representing over 59% of the global population. This staggering figure highlights the ubiquity of digital technology and underscores a pressing issue: despite such widespread connectivity, a significant digital skills gap persists.

For instance, a report from the World Economic Forum suggests that by 2025, 50% of all employees will need reskilling as the adoption of technology increases and skill sets evolve. Yet, as we stand on the brink of a digital revolution that promises to transform every aspect of our lives, from how we work to how we communicate, a large portion of the global population is at risk of being left behind.

Vodacom, a leading African mobile communications company, has been actively involved in digital education and skills development, recognizing technology’s critical role in empowering individuals and communities. Their involvement often extends to various initiatives to enhance digital literacy, provide educational resources, and foster skills essential for the digital economy.

As a stakeholder and enthusiast in technology matters, I had the opportunity to attend the Future Ready Summit 2024, organized by Vodacom Tanzania PLC. The two-day event was opened by the Prime Minister of Tanzania, Hon. Kassim Majaliwa, alongside Hon. Nape Nnauye, Minister of ICT, as a special guest. It brought together technology enthusiasts, key stakeholders, and strategic partners to explore state-of-the-art solutions promoting technological progress in the country and region.

From the ongoing discussions at the summit, I came to realize that Tanzania had ranked 13th out of 26 African countries studied, scoring a 3.3 out of 10 for digital skills. The number indicates a low level of digital skills and know-how among its population.

It has been cited that the number of jobs requiring digital skills in Africa is expected to grow in the coming years. According to the World Bank report on Demand for Digital Skills in Sub-Saharan Africa, around 28 million and 17 million jobs in Nigeria and Kenya will require digital skills by 2030. Such employment opportunities would mainly be in the services sector.

Read Related: Addressing Barriers to Digital Adoption: Insights from Vodacom’s Managing Director

The Relationship between Technology and People 

In 2023, ITU reported that 5.4 billion people, about 67% of the global population, were using the internet, marking a 45% increase since 2018. Despite this growth, 2.6 billion people remain offline.

In education, the e-learning market will hit a whopping USD 375 billion by 2026. The pandemic accelerated the adoption of online learning, with platforms like National eLearning Platform for Health under the Tanzania Ministry of Health (MoH), SILABU, Vodashule, Smart Darasa, Coursera and Khan Academy seeing user numbers skyrocket.

So, what do these numbers tell us? They paint a picture of a world increasingly shaped by technology, where digital tools can potentially improve every aspect of our lives. But they also remind us that this potential can only be fully realized if we tackle the challenges of accessibility and equity head-on.

But tech moves fast, right? We’re talking about ensuring our internet and tech infrastructure is solid, people have the right skills, everything’s open and above board, and we’re keeping everything secure.

The World Bank has even stepped in, providing USD 150 million to Tanzania for the Digital Tanzania Project (DTP) to boost digital public services. However, despite this progress, the availability and affordability of reliable broadband services across the country still haven’t hit the expected levels.

After the DTP project, we aim for significant milestones: 75% of Tanzanians will have high-speed mobile internet, 425 government facilities will get fast broadband, and 40% of individuals aged 15+ will be online. Plus, monthly use of the internet and mobile phones to access public services will jump from 200,000 to 500,000 times.

So, where does the challenge lie? Despite the increase in internet users to 35.8 million and the penetration of smartphones at 85.62%, the number of smartphone users in a country is only 32.13%, according to the TCRA’s recent quarterly report covering a period ending December 2023. So that’s still challenging and hinders the way forward in digital inclusion.

Empowering Digital Innovation for the Future

Since 2023, Tanzania has lost four spots in the Global Startup Ecosystem Index, positioning itself as 118th worldwide. And so, in advancing Tanzania’s digital growth, Vodacom Tanzania is committed to empowering Tanzanians, especially youth, through its initiatives, including the Vodacom Digital Accelerator, which is currently in its third season.

The Vodacom Digital Accelerator Program supports early-stage and growth-stage technology startups with innovative products and services that have the potential to disrupt the market. The accelerator guides startup founders through expert training, mentorship, and technical assistance and provides access to tools to help them develop into profitable, revenue-generating businesses.

The initiative aligns with the visions of startups. It offers founders complete control over their startup roadmap, aiming to inspire and accelerate their ability to create sustainable businesses through virtual and physical acceleration and validation activities.

Also read: Tanzania Startup Policy to Tackle Startup Challenges by Year-End, Announces Nape Nnauye.

In addition, initiatives like CodeLikeAGirl aim to empower young women by breaking the stereotype that “STEM is for boys” and bridging the gender gap in STEM fields. In collaboration with dLab, this program provides a 4-day training for girls aged 14-18, introducing them to coding skills and career opportunities in technology. Since its inception in 2018, it has reached over 2000 girls in Dar es Salaam, Mwanza, Dodoma, Mbeya, and Arusha.

These initiatives give founders and youth autonomy over their startup roadmaps. They create sustainable businesses that contribute to the ecosystem’s growth while inspiring young women to venture into tech-related careers. This commitment promises to provide essential resources and support for Tanzanian innovators to thrive in the digital landscape and opportunities to empower innovators to develop disruptive products and services.

As a Nation, What Can We Learn, Add and Improve?

The best idea always wins, but what good is an idea without enough investment? Many private institutions support investment and access to funds, but it feels like the government has left them to fend for themselves without sufficient support. What’s stopping us from prioritizing our innovation hubs?

Okay, suppose we can’t even fix a damaged stretch of Rose Garden Road from Science Junction (Kijitonyama) to Mwalimu Nyerere Junction (Mikocheni, Dar es Salaam), which Ministers and top government officials use frequently. How are we going to prioritize investment in digital and local technology? We’ll end up chasing pipe dreams!

Imagine Tanzania with more seats offering mentorship, financial backing, and networking chances, especially in booming fields like fintech. It’s about giving startups the environment they need to flourish.

Lastly, the magic of public-private partnerships can’t be overlooked. Innovation can take off by encouraging collaboration across government, the private sector, and academia. Plus, with a focus on diversifying the startup scene beyond fintech and connecting with the global innovation community, Tanzania could make its mark on the world stage.

Empowering the future needs to start with empowering what we currently have. Without this approach, we’ll end up in endless meetings discussing ICT topics that don’t move us forward. It’ll just be a cycle of repeated stories going round and round.

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1 month ago

Most of Tanzanians youths are exposed to Computer Technology at college or University level …

If only the exposure could be lowered to Secondary or even primary level educations through Government investments …Digital dream might become closer to reality at a considerable fast pace.

Last edited 1 month ago by Haramba
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