Day 2 of ZICTA‘s ICT Business Forum under the theme ‘Innovate – Create – Thrive’ started off with the announcement of its Innovators’ Challenge competition, Mr. Charles Chilumbu (a lecturer at Zambia ICT College) who designed and constructed a 15 kilowatt power inverter systems to tackle the problem of load-shedding in Zambia. He is pictured below receiving his prize:
Opening remarks were then made by industry representatives, one of whom was Dr. Mupanga Mwanakatwe, Zamtel CEO, asking the questions, ‘Are we as Africans going to use the web/internet to become masters of our destiny? There’s a huge opportunity for us to innovate, create and thrive. We need to tie these innovation platforms in schools so we can become masters of our own destiny’.
The first discussion was: A global perspective on innovation in emerging technologies, and the panel spoke about how Zambia is at war with poverty, stressing that innovation is the only way out. They encouraged creatives to do what they do best, create!
“We can eradicate poverty using innovative technology!” Mansa Chilli Executive Director and startup entrepreneur Robinson Mwansa said, also noting that the gap is widening between the rich and poor, with the poor suffering the most. ‘Through innovations, we can combat poverty’, he said, ‘and innovations in ICTs can help facilitate this’.
MTN Zambia’s Sales and Distribution Manager Amos Jere added that ICTs in the banking sector are also important and that they shouldn’t consider telecoms companies as competition but as co-workers, aiming to increase flow of money in economy through remittance services like mobile money.
Airtels’ representative Nawa Mataa from its Legal Affairs Department added that the operator is working with the Government to push for CT skills training in schools, and even offer internships to university/college students in their IT departments. He also said ‘People need to know that their apps or innovations will be rewarding, as it is in other countries. If your innovation is relevant to the people out there, you will definitely be rewarded.’
Mr Mwananakatwe chipped in to add ‘Zambia has a huge disconnect between academia and industry, which should be bridged. Also we shouldn’t think of ICT as just software and apps but as hardware as well. There’s a lot of opportunity there as well. We need to use the internet of things (IoT) to create products that address problems specific to Zambia. ’
An important question was raised from the audience: ‘Why are Internet services so poor and expensive? Is there a conspiracy to give Zambians the most absurd prices?’
The response from the panel was that to provide the service locally, they pay external suppliers in dollars to make the internet connection available as Zambia being landlocked has no access to sea cables that provide fibre optic internet connections.
However all the panelists agreed that there is a need to provide more data centres in the country through the regulator ZICTA. They also urged all innovators that they must come up with ideas that work, and they should prove that they are not just get-rich-quick schemes.
We then joined the discussion “Digital Migration: An opportunity for innovation” by main speakers Ms Josephine Mapoma (Director General of IBA), Mr. Daddy Chitalu (Muvi TV), Mrs. Recha Kalima-Kabwe (Operations Manager – Multichoice Zambia), and Mr. Elliot Kabalo (Type Approval Director at ZICTA).
Ms. Mapoma stated that “Content is king, and Zambia needs to create more quality content.”
‘Content can create jobs by means of production houses but we need to create our own software that works specifically for Zambia in content generation,’ Mr. Chitalu added.
Moving to the switch from analogue to digital transmission, Mr. Chitalu explained that most decoders have ports that can connect internet cables, but ISPs are not seeing the opportunities to expand internet access to people through them. He also said it would be good to see set-top boxes (STBs) assembled and repaired locally, rather than outside the country.
These days, live streaming is on increase now because people don’t want to rush home to watch TV. That area can be targeted for innovation by ISPs, but this internet opportunities will only make sense if it’s a two-way information stream, both for downloads and uploads.
There is also more capacity on digital TV platforms due to the latest compression technologies, making the huge difference between analogue and digital transmission. Creative minds were urged to create content and approach local service providers with their ideas.
Mrs. Kalima-Kabwe agreed, saying that with the switch to digital migration, Multichoice will be able to bring in more channels and thus more local content if it’s good enough as digital broadcasting brings greater convergence between content creators and broadcasters.
Mr Kabalo, whose job is to approve the type of ICT devices that enter the country, said ZICTA issues licenses for signal distribution and that’s an opportunity Zambians can harness in their strive towards being creative.
When an audience member asked if there were any regulations as to how much content distributors should get as a cut from a content they receive and the board responded that different content packages have different pricing depending on what kind of content is presented.
The day seemed to bring out the message that innovators need to do more, that the ICT authorities are waiting to see brilliant ideas that they are willing to fund and push for if they are relevant to Zambia. Our message would also be that the regulators need more incentives to allow these innovators to show what they have. The levels of bureaucracy when visiting even just offices of people in those positions need to tone down a bit.