Dar es Salaam. Tanzania’s innovation ecosystem received a boost here late last week following the launch of a new book that examines the East African country’s innovation landscape, providing answers to hitherto unanswered questions.
Titled Diary of an African Hub Manager: Lessons In Growing Our Innovation Systems, the book was launched on Friday, April 14, 2023, at the Tanzania Commission for Science and Technology (COSTECH), during a function attended by some of the ecosystem’s key players.
Authored by Jumanne Mtambalike, one of Tanzania’s notable innovators and technology enthusiasts, the book addresses – among other questions – why Tanzania is lagging behind regarding innovation and investment issues.
“Why every day are Kenya, Nigeria, and South Africa?” Mtambalike asked during the launching ceremony. “Where are we [Tanzania] failing?”
An innovation ecosystem comprises interdependent and interconnected stakeholders, including end-consumers, innovators, investors, regulators, and educational institutions.
According to the United Nations Capital Development Fund (UNCDF), in 2019, Tanzania demonstrated high mobile phone penetration (82.2 per cent), a growing number of active mobile money accounts (24 million), and the value of digital financial transactions equated to 50 per cent of total GDP.
But the organisation and other stakeholders think the country needs to do more to build a resilient national innovation ecosystem.
In his book, Mtambalike examines the investment landscape in Tanzania, laying out existing challenges and how they can be resolved.
“The book addresses the role of the diaspora, expatriates, and financial institutions in unlocking the capital,” Mr Mtambalike said. “It also addresses the role of development partners.”
According to the author, development partners are essential in supporting the innovation ecosystem in Africa.
“For the African innovation ecosystem, development partners play an important role, especially in startups’ early-stage financing because, in Africa, we don’t have many angel investors and venture capitalists,” he explained.
The self-styled social reformer said the book also details the challenges of development partners, outlining how they can refine their support models to innovators and startups.
With a foreword by Vusi Thembekwayo, a renowned South African venture capitalist and elite coach, the book also discusses the role of regulators, outlining how they can act as facilitators instead of police.
It details how innovation hubs in Tanzania can work with regulators to ease the regulatory and legal environment so that innovators can work in a more conducive environment.
“The book features best regulatory and legal practices that regulators [in Tanzania] can adopt to best work with innovators,” Mr Mtambalike, a software engineer by profession, noted.
Diary of an African Hub Manager also discusses actions that higher learning institutions can take to increase the ability of their graduates to contribute to innovation in the country.
“These would include taking the students through multi-competence learning skills [and] challenge-based learning skills,” Mr Mtambalike noted. “We, innovation hub managers, want people with these skills.”
“Because if you bring us a student without these skills, we won’t be able to work with them,” he warned.
“We can’t work with people who can’t express themselves or lack critical thinking, creativity, and communication skills,” he added. “It’ll be difficult to turn this person into an innovator.”
Mtambilike’s book comes less than a year since the government published its Draft National Innovation Framework in August 2022, which aims at encouraging innovation in Tanzania.
The framework identifies weaknesses facing Tanzania and its goal to promote innovation in the country, which includes inadequacy of relevant skilled personnel in emerging technologies such as Fintech, Internet of Things, Big Data, 3D Printing, Robotics, and Machine Learning.
Other weaknesses are an insufficient capital investment in technology infrastructure and a lack of framework tools to coordinate Tanzania’s innovation ecosystem.
Others are an inadequate number of business incubators to support Fintech and startups business; and the absence of intellectual property laws and regulations to protect Fintech inventions, especially from a technology viewpoint.
Based in Dar es Salaam, Mtambalike has years of experience running and managing African innovation spaces. He has founded several tech startup companies in Africa.
Mtambalike is currently the CEO and Founder of Sahara Ventures, a group of companies that runs a local business accelerator in Tanzania, Sahara Accelerator, a consulting firm, Sahara Consult, and an innovation and technology entrepreneurship event, Sahara Sparks.