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How Botswana plans to dominate in ICT

How Botswana plans to dominate in ICT

As countries in Africa compete to exploit technology benefits, Botswana is craftily putting together its tech puzzle pieces to contest for dominance in ICT.

Alan Boshwaen, chief executive officer of Botswana Innovation Hub (BIH), the country's technology centre, trusts his blueprint and continues to canvass the nation to rally behind him.

Boshwaen wants ICT to be acknowledged for its contribution to the country's overall competitiveness.

"We (BIH) are promoting and supporting innovation in the science and technology arena. This innovation is very crucial to our national competitiveness. The overall competitiveness picture of Botswana is driven by other factors such as governance and institutions, where we are a bit stronger.

But there is a gap in ICT, not necessarily at government level but individuals too, in utilising new technology and harnessing it, we can improve productivity to create global competitive products and services."

In collaboration with local and international research institutions and technology companies, BIH continues to harness the ideas and innovation from the public and use this to reinforce the Hub's initiatives.

Boshwaen believes the Science and Technology Park, currently under construction and scheduled for completion in the 3rd quarter of 2016, will help attract the right partners and create more convenience for Botswana to compete both locally and internationally within ICT.

"We are pulling all the stops, trying to make that happen. We have a big project underway to provide us with the scale of facilities to better realise, our long term vision."

The 24 000 square metre Science and Technology Park building, located on the 57 hectare plot, is considered an essential mechanism through which to help position the country firmly on the global innovation radar.

"There is space for us to be seen as one of (the) leading countries in Africa, in terms of forward thinking," said Boshwaen.

Government has already committed to avail in excess of 800 million pula as seed funding to finance the construction of basic facilities at the park.

Behind the ongoing construction BIH has been working hard to make sure the innovation community is visible.

Over the past three years, the hub has put in place innovation support programmes, forward thinking partnerships, a cyber city programme to centralise ICT vendors (both local and international), as well as an ongoing technology incubation programme.

"Innovation is an ecosystem. It is not just in building components," said Boshwaen citing that behind scenes skills readiness building is taking place.

BIH has also managed to convince government to put in place tax incentives for international companies setting up in Botswana and ensure swift work and residence permits to allow skills from other parts of the world into the country.

On the other side the hub is working on harmonising the innovation ecosystem through legislation. BIH is pushing for data protection laws to drive innovation that will spur new types of businesses.

To complement the laws, BIH plans to design a financial scheme to support growth of entrepreneurs in the innovation sector.

"We are trying to actively assist more start-ups, fund their business model. Through government we intend to start an Innovation Fund," Boshwaen said.

The initiatives already in place strengthens BIH to successfully negotiate start-up challenges which, at one point, almost threatened the hub's business kick-off model.

"We had to moderate it because of global financial crisis and look careful at sustainability issues, how we leverage government investment and payback."

However, Boshwaen remains optimistic that things are moving in the right direction to create a sustainable innovation sector that will not only drive competitiveness, but create employment and help diversify the country's economy.

"We have to upgrade our efforts this year in terms of awareness building, make people aware of what we are doing. Rome wasn't built in a day. Stick with it (BIH dream). It's a well aligned intervention to tap into the passion of young people of this country. It's an addition to capacity building within our region."

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