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Wednesday 16 January 2019
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Namibia: The Silicon Desert of the World

Lameck Mbangula Amugongo

Lameck Mbangula Amugongo

Over the past years, we have seen tremendous technological advancement. Making technology a major role player in the economies of many countries. Driving growth, creating job opportunities and wealth. In order to harness the power of technology, we are increasingly seeing the adoption ICT hubs and start up incubation institutions by many governments and international donor organisations.
Furthermore, many countries are trying hard to replicate the Silicon Valley model, encouraging innovators, entrepreneurs and ordinary citizens to start technological enterprises. Some countries are not only encouraging startups but they are proving technical and financial support to help these startups grow.
Silicon Valley is name given to a part of San Francisco Bay Area in California, Unites States of America (USA). The Valley is now home to many high tech corporations and thousands of startup companies. The word valley in Silicon Valley comes from the Santa Clara Valley, while Silicon refers to the many chip manufacturers and inventors in the region. Thus, the phrase Silicon Valley refers to America’s high tech sector around the area of the city of San Francisco. The Valley started developing in the early 1970s due to increased research in Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics (STEM), abundant financing, and government spending especially through the U.S. Department of Defense. Stanford University leadership was especially important in the valley’s early development. Together these elements were crucial for the growth and success of the Silicon Valley.
In contrary to what happened in the U.S. in the early 70s, Namibia currently imports most of our software and systems from either South Africa, India or China among others. Therefore, indirectly supporting and funding the development of Valley’s in other countries. Inspired by the impact of tech startups and companies in San Francisco, countries such as Germany, United Kingdome,     Estonia, Kenya, China, and even our neighbor South Africa are heavily investing policies, hubs, Research and Development to create an enabling environment for startup to thrive.
Although it doesn’t ring bell like Silicon Valley, Silicon Allee has become a synonym for tech startups in Germany. Making Berlin the preferred home for many new hi-tech entrepreneurs from across the world. Even global giants, for example Google has opened offices in the city, Berlin the “Silicon Allee” is now rivalling London’s Silicon Roundabout as Europe’s tech hub. Berlin has always been up-to-the-minute, edgy, artistic and in search of a role for itself. Sliced in two by communism and then re-united when the Berlin Wall came down in 1989, it is now re-inventing itself as one of Europe’s leading hi-tech hubs. Additionally, cheap property and cost of living has enticed young, talented workforce, which has in return attracted entrepreneurs from all over Europe, including the United States of America US.
Back on the mother continent, the proliferation of mobile devices has opened up a new window of opportunities for many. Kenya, is one African country that has taken advantage of the boom of of mobile computing and now is proud exporter of tech solutions such as M-Pesa, Uushahidi and many other. From bustling     Nairobi, M-Pesa a mobile money based technology is currently being used in Europe, Asia and other African countries. According to the Bloomberg, Nairobi, Kenya has become the tech hub of Africa, a niche that could be worth more than one billion dollars to the country in the next three years despite its 40% unemployment rate. Kenya is throwing all their eggs in the tech basket as they build a multi-billion-dollar infrastructure in the form of a “Techno City” that will support 200,000 tech startups.
Closer to home, our big brother South Africa has an ambitious plan to replace Kenya as the tech hub for the continent. Today, we hearing phrases such as the Silicon Cape, referring to the initiative aimed at driving innovation and technology in the Cape. The Cape is acknowledged to having the best entrepreneurial ecosystem and 3 of the top 10 universities on the continent. Like how Silicon Valley used universities such as Stanford and others around San Francisco, The Silicon hopes to make use of the knowledge generate by these top universities to create high tech businesses and startups.
Unlike Kenya, Namibia has access to more than 3 communication     cables: African Coast to Europe (ACE), West Africa Cable System (WACS) submarine cables, as well as the South African Far East (SAFE) submarine cable through South Africa (2010). The landings of WACS in Namibia, the DRC, the Republic of Congo and Togo will provide the first direct connections for these countries to the global submarine cable network. This another advantage, Namibia is directly linked to the global submarine cable while Kenya and South Africa are not. These connections can provide more than enough bandwidth to digitalize our entire country. Furthermore, the communication cables links Namibia to major international point of presence (PoPs), thus providing faster Internet.
Namibia has right conditions to become the Silicon Dessert of the world, peace, stability, manageable population, high quality of life and competitive markets which can attract talented young people from all over the world, who create businesses, jobs and thus alleviate poverty. In order for this to happen all parties (public & private sector) have to get involved, though this process has to be driven by government through policy. We need the private sector to invest at least just 1% of their profits in ICT hubs for the next 10 years. If we are serious about Namibia joining the prestige league of knowledge exporters, information communication technology (ICT) services can be our niche. And we need to start now.
Lameck Mbangula Amugongo is the country Ambassador of 1 Billion Africa in Namibia. He holds B.IT: Software Engineering, B.Hons: Software Development (Cum Laude) and currently pursuing MSc. Computer Science.




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