Of course it is hoped that the WACS submarine cable system will help to lower the cost of broadband access and allow the delivery of innovative applications such as e-education, e-health and e-government to Namibia and other countries connected to it. Additionally, high-speed capacity provided by WACS is expected to stimulate new business initiatives and to contribute to enhancing digital links that can have a dramatically positive impact on people’s lives in the country. The questions are: “How do we unleash the full capacity of the WACS cable in Namibia?” and “How do we attract investors to Namibia as we are operating in a competitive environment with the rest of the world?”
The solution is simple. We should build an ICT Park in Namibia. This route has been taken by more advanced countries in information, communication and technology: Mauritius’s Ebene Cyber City, Singapore’s Science Park, South Korea’s Songdo City, India’s Smart City Kochi, Dubai Internet City and Qatar Science & Technology Park, Ghana’s first Technology Park at Adako-Jachie, Sweden’s IDEON Science Park and Ethiopia’s Technopolis which is being constructed in Addis Ababa at a cost of US$45 million. Tanzanian Commission for Science and Technology (Costech) is formalising a public-private partnership (PPP) agreement to develop an ICT park in Dar es Salaam.
According to Sabbagh K et al quoted by Booz & Company.com (2009) “ICT parks provide specialised office space to hundreds of technology companies, researchers, and academics to improve their indigenous technology capabilities.
The concept of ICT parks originates from the need to look into the future of a society, and the desire to grasp change in technology and societal development in an organised and calculated manner. ICT parks are designed to encourage an entrepreneurial culture and the development of knowledge-based industries. An interesting advantage of science parks is the attraction power of local and foreign capital investors who see the potential of the idea and product concepts and are very eager to spend money on this concept.”
I went to the Mauritius Ebene Cyber City myself and I was informed by those that were and are still involved in the project that the city was a key initiative of the government’s vision to transform the Mauritian economy into an innovation-driven economy based on knowledge. The Ebene Cyber City has attracted about 600 ICT companies and this has positioned them at a regional centre of excellence for Information Communication Technology/Business Processes Outsourcing (ICT-BPO).
A similar example is the Swedish IDEON science park that attracted and helped form over 400 companies since its inception through the facilitation and incubation provided by the IDEON Science park. It has provided an organisation which is friendly to researchers in higher institutions, industry and investors. IDEON provided legal support, financial services and business prospect analysis to seedling companies with the aim to reduce the burden for researchers and investors during the start up phase of companies.
Namibia, just like Mauritius, has similar ideas for Information, Communication and Technology in its Vision 2030. For us to attain this vision we need to dream bigger.
We need to be innovative and convince the nation that this is the right and calculated decision worth the risk. Before the Ebene Cyber City was constructed there were a lot of issues concerning money to be spent on it, but the Ministry of ICT believed and persevered because they had a vision which is currently benefiting their country’s economy. According to the Mauritius National Budget 2012, the ICT-BPO industry has witnessed a significant transformation over the last 10 years with a GDP contribution averaging 6.4% in 2010. It is forecasted that by 2015, GDP contribution will average 8%. Over the last few years, the ICT-BPO industry has witnessed dynamic growth rate averaging 25% and it presently employs around 15,000 people.
Namibia should take the same route that other countries have taken to promote economic growth by creating a development friendly environment for foreign companies and individuals to invest. This will help boost employment and at the same time create a knowledge society which can serve the SADC as well as the entire continent.
The ICT Park can play several key transformative roles: firstly, in telecommunications and this can be instrumental in accelerating profit margins for Telecom Namibia, MTC, Nampost and the entire ICT industry; secondly, e-education which is about connecting learners and teachers to each other and to professional support services, and providing platforms for learning; thirdly effective digital energy sector where business drivers include improving operational safety, protecting the environment, maximising and discovering reserves in addition to maintaining a competitive edge in the industry; fourth, is the integrated health information network which transforms patient care through excellence in technology; and fifth, is the e-government which is online government, or connected government which promotes faster interactions between a government and its people, employees, businesses, and amongst government institutions, state owned enterprises and agencies. Winston Churchill once said “If you have knowledge, let others light their candles with it.”