MONDAY November 20, 2023
By Patty Magubira
The Tranquility News Reporter, Tanzania
Sustainability of the state-of-the-art Centre of Excellence in Information and Communication for East Africa (Cenit@EA) is hanging in the balance following a key donor gradually withdrawing from the project.
The German Academic Exchange Services – DAAD, which has been one of the major implementing partners in the CENIT@EA project on behalf of its government, says it will not continue playing the role with effect from next year.
The East African Community (EAC) Secretariat launched the project jointly with the German government through its Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development – BMZ –in 2019 to build the capacity of human resources at universities across the region in carrying out research on embedded and mobile systems tailor-made for the bloc.
The Inter-University Council for East Africa (IUCEA), GIZ, and the East African and German academic consortia led by Nelson Mandela African Institution of Science and Technology (NM-AIST) and Oldenburg University also have been implementing the project since.
The good news, however, is that the German government will continue granting scholarships to lucky students to be admitted at the centre which the Arusha-based NM-AIST hosts.
Speaking at the 6th CENIT@EA anniversary celebration in Arusha, Tanzania, over the weekend, Ms Betina Onyango assured the bloc that the process of selecting 11 graduates to join the centre in January 2024 was in progress.
Ms Onyango was representing Mr Lars Gerold, the Head of Institution Building Section of DAAD, during the celebration.
“We should also consider how governments and the private sector can fund the project instead of focusing on the German government’s subsidy alone,” chipped in Mr Bjoern Ritcher, the GIZ Cluster Coordinator.
The anniversary brought together members of the embedded and mobile system community, including experts, academicians, students, alumnae, industrialists and government officials.
They gathered to compare notes and reflected on milestones the centre has so far achieved and to chart out plans and sustainable framework for implementing the project without DAAD.
High on the agenda of the two-day gala themed milestones celebration and deliberations for the sustainable digital advancement in East Africa also was the role of emerging technologies in promoting innovation and sustainable and market-driven industrialisation in sub-Saharan Africa.
Officiating at the celebration, Tanzania’s Deputy Education Minister Omar Kipanga admitted that digital technologies training, research and innovations were crucial in fully harnessing and exploiting natural resources to achieve outcomes of Africa’s Agenda 2063.
“The discussions are timely and relevant for charting out strategic direction African countries should take to prepare a critical mass of youth in line with national, continental and global aspiration to develop science, technology and innovation capability as a driver of socio-economic transformation,” said Mr Kipanga.
Adding in the speech he read on behalf of the Education, Professor Adolf Mkenda, he said the centre had impressed for delivering high quality post-graduate training on the bedrock of excellent academia to address big challenges in the digital and innovative solutions’ century.
“The ministry will strive to create enabling environment for quality training, research and innovation while we urge and encourage investors and development partners to join hands with the governments in supporting these endeavours,” he promised.
Prof Maulilio Kipanyula, the NM-AIST Vice Chancellor, enumerated some of the key milestones of the centre as enrolling five cohorts with a total of 136 Master’s and PhD students, 37 per cent being females and 63 per cent males.
The centre, whose 71 students graduated in 2021, 2022 and 2023, also facilitated students’ internship in 45 firms across the region.
Prof Kipanyula was optimistic the discussions would stimulate, catalyse and promote more collaboration for a better future of the centre.
The IUCEA Executive Secretary, Prof Gaspard Banyankimbona, said looking at the centre and its follow-up project dubbed dSkills, the CENIT@EA had the potential for reaching new heights.
“We look at the centre as still gold on the bottom; we want to unlock that particular potential,” said Prof Banyankimbona as he advised the centre to embrace data science.
“As we move forward, what can be the role of this centre and the consortium to move the region to the existing narrative, given the EAC is the fastest growing region in Africa and the world,” he queried.
The centre is expected to significantly contribute to solving challenges in various socio-economic sectors, including electronic money transfer, security systems, industries, transport, electronic gadgets sector, agricultural irrigation schemes and automotive industry.
Despite addressing unemployment by offering courses of the same quality with those pursued overseas, graduates from the centre are capable of developing devises East Africans need.
Going by the Uganda Revenue Authority’s statistics, residents of the single EAC partner state reportedly imported ICT equipment worth $1.8 billion between 2011 and 2016, approximately $360 million per year.
The Germany government had, through the BMZ, DAAD, and GIZ invested Euros 1.384 million in putting up the regional centre of excellence.
The overarching goal of the investment, which has so far seen 112 scholarships granted to students admitted at the centre, is to empower citizens of the region to catch up with the rest of the world in application of digital technologies.
The embedded and mobile systems community believes digital technologies will go a long way not only in fast tracking the EAC integration agenda and cross-border trade, in particular, but also in fully harnessing and exploiting the region’s naturally endowed resources.
One of the targets of the EAC Development Strategy 2012-2016 being transforming the manufacturing sector, digital technologies are billed to be the driving force in transforming the manufacturing sectorΩ