Zambia’s expertise in tech trends captivates UNDP, qualifies to host Timbuktoo tech hub

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BARELY months of being misinformed by fact finders that Zambia was not ripe to host a tech hub, UNDP assistant secretary general Ahunna Eziakonwa was awestruck with the proficiency exhibited by Zambian youths in technology and innovation.

To see for herself during the launch of the Mukuba Unipod and technology hub at Copperbelt University, the expertness by innovators coupled with government’s moral approach in cultivating partnerships and promoting new innovation and technology charmed Eziakonwa who as a result declared Zambia eligible to host the eighth Timbuktoo-Pan-African tech hub start up ecosystem.

Timbuktoo initiative as magnified by the United Nation’s Development Programme (UNDP) is aimed at investing US$ 1 billion of catalytic and commercial capital to transform Africa’s public universities into centres of innovation to support Africa’s startup eco system.

University Innovation Pod (UniPod) is a physical space constructed at CBU to help students as well as youths across the nation to create ideas, refine their innovation and provide technological solutions to societal challenges.

With an investment seed of US$600,000 from Timboktu initiative the Centre will help in bolstering creativity among the youth both non students and university students.

Speaking during the launch of the Mukuba UniPod Minister of Technology and Science Felix Mutati was delighted that Zambia is a now a challenger in the cutting-edge technology. 

“The range of Ingenuity that is in our boys and girls is without limit as you walk in the other parts of the world take the message that Zambia is now in the Champions league in terms of innovation and technology,” he said.

The cheerful Mutati nicknamed Eziakonwa as ‘mama Africa of innovation and technology’ for her unwavering support in bringing the country up to speed in innovation and technology.

“I would like to thank you in the last three years through the innovation initiative you have been able to support over 4, 000 innovations in three years you are walking the talk,” he said.

“You have been able to support us in the construction of the science and technology initiative at the policy level which is crucial and we say thank you to you. You have also not been lazy you said I am going to have a UniPod at CBU and you have delivered resources and today you came to launch what was an idea then into an output. This place will forever remember you for what leadership you are providing in the area of innovation and technology.”

He promised that his ministry will make the country blossom out in innovation and technology through the policy framework set by government of nurturing talent regardless of one’s background.

“Make us big when you make us big in technology and innovation we shall also make you big because we will be able to export necklaces made gold, emerald, diamond finished products of international quality matching the best of the best and thanks to you, you brought not only inspiration but also progress and that’s why we have you as our lady of Africa,” he said.

“The things that you do leveraging knowledge expertise initiative but beyond leveraging, you are helping us to accelerate the pace of transformation of ideas into viable products, viable outputs and the University is in between ideation and viable venture.“

Mutati also showed off about Zambia having the highest broadband connection. 

“We are the most connected country by fiber in the whole continent of Africa. We are the ones that have got latency reduced drastically providing resilience from east cost to west cost and from cape to Cairo. Nobody in Africa will tell you that they have that connectivity we are the only one ones that have that connectivity and we are doing more,”said Mutati.

Ahunna said climate change is a major challenge the world is now grappling with hence the power of innovation technology can help in resolving the challenges for future generations.

She said technology and innovation will reduce marginalization and help in fight poverty on the continent but making it accessible to everyone especially youths and women ought to be intentional.

Ahuna said it is impressive to see young people emerge as the architects of change not the subjects in the equation.

“UNDP in its DNA about inclusive and sustainable the two words are fundamental of what happens in future of development. If development is not inclusive sustainable we cannot talk about hope for the future , we cannot even talk about the future because we are seeing what’s happening today on our planet,” she said.

“If we are going to drive down poverty and eliminate it on the continent we also have to think about transformation.Countries like Zambia and many others in Africa , we are only placed in the world as a supplier of raw materials for the development of the other.”

Ahunna indicated that Timbuktoo is the largest initiative aimed at bringing private and public sector together to eliminate the early risk capital gap. 

“You will find that young people have ideas but nobody wants to invest in their ideas because they have not yet proven that they are marketable. Nobody is investing in that stage where you need a K100, 000, K200, 000 to actually get your idea to that investment level.

It’s easier to raise a one million , two million, and five million than it is to raise 200, 000 and that’s where Timbuktoo comes in to take care of this gap,” she said.

“We want to connect the Ecosystem to the one African market by creating this vertical house one in each country eight countries just selected, looking at the different verticals education tech, green tech, agritech, creative tech it was amazing to see the creative tech which is another big sector that is ignored.”

She also recounted President Hakainde Hichilema’s hunger for Zambia to be part in the technological innovation network.

“When I met the president in Dubai last year we talked about Timbuktoo and he asked why not Zambia and I said I actually thought of Zambia and we set a mission here to assess the ecosystem and see if there was space here for Zambia to be one of the eight that will host this task,”she recollected.

“But the mission came back and said hmmm not yet ready and he ( President Hichilema) said I want them to come back here and re-assess and I want you to give me that list of what we need to be ready and I said to him it’s a deal and I want to come and observe for myself Zambia’s readiness to be one of the hosts of the Timbuktoo hub.”

Ahunna disclosed that the investigators had given her a wrong perception about Zambia but after seeing for herself the country had made the grade to host the tech hub with the high levels of ingenuity showcased.

“I must say after this visit as we spoke with the minister here I think we are ready. With this level of commitment, with this level of talent, principled approach that prioritizes partnership and formal friendship I think we are ready,” said Ahuna.

“We will go back and consider Zambia as one of the eight hubs that will host the vertical house. Minister that is my promise and so far I haven’t failed on one of my promises.”

And CBU vice chancellor Paul Chisale said the University will be open to other universities and neighboring countries to shape the inventive ideas whether the innovator is educated or not.

The event was concluded with the signing of a memorandum of understanding between Liquid Intelligent Technologies Zambia chief executive officer Mark Townsend and the UNDP for the provision of internet services at the UniPod.

By Mwaka Ndawa

Kalemba February 26, 2024.

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