African tech parks aim to jump-start ICT

To help reap economic benefits from information and communication technology (ICT), some countries on the African continent are creating new-company incubators and technology parks.

The island of Mauritius will complete the first component of its Cybercity project, the Cyber Tower, in May this year. Ghana has inaugurated a multimedia centre that provides infrastructure to support ICT companies and is planning to create a technology park in the free-trade zone enclave in its port city of Tema this quarter. Meanwhile, Uganda has made public its intention to set up a US$600,000 ICT incubation centre this year.

The incentive for the initiatives in these countries appears to be the returns their economies will get from the ICT industry.

“Mauritius was before standing on 4 pillars: Manufacturing, Agriculture, Tourism and the financial services. We were successful in textiles manufacturing primarily because we had preferential trade agreement with the U.S. and the E.U. Now with (trade) liberalization, we can no more rely on these quotas,” said Bilaal Salemohamed, assistant marketing manager of Business Parks of Mauritius Ltd., responding to questions via e-mail.

“The government thought of a fifth pillar to hold the economy: the K-economy, making Mauritius a knowledge-based, high-tech Cyber island,” Salemohamed elaborated.

The components of Mauritius’ Cybercity project include: the Cyber Tower, with fiber-optic infrastructure for businesses; the Knowledge Zone, with learning institutions; the Business Zone, where ICT companies can set up facilities; the Commercial Zone, with a “hypermarket,” pharmacy, and other shops; an Administrative Block, which houses a number of government offices; and a Cyber Village, with a modern residential complex and a five-star hotel.

Mauritius is partnering with India, to maximize the competitive advantage of having a bilingual (English and French) work force.

“The motives behind this project were stimulated by the Indian government, who found a niche market in the IT sector in which they could explore on their land. This was the BPO sector. Business Process Outsourcing,” said Salemohamed.

“They’ve got the cheap skillful labour! They’ve built an impressive client base from the U.S., U.K., Australia, etc. One of the markets they could not target but Mauritius could was the French speaking market as well as the English-speaking market,” he said. India is a major investor in the project, and Mauritius is also depending on Indian expertise.

Ghana on the other hand wants to attract local and international companies to move to its technology park, to produce advanced technologies for export. The Ghanaian authorities believe Ghana can compete with other countries in terms of cost.

According to the ICT Advisor to Ghana’s Minister of Communications and Technology, Kwasi Adu-Gyan, other established destinations are becoming expensive because most of the big technology companies have located there.

Ghana is presently developing capacity in terms of ICT skills before its technology park comes on-stream. “We are dealing with capacity building, so that when the technology companies are ready to move here (Ghana), we will not be found wanting,” Adu-Gyan said.

With its incubation centre, Uganda also has intentions to help companies get into regional and international markets, but John Musajjakawa, Uganda Investment Authority’s director of the ICT division, declined to give details of his country’s plans.

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