Tanzania: Critical Minerals Key to Tanzania’s Digital Transformation

DAR ES SALAAM: A growing demand for smartphones in the country and the pursuit of digital transformation are driving the need for domestic smartphone manufacturers.

Currently 100 per cent of the smartphones in the country are imported.

According to research, Tanzania is rich in essential minerals such as graphite, lithium, copper and cobalt which are crucial for smartphone manufacturing.

The presence of these minerals, combined with political and economic stability, creates a favourable environment for establishing smartphone industries that will play a critical role in digital transformation.

Nominated Member of Parliament, Prof Shukrani Manya, recently emphasised the effective utilisation of minerals to support the technological revolution, including the development of home-made Electric Vehicles (EV) and other vital technologies.

He made these remarks during a debate on the guideline proposals for the National Development Plan and Budget for the 2024/2025 Fiscal Year in the recently concluded Parliament session.

Prof Manya stated that the upcoming National Development Plan should take advantage of the country’s geographical and ecological benefits by ensuring that minerals for technology-intensive industries are considered critical raw materials that attract major investors.

He called for a shift in mindset from exporting minerals to establishing the necessary tech industries by using these minerals as raw materials. He argued that this new mindset would safeguard job opportunities and accelerate the country’s income generation.

In response to Prof Manya’s statement, academics and analysts are optimistic about Tanzania’s potential to manufacture smartphones domestically. They cite the presence of raw materials, human capital, and a solid policy framework as key factors for success.

Tech analyst and marketing expert, Mr Medard Wilfred, who is based in Mwanza, stated that the establishment of manufacturing and assembling industries would enable all citizens to afford smartphones and have internet access, thus accelerating the transition to an inclusive digital economy.

Mr Wilfred explained that universal internet access would lead to a boom in e-commerce and diversification of the entire economy, as farmers and other producers in the production chain could sell their products to wider markets while adopting new technologies.

He called on universities, including the Dar es Salaam Institute of Technology (DIT), Mbeya University of Science and Technology (MUST), University of Dar es Salaam and the Saint Augustine University of Tanzania (SAUT), to produce more tech experts, engineers, administrators and marketers who can lead the country’s race in mobile manufacturing in collaboration with foreign investors.

“The country’s universities should play a critical role in fast-tracking the establishment of smartphone assembling and manufacturing,” said Mr Wilfred.

He also urged the government to support local mineral refining companies in adding value to the country’s precious metals, such as lithium, gold, graphite, and copper, to assure potential investors of the availability of raw materials for smartphone production.

Economist and Investment Banker, Dr Hildebrand Shayo, stated that the establishment of smartphone assembling companies requires collective efforts from families, schools and the national level to instill a passion for technology in the youth, who make up about 60 percent of the country’s total population.

Dr Shayo praised the Ministry of Information, Communication, and Information Technology for its determination to promote the digital economy through initiatives such as upgrading the National Information Communication Technology Broadband Backbone (NICTBB).

He called on all ministries to work together in creating a favourable investment climate that would attract major tech investors to establish their businesses in the country.

Dr Shayo suggested that the next National Development Plan should include a program to support innovators, providing financing for different innovations aimed at realising the dream of making smartphones in Tanzania. He emphasised that high-tech investments are capital-intensive and require effective financing approaches.

He highlighted that the presence of major tech companies in the country would have ripple effects throughout the entire production chain, including job creation, increased foreign currency, and rewarding revenues.

Dr Isaac Safari, an economist and lecturer at SAUT, proposed the establishment of an innovation centre that would bring together tech innovators from various regions across the country.

He suggested that this centre could eventually become Tanzania’s own Silicon Valley, similar to the one in the United States.

Silicon Valley is a global hub for technological innovation, home to many companies such as Apple, Alphabet’s Google, and Meta (formerly Facebook).

Dr Safari explained that Tanzania’s Silicon Valley would serve as the epicentre for major innovations in the country, adding that the government and development stakeholders should allocate sufficient funds and infrastructure to facilitate emerging technologies, including smartphones.

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