Information and Communication Technology is highly integrated into the economic, social and political lives of people in the West and in some Asian nations. The people in these countries are so dependent on some of these technologies, and their interruption for even seconds can become apocalyptic. In Ethiopia, it is possible to say that they are still at a grassroots level. The staging of expos like the one that was opened for the public at the Millennium Hall on Wednesday could be a peek at what the future portends, TEFERA TEKLU, FORTUNE STAFF WRITER, reports.
At the Information & Communication Technology (ICT) Expo that was opened on June 28, 2017, at the Millennium Hall, one thing for sure was striking. The entire exhibition was swarmed by one age group, young people, particularly males.
Natnael Achaw, a 20-year old first-year Computer Science student at Bahir Dar University, is among them.
This is his first time to visit an ICT Expo, and he hopes to get new insights and ideas from it that will be an input for his graduation project.
Like Natnael, many young people were feasting at the new technology show which is a once-in-a-blue-moon experience.
“I enjoyed spending my time around computers as a kid. And I think that’s why I joined the Department of Computer Science. When I was at school, one of my favourite subjects was IT,” he said.
He was also a member of the Science and Technology Club at school since he was a seventh-grader.
People usually go to expos and trade shows to see what the latest thing is in the market, to establish contacts, to splash their cash on products displayed, or just for the hell of it.
This year’s expo, held under the theme ‘Digital Ethiopia’, is open until July 2, 2017. About 172 local and international exhibitors and 140 companies from 45 countries are showcasing their products to thousands of daily visitors who interact with them.
Among the exhibitors, ArifZefen, a product of ArifSoft, a technology company based in California and Addis Abeba, was introducing its music streaming store where new releases from Ethiopian artists were on sale directly on its website.
ArifZefen Store lets users buy new music or albums. The songs can be downloaded onto phones or computers and can be listened to with or without the availability of Internet connection. Partnering with Ethio Telecom, ArifZefen has enabled smartphone users to buy music through their mobile phone credit.
Each of the music downloaded will cost customers three Br. The money will be split between artists getting 1.43 Br, Ethio Telecom getting 1.38 Br and value added tax comprising 19 cents. As a marketing strategy, ArifZefen will get nothing for the first six months.
Overseas, the sale of a single song will cost one dollar. The artist will earn 70 cents in dollar and Apple or Google gets 30 cents in dollar.
“Technology is taking the world by storm. Everyone is on their phones all the time and that’s where they get their contents. So we always strive to widen our reach and satisfy our customers by providing quality services,” Meraf Kifle, ArifSoft’s marketing and public relations manager, said.
The new ArifZefen Store is a great opportunity for artists to be able to sell their music easily and make their work accessible in 102 countries for over 700,000 users, according to Meraf.
Besides ArifZefen, at the expo, mobile payment, health care and enterprise management applications, e-government services, and non-profit companies presented their products and services.
Biniam Berhe, a Canadian ICT engineering project manager, is among those who are interested in such kinds of products.
“My expectations were lower, but what I found was a great mix of companies engaged in different sectors,” said Biniam.
Biniam believes that young Ethiopians are taking the lead in ICT development with home-grown applications and solutions which are very encouraging.
One of them, Health Commodity Management Information System, was developed by young Ethiopians and sponsored by USAID. It is a system that allows government hospitals and clinics, including in rural areas, to collect and report on outpatient medical care.
The system allows management to see in real time the prevalent disease or health care being provided, the age and gender of the patient, and the number of patients being cared for.
This allows the Ministry of Health to prioritise its resources and efficiently manage them. In the past, medicine was expiring without being used in one area of the country when there was shortage in some other areas. Now, with inventory control, the wastage of medical resources will be minimised.
Biniam also said that the Yeshi Spellchecker for Amharic product, developed by two young sisters, Addis Coupon, Etta Taxi Hailing, ArifZefen and Gebeyanet will have a good future. He promised to try some of the services as an early adopter to encourage entrepreneurs.
“Expect some problems at the beginning until they get all the bugs figured out but let’s not give up on them. I have made some contacts to partner with them,” Biniam said. “They need us to support them so that they make fewer costly mistakes and quickly get to market.”
The Federal Police Commission application allows users to see wanted or missing people. It has other features like real-time information on road closures, locations and contact details of police stations. It also allows users to report any crime or incident.
The Chinese HIKVISION security system manufacturer had a display of their latest camera at the show. One of the features is the range of the cameras. The newest camera monitors and recognises a human or an animal at a distance of two kilometres.
The other system they displayed had the ability to be programmed to detect human activity. Once an intrusion is detected, the camera automatically follows the person or the car for a long distance by moving and adjusting the zoom without human intervention.
EQOS Global, another exhibitor, was founded in 2017 and is located in Addis Abeba. They provide outsourced ICT services like data entry, digitisation, and data mining and research for clients located in the United States, England and Ethiopia.
“There are a lot of people who are very keen to learn a lot about ICT in Ethiopia,” Sean C. Keough, general manager of EQOS said. “Technology makes people work more efficiently and saves a huge amount of time.”
“For instance, one million pieces of paper which might take up to a year or two to process, EQOS can do it in two weeks. Besides that, we train personnel so that they can do it themselves next time.”
You do not have to be a whiz kid to understand how ICT is contributing to economic growth in both advanced and developing economies.
ICT has been at the forefront in impacting the lives of many people for decades now through the facilitation of trade, health services, quality education and a myriad of other things. It is evident that developing economies have a lot of catching up to do in this arena.
The exhibition, panel discussions, business-to-business meetings and a conference are the major features of the five-day expo. There was a question and answer session that focused on ICT and winners were awarded Techno mobiles.
Exhibitors paid 10,000 Br for a nine square metre booth to participate. The payment was between 1,500 to 2,000 Br a year ago.
This is the tenth ICT Expo, and most of the exhibitors hoped to advertise their products. Ethiopian Space Science Society; Techno Brain, an IT solutions and IT training company that is based in Kenya; Karel Unified Communication Solutions, a Turkish company; Premier Switch Solutions, a local company which is a banking services platform; and government offices including the Ministry of Communication & Information Technology were among the exhibitors.
The Ethiopian government has built Ethio ICT Village, the first of its kind in the country, to facilitate networking among research, industry and business in ICT and ICT-assisted services.
It also has a governing body, IT Park Corporation, which can establish and run IT parks in Ethiopia on behalf of the government. The Park was officially inaugurated and started operations on June 7, 2015.
Nevertheless, Lemma Sebhatu, an ICT expert, stated that the sector is still at an infancy stage. He believes such expos will create the awareness of the critical role that telecommunications technology and electricity development play in paving the way for ICT to flourish.
But the exhibition at the Millennium Hall will be a pilgrimage for ICT enthusiasts like Natnael for the five days it remains open, and it can inspire the next generation of Ethiopian ICT innovators.
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