Innovators left in the cold



The 4th ICT Summit has come to its end, and despite the fun and brilliant speeches delivered in the last three days, local software developers and innovators have been left in despair over lack of investment in their solutions and mistrust from the government.

Despite the presence of an up and running ministry that directly addresses innovative technologies and a government that has vowed to leverage on ICT for poverty eradication, the local ICT sector has not managed to enter the mainstream market aggressively.

Last year alone young innovators made headlines with a first for Namibia Solar Taxi, a Sim-cardless mobile phone, digitalised Owela game and a taxi application but it seems the applause that came with these innovations have not amounted to anything more. 

The Villager spoke to some local innovators who expressed their views on why most innovations have either been stuck as mere prototypes or have just failed to make it into the mainstream market.

“I believe we need to vouch for our products, yet we need to validate ourselves first before outsiders do so. Also, most of the people do not know these things, so it’s a matter of awareness. That is one factor that is problematic because if I know about it, then I would like to invest in it, if I don’t know then there is nothing that can be done,” said software developer Ndahekelekwa Paulus.

Innovator and founder of Possibility Thinkers Alphons Koruhama has been around the world marketing ICT solutions inclined on indigenous knowledge.

He says the wedge between an innovation and its success in Namibia is driven by trust issues and lack of branding.

“First of all, we don’t believe in our products. The leaders that we have do not believe in their people, on the youth that they have,” he says.

He adds, “Take for example the guy who did an innovation on that phone which does not use a Sim card, where is he today? He is gone, nobody knows where he is. I do not know where that phone is now.”

Outsourcing for services and solutions that are locally available still enrages the young innovation sector.

“But you get someone who has an innovation from South Africa, China or wherever and you buy in. So we don’t support our people at the grassroots level,” he says. 

Hizeembi Kahorongo who has specialised on Artificial Intelligence, Software Engineering, Innovations and Entrepreneurship says innovators and private businesses are yet to find each other.

“I think the young people are inspired. When it comes to moving forward I think it’s a matter of investment; it’s a matter of how to get private businesses involved, we find some ideas at the summit and let’s say look we want to make a product out of them. 

“I think the problem is always time, because if you develop a product and you are still at a prototype stage which will take two or three more years to get the final product investors will not wait for that. Technology changes every day. They want a finished product,” he says.  

Kahorongo bemoans the unavailability of private money as having stalled most of the projects that made headlines last year.

He is the brains behind the solar taxi at the Namibia University of Science and Technology (NUST), and The Villager wanted to establish when the prototype will be completed. 

“Hopefully after two or three years we are going to have a solar electric car but also provided that we get funding,” he says. 

He will be flying to Germany soon for a three-year stint with Mercedes Benz where he has been called to be a part of the company team for particular projects which he did not specify.