Where is Zimbabwe’s technology? Why?

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We have all admired the advanced technologies in movies, the hologram computers, the space satellites, the high-tech weapons and at one time we have all redirected our minds back home to reflect on our country’s position on the world’s technologically developed countries. The result of that always leaves a dulling effect in our minds. Well this is an attempt to assess what is really on the ground in terms of technology and whether or not Zimbabwe is centuries behind the developed world, like they say. Is the word “century” here an exaggeration or it’s really a substantiated fact? Nonetheless that still implies we are way behind in technology. If this is true, how then do we catch up with the rest of the world? Or we might as well content with the fact that we are behind till our Lord comes back.

As for what is on the ground, the developed world has really made some tremendous progress, from the gadget that you are using to read this post, to space exploring equipment, to the top secret stuff in the military, to the stuff they are only now still showing in the movies. We know that some of what appears in the movies will eventually come out into reality.

tech-advances

One simple factor that determines where our technology is in relation to others is how much we budget for Research and Development (hereafter referred to as R&D). The countries that we often compare ourselves to are world leaders in budgeting for R&D. The table below shows percentages of the world’s money that will be spent on R&D in 2013

Share of Total
Global R&D Spending

 

2011

2012

2013

Americas

34.8%

34.3%

33.8%

  U.S.

29.6%

29.0%

28.3%

Asia

34.9%

36.0%

37.1%

  Japan

11.2%

11.1%

10.8%

  China

12.7%

13.7%

14.7%

  India

2.8%

2.8%

3.0%

Europe

24.6%

24.0%

23.4%

Rest of World

5.7%

5.7%

5.7%

Source: BattelleR&D Magazine

Just 3 continents’ budgets, America, Asia and Europe add-up to 94.3% of all the world money targeted for R&D. The rest only adds up to 5.7%. In other words these three continents are putting 94.3% focus into developing new technology while the rest of us, added together are putting 5.7% focus.

European Commission’s Seventh Framework Programme (FP7), a framework aiming to improve and encourage technological advancement in Europe through R&D budgeted € 50 billion for the period 2007 to 2013. The following 2014 to 2020 framework, Horizon 2020, has budgeted £60 billion, a 23% increase over FP7. Meanwhile the US maintaining its first position in financing R&D work is budgeting US$69.6 billion for non-defence 2014’s R&D which is a 9.2% increase over that of 2012. So in short the developed world is allocating more and more money towards R&D, and so should we if we want to keep up in technology.

In 2012 Zimbabwe allocated an annual share of $US1.5 million for R&D which we must admit will not take us very far in catching up with the 1st world in developing cutting edge technology. And as the gap between the money allocations for R&D for 1st world’s and for the 3rd world gets bigger and bigger that is how far the 3rd world is being left. So if R&D budget was directly proportional to technological advancement the statement, “Zimbabwe’s technology is centuries behind …” will be an understatement instead this statement would be truer, “Zimbabwe is infinitely behind.”

One fact in all this is that 3rd world countries are struggling with poverty and as such cannot really afford to make new gadgets, operating systems, video games etc. when people are dying of hunger and diseases that can be cured. Hence our budgets are targeted more towards poverty alleviation than on any major scientific development.

Well at least one consoling factor in all this is that after all the economic hardships and subsequent brain drain Zimbabwe has gone through it still comes out number 10 on African countries list of the technologically developed. This is according to a study conducted by the Africa Business Panel. Our southern neighbour though, South Africa comes first in that list, while Nigeria, comes second. Below is the top-ten list:

  1. South Africa
  2. Nigeria
  3. Kenya
  4. Ghana
  5. Egypt
  6. Rwanda
  7. Botswana
  8. Angola
  9. Uganda
  10. Zimbabwe

It should be said that for a country with the highest literacy rate in Africa there is gigantic potential for technological growth.

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  • tinm@n

    To address a misconception,literacy rate measures the capacity to read.

    Whilst it is the gateway to knowledge acquisition,there’s a wrong but common belief that literacy rate is a measure of intelligence or academic capacity.

    That said. R & D does happen in Zim but not in the context of the technology that you mention. We’ve committed alot of R & D cattle breeding, seed production, tobacco crop and were actually eaders at some point. There was significant research done in those. There are also some sponsored Zim researchers in Malaria and HIV immunology.

    It all depends on a nations priorities. These can be supporting the strongest part of the economy(agriculture) or the critical issues like health (HIV/Malaria).

    When it comes to other fields like engineering, computer sciences & other sciences, there may not be much being done because it costs way more money and is therefore just not a priority.

    We also have SIRDC which is the official government R & D institute and is the primary recipient of government research grants. It does some work and is known for its pre-fab materials that caused some waves at some point.

    Zim has done alot, you just need to do your research.

    We’re not infinitely behind at all.

  • Robert Ndlovu

    Right now it is a question of resources.You cant expect stuff like cloud computing when the brodband penetration is less than 10% and is very expensive.

    We will come right but just not now.
    The cost of ownership of gadgets is another stumbling block.We need t start making our own smart phone powered by Android and maybe only then are we going to turn the curve. Current prices are prohibitive to the average Zimbabwean who makes how much a month ?

  • tafmak3000

    After visiting the Zimbabwe Trademark Office which doubles as the patent office, I was surprised to learn that Zimbabwe does not recognize software as IP that can be patented, instead you must copyright your software (I haven’t figured how yet). Zimbabwe defines a patent as registered ownership of an idea that can be recreated through a clearly defined and unique industrial process. By Zimbabwean standards technology is only physical.

  • tinm@n

    Encrypt the software.

    Copy it to your DVD together with identifying information on you as the author of the software.

    Mail it to yourself as a registered article.

    DO NOT OPEN. Keep it in a safe,dry place. The most important thing is the date stamp. It is admissible in court if a dispute arises.

    Call the local WIPO office. Zimbabwe is a member. By the way, the Computer Society can be involved in issues pertaining to theft of software. A person can actually be arrested. I have seen one or two issues where some clever punks stole code and resold it as their own, only to be trapped later and faced threat of arrest.

    But make sure you dont use GPL’d or publicly licensed code or libraries, because we will take your @$$ down

  • tinm@n

    … meant GPL’d but claiming to be your IP

  • chanyane

    Without playing any holier than thou what really should horrify us is that Botswana, a country with less than 2 million people is way ahead Zim with more than 12 million people. This is all about leadership. Botswana has planned and implemented an innovation hub, UB has more than 20 professors, Microsoft Innovation Center is located here, they have two national universities and three private ones, their systems of funding local entrepreneurs (read software developers) is very transparent, the University of Botswana is ranked higher than Zim universities (at least in 2011) etc. Problem with Zim is that we are too big headed to learn from neighbors, except South Africa. My guess is that Zambia and Namibia are ahead of us. What makes it more disappointing is that all the research institutions in Zim will tell you they have no money but they will operate, complete with directors, cars etc year after year. In 2008 I did a Public Private Partnership (PPP) with a Zim research institute and was robbed in broad daylight when the director demanded that the proceedings from the prototype we developed be shared equally among some of his staff who had done very little on the project. My plea that we reserve some of the money for further developing the prototype was dismissed. The result is I am still struggling to fund the commercializing of the prototype though the proof of concept was demonstrated and accepted by the research project we did with that university. And I know a colleague who has a very useful nano tech water purification prototype and has been allocated 20 000 US to build a plant to purify Khami water. There simply is no institutional support for R and D in ZIm and if this continues then we are likely to drop off the list.

  • Tapiwa ✔

    Spending a lot of money on (hi-tech) R&D while a significant proportion of the population is in poverty is a horrible – if not obscene idea. Cover the basics first.

    Step 1. Improve livelihoods this feeds into Step 2: Increase expendable income, Step 3: Go crazy with the R&D, knowing that you’ve got secure funding (taxes in the case of public research) and a large market (in the case of private research)

  • usage

    r&d is part of improving those livelihoods. the problem is that the little that is for r&d is used to purchase 4×4, conferences and to pay directors’ salaries

  • usage

    well, zakabag didnt start facebook with millions of dollars. You start with an idea, get funding and then grow.

    Problem is our mentality, we (the majority) just want a good salary.The few that try to get funding are unable to because the private sector is broke (most of it) and (maybe) s*nctions.

  • usage

    Nhamo ndo inoti kuvadza. After R&D, the sponsors will expect a return (except if it comes from gvt which wont happen coz the gvt is broke). Whatever it is you create/develop from your R&D wont have a market in ZIM coz the people (majority) cant afford it. Microsoft will invest in Bots/SA coz there are lots of peeps there who pay for Microsoft products that cant be said for the 12m zimbos

  • Mari

    If you look at the tech history you will see that all the big tech guys did not start with any money but they developed their idea first agree with (usage) then work your way up. You can put billions of dollars in RD but if your don’t come up with the concept it is money down the drain.

  • Chanyane

    I agree with you. Lets not forget though that in the late to mid nineties, Microsoft was in Zim and not in Bots. So on the tech side, we regress whilst others move forward. That is what worries me my friend. Further more, we seem to have 12m who have less spending power than 1.7m. We have diamonds and more skilled HR. This is disappointing!

  • Chanyane

    Agree with you. India invested in R&D with poverty all around it. It now earns a descent return-on-investment and has generated enough human capital to deploy on tech for improving livelihoods.

  • tinm@n

    the problem is that the little that is for r&d is used to purchase 4×4, conferences and to pay directors’ salaries

    Where is this happening?

  • Rufaro Dhliwayo

    Thing is if you build a helicopter, no one cares and with that everyone else is discouraged in pursuing any sort of technological innovation. The organisations and institutions we think should take notice and act aren’t doing anything so its up to the people to use their powers to build each other.

  • Tim

    Zuckerberg was at an Ivy League college, that meant he was comfortable. And he had a HUGE potential market to start with, an already thriving industry. He started with some amount of funding, thousands in fact. You’re right the private sector’s in a stint.

    I’ll agree with Robert on the penetration issue, because that ultimately defines the potential market size

  • Ndaba Sibanda

    Usage we are talking about the market for your product.Who will buy it ? 80% of Zimboz are unemployed and cant afford smart phones.Some of us started offering cloud based service 7 years ago but how many people then had broadband ?

  • Ndaba Sibanda

    who will buy the services ?

  • Zondai Masai

    I believe that after all has been said and done the real question here is, Do we have the ATTITUDE? (to want to learn about Technology or be innovators).
    Cost of it really doesn’t matter look at how many cars we import from the Ex Jap to latest cars. I Think Zim has the widest variety of Vehicle models in the world but has anyone in this country ever thought of building a car(I don’t think so). But the Ugandans have done it (considering that this country was once ravaged by civil wars and They have a lower literacy rate than us “which I still believe ours is overrated”). I think the only thing we have to show off with here is the Daniel Chingoma Helicopter but really, I believe if have the attitude and believe in ourselves we can reach unimaginable scales.
    Statutory. They really play a pivotal role. But look at Strive Masiwa he fought coz he believed in Himself and when he won the battle everyone else was motivated but no one dared to follow. So lets not blame anyone for that. We are all either lazy or we just don’t want to write our own path but will rather fold our hands and just watch and believe that God will send another Strive to us to Invent reusable Energy to help us with Energy Crisis. We are not like those two Nigerian girls who invented a Urine powered Generator.

    Therefore all goes back to us not willing (ATTITUDE) to Learn new Technology. For some of us who have had the privilege to work in support Environment I can tell you that most people in this great highly rated literacy rate are ignorant about almost every aspect of it(Technology). How many people you have dealt with Who don’t have an Email add coz they think its not equally important to them as their Facebook account. I don’t know my email add kana Password yacho saka send to my brother in London then he will tell me kana aiwana. Its jus a Email account and its for free haitengeswe kuchikurubi so get one.

    Lets Jus Develop a Positive Attitude towards Everything and we will have a CHANGE.

    My humble apology for a long post