The COVID-19 crisis should act as a catalyst for the further development of the telecommunications industry in East Africa, opening up opportunity for investors and operators in the sector.
Godwin Makyao, the founder and Executive Director of Maktech, believes that in the face of the crisis, the industry stood up well despite being held back in certain areas by a lack of infrastructure.
“I would say the sector has responded positively to the extent the infrastructure could allow. “Our telecommunications industry was not ready for a pandemic such as this one. Here in Tanzania, for example, it was assumed that data infrastructure would only be required in workplaces, schools and other vital institutions; so the infrastructure was concentrated there,” he said.
Makyao pointed out that when people got confined to their homes, however, it was discovered that home data was in high demand.
He said they are looking to close this gap to ensure that people have access to fast internet at home, the parks, the beaches and even the football pitches.
Makyao noted that in Tanzania, where 17 per cent of the population spread over 55 per cent of the land of the country do not have access to mobile coverage, building telecommunications infrastructure was a national priority.
According to him, the country’s Vision 2025 policy which intends to industrialise the Tanzanian economy is facilitating access to funding infrastructure development. The rate of change in poverty-stricken rural areas has until now been a concern, however.
Makyao said not much has changed in Maktech during the COVID-19 crisis apart from their increased focus on the need for fast internet in rural areas
“Although most people in rural areas now have mobile phones, most of those are not smartphones. A scarcity of smartphones means slow internet and information deficiency. We are, therefore, faced with two problems that need solving, the need for high-speed internet in rural areas and the need for smartphones.
He added that both of these problems need to be addressed by delivering low-cost solutions since most of the people are low-income earners.
While in the telecommunications industry it is expected to be a time of growth, for the tourism industry the focus is on adaptation.
Makyao explained that when it comes to Escarpment Luxury Lodge, they have had to make a diverse approach because health and safety are now the priority.
He said their staff members were currently working hard to keep track of who used what facility at what time. ‘’All this is designed to maintain accountability and to keep other guests safe in case they have an infection,’’ he observed.
Their attention, he said, has gone away from the plans we had prior to expand and improve our facilities, to investing in tracking infrastructure.
“In a luxury hotel like ours, guests expect nothing less than the highest standards of safety and health; so our focus now is in investing adequately towards that.”
Makyao believes it is too early to make predictions on the long term impact for the tourism sector.
“I think it’s too early to tell at the moment. We still don’t know how travel will be affected entirely. Europe and America could introduce new criteria or regulations when it comes to travelling to Africa. The standards required for hotels might also change drastically.
“We, therefore, need time to be able to look at the changing trends, to craft a long term strategy. A lot will depend on the setting of common standards globally in the hospitality sector. Our focus has to be on the safety and health of guests first before we can have a clear picture on other issues.”
He pointed out that despite the challenges that 2020 has brought to both industries and the East African economy in general, the long-term prospects for growth in the region remain strong.
Makyao said he remains determined in his mission to inspire a new generation of Tanzanian and African entrepreneurs while also being open to foreign investment and collaboration to fuel growth in telecommunications and tourism in East Africa.