EAC Digital Pioneers – Award-winning CENIT@EA student presents digital solution to conserve wildlife in South Sudan (GIZ)

“Wildlife is diminishing across the world and in South Sudan while it gives jobs to people and is attracting foreign revenues. I want to conserve wildlife through digital innovations to utilise this resource of South Sudan and the EAC as a whole.”

In a nutshell, this is how South Sudanese youth innovator, Thon Malek, describes the thinking behind his latest digital innovation for which he recently won a prestigious international award from National Geographic Society, Washington, D.C., United States. Thon is a Master’s student in Embedded and Mobile Systems at the Centre of Excellence for ICT in East Africa (CENIT@EA) hosted at the Nelson Mandela African Institution of Science and Technology (NM-AIST) in Arusha, Tanzania.

Each year, the National Geographic Society presents its most prestigious awards to innovative and inspiring trailblazers who are making astounding contributions to science, conservation, education, technology and storytelling. Thon Malek was among the honorees under the COVID-19 Remote Learning Emergency Fund for Educators. His project defines practical tech-enabled innovative approaches to solving a critical challenge facing wildlife conservation in South Sudan. With the grant fund of $8,000, Thon is currently working on a short-term project implementation of remote learning on wildlife conservation using ICT applications.

When being asked about how he came up with the idea of creating an app for wildlife conservation, Thon stresses on existing challenges for South Sudan. One of which are human-animal conflicts. “In many rural communities, people do not know how to address issues like a lion eating a goat. My app can be used to report those incidences to the central authority. The authorities can then use the app to predict the occurrence of the same in the future. This way, human-animal conflict can be better predicted and measures to minimise it initiated. It is all about data collection and reaction. Instead of killing animals, people will start to use the app because they know this will trigger a reaction by the central authority.” However, Thon even thinks beyond wildlife conservation. “By teaching other students about my ideas, the same line of technology can be used to tackle other issues in South Sudan like processing data on climate change.”

For this, Thon wants to upscale his idea. He is already preparing technical tutorials which he wants to present via YouTube. “This way, students can learn from home while universities are closed and connect with people around South Sudan and even the whole region.”

At a young age, Thon already looks back at a rewarding journey and career in the field of ICT. Growing up in South Sudan, Thon is an excellent example of successful efforts and impact of regional integration to EAC citizens. Having attended his high school in Uganda, he achieved a Bachelor’s degree in Software Engineering in Kenya before going back to South Sudan as a tutorial assistant at Upper Nile University in Malakal, where Thon still renders tutorials in programming languages to diploma students.

While teaching at Upper Nile, Thon felt the need to grow his capacities on developing digital innovations and research. This is when he heard about CENIT@EA. “After seeing what CENIT@EA offers, I directly applied.” And he never looked back! “Now, by studying at CENIT@EA, I am gaining new skills every day. The exchange with students from other EAC Partner States helps me to find opportunities to replicate solutions that have been implemented in other countries. Regional exchange is very important to foster ideas!”

For Thon, regional integration under the East African Community really is the way forward. “Regional integration is a brilliant idea. It impacts each and every person. From the perspective of youth, regional integration brings ideas together and enables youths to look at problems from different perspectives. They can build networks to share problems and develop solutions. Without integration I would not have had this opportunity. South Sudan benefits from this very much.”

Looking into his future, Thon stresses, “The growth of a country is defined by its challenges. I want to participate in growing South Sudan through developing youth in ICT. Technology plays great role in changing lives. This is why I will go back to Upper Nile University once I have finished my Master’s in early 2022.”

Apart from wildlife, Thon wants to focus on rule of law and good governance. “Many youths do not know or cannot access the rule of law documents. This can be solved by giving better access through ICT. If the youth in South Sudan are having access to digital rule of law documents, this helps them to avoid any legal issues and focus on building the nation.”

Surely, we will hear more from Thon in the future!