EAC Digital Pioneers – Youth professionals at the EAC Secretariat are innovating the region’s future (GIZ)

A prime example of successful regional integration – two young men from Rwanda and Tanzania receive a scholarship for a regional Master’s Programme, become digital innovators and then join the EAC Secretariat to develop solutions for regional problems. In fact, this is just what Alexandre Niyomugaba and Flavian Daudi did. Both are part of the 3rd cohort of Master students at the Centre of Excellence for ICT in East Africa (CENIT@EA) in Arusha, Tanzania. Before they first met there in January 2021, Alexandre had been working as a network and system administrator at Ruhengeri Institute of Higher Education (INES Ruhengeri) on a Bachelor of Computer Science. Flavian, who holds a Bachelor in Information Technology, had been working as a tutorial assistant and system administrator at Arusha Technical College. Both of them wanted to enhance their knowledge. As Flavian puts it, “Since technology is advancing every day, I reached a point, where I wanted to develop something but did not have enough knowledge. Still, the cost of doing a Master is a challenging, that is why CENIT@EA was the perfect solution as I received a scholarship via the dSkills@EA project.” After having sharpened their digital skills, both were searching for a company/organisation to put those skills to use. As they wanted to develop innovations that tackle societal challenges of the region, no place was more obvious than the EAC itself. Flavian notes, “I wanted to develop a solution that could serve a large community. If I would be interning at a private company, this would only serve the company. Now, I can serve the region.” Due to their knowledge, the EAC Secretariat was eager to offer them intern positions and in February 2022 they took office. Now, their daily work is to support the EAC’s IT Administration and also interact with the Environmental and Infrastructure Department respectively to acquire new knowledge in technical areas. So far, they are excited with what the EAC Secretariat has to offer. Alexandre stresses, “We are meeting experts from the whole EAC region. The EAC’s advanced systems, help us to learn about the newest technologies.” Alexandre, who is closely working with the Infrastructure Department, already had a specific interest when joining the Secretariat, “I wanted to understand the challenges that are being faced by car and truck drivers in East Africa. The EAC’s Infrastructure Department, is offering me insights into the challenges this group faces in the region.” As with all CENIT@EA students, Alexandre and Flavian are not only gaining new skills during their internship but are also developing innovations to serve their host institution or in this case the whole EAC region. Flavian, who works with the Environmental Department, is developing a real time air quality monitoring and health hazards indicator system. He highlights, “The WHO indicates that bad air is contributing millions of premature deaths yearly.” Flavian foresees his system to be tested in Tanzania’s mines areas to analyse air pollution. “Especially people in mines areas are developing chronic respiratory diseases, cancer and so on. I want to give them a chance to be warned.” Flavian’s device will not only display the pollution rate of the surrounding air but also indicate what diseases can be caused by it. The data would then be analysed by the EAC Environment Department in order to find solutions to this challenge. “The environmental team is closely involved in my idea. I am sure their monitoring and action will lead to policy change and save lives in the region,” points out Flavian. Alexandre is focussing on a very different challenge of the region – road accidents. He is developing a smart licence plate for vehicles with traffic sign recognition and a notification system. If a driver is driving too fast, the system will automatically notify him or her as well as the nearest traffic police. Additionally, in case of an accident, the system will also send out a call for help. Alexandre has thought of it all – the licence plate is to be equipped with a camera with artificial intelligence and GPS tracking. Also, it will be charging itself by using a photovoltaic solar panel. Communication will be possible via a wireless transmitter that is put in the driver’s cabin. While both innovations are very different, they are united in their potential to save lives in the EAC. Alexandre and Flavian want to give back to the region as they point out that they have benefitted greatly from their studies at CENIT@EA via an EAC-German-funded scholarship. Until August 2022, the two young men will finalise their internships and then prepare a Master’s thesis on their projects. They will surely succeed in contributing to the future of EAC. Their story is a great example of East Africans coming together and finding solutions for societal changes with support and under the roof of the EAC. Background: “Digital Skills for an Innovative East African Industry” (dSkills@EA) is a regional innovation hub that offers digital skills and capacity building relevant for the digital transformation of industries and society through academia and industry collaboration. The project aims at strengthening the employment and innovation-related digital skills of youth in the EAC and supports the industry’s digital transformation. The project is part of the EAC-German technical development cooperation and implemented by the Inter-University Council for East Africa (IUCEA), the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ), German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), the East African-German academic consortium that forms part of the Centre of Excellence for ICT in East Africa (CENIT@EA), led by the Nelson Mandela African Institution for Science and Technology (NM-AIST) and the University of Oldenburg. Find more information on the Master's Programme and the possibility to apply under www.cenit-ea.org