BDC starts developing Innovation Hub

Staff Writer
The Botswana Development Corporation (BDC) has started the process of developing infrastructure for the Botswana Innovation Hub (BIH), which is set to be fully operational by 2010.

The hub is a government-led initiative to promote investment in Information Commutation Technology; promote innovation and export of ICT-enabled services; and grow the knowledge industry.

Speaking at a briefing on the BIH to ambassadors and High Commissioners in Gaborone on Tuesday, Coordinator of the Hub, Marianne Nganunu said  BDC has signed an agreement with BIH to develop infrastructure at the hub and so far geo-technical work has begun.

"About 57 hectares of land, situated next to the Diamond Trading Centre (DTC) has been secured for the first phase of the project. I am here to sell to you the Innovation Hub so that you can invite companies from your countries to come and invest in the Hub.

These companies should be growth-oriented and Research and Development -intensive, bring in new technology, new management practices or business models as well as partner with locals," she said.

Nganunu explained to the diplomats the advantages of investing in Botswana and the incentives that companies willing to invest in the hub will be offered.

"Among the incentives that investors will be offered are tax concessions depending on the number of people that the company will have employed, training concessions and trade dispensations. Already interest has come from India and Japan with both countries having sent in delegates and I urge many of you to do the same," she said.

The hub will have key areas of focus, which include mining technology, energy generation particularly solar energy, ICT as well as bio- technology, which is mainly focused on HIV/AIDS.

"The first registration of companies are planned for the first quarter of 2009 and we expect Batswana to also gain significantly from the BIH project as companies that will establish in the BIH are expected to employ and train locals," she added.

Speaking at the briefing, BDC general manager, (management services), James Kamyuka said that after the signing of an agreement with the Ministry of the Science and Technology, they now hope to deliver the facilities to BIH at the date agreed.

"The whole world is investing in the knowledge and innovation society and if we want to be part of the global economy, we have to follow suit. To do

this, we need to ensure our education and training system is well coordinated with the needs of the economy.

We have to strengthen our skills base and strategies are now in place to deal this matter. These include the Tertiary Education Policy, the establishment of the Botswana International University for Science and Technology (BIUST) and the increased funding for training scientists and researchers to PhD level," he said.

Deputy Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Science and Technology, Mabua Mabua briefed the diplomats on the telecommunication environment, which is a major pre-requisite for Foreign Direct Investment to flow in.

She said government has already committed $60 million to improve international connectivity through the East Africa Sea System (EASSY). Through this initiative, the Botswana Telecommunications Corporation (BTC) will no longer have monopoly in the industry.

"There was also an optical fibre commissioned at the end of September which will link, Botswana with Zambia, Zimbabwe, Angola, Namibia and South Africa as part of a government initiative called digital inclusion.

The innovation hub is seen as one of the few channels that Botswana can diversify its economic activity away from mining," she said.

Speaking last week at a public lecture at University of Botswana, Microsoft chairman for Africa, Dr Cheick Diarra said the formation of the Innovation Hub as well as the establishment of the Diamond Trading Company is a step in the right direction.

He said the two facilities are crucial if Botswana is to move out of the current trap, where growth is based on exploitation of natural resources.

"If you bring in technology in such a transparent environment, such as Botswana is doing with the Innovation Hub and I am told you have begun adding value to your own diamonds here, a lot of investments are going to come in and this will not only create employment but more importantly avail opportunities for joint ventures and make the dream of the country a reality," he said.

Diarra added that the establishment of the cutting and polishing industry in Botswana should now be magnified with the Innovation Hub so that the country adds value to all its products to the highest level.

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