Beating the power deficit to boost eLearning in Tanzania

When the 650 million dollar Seacom undersea cable was hauled ashore on Kunduchi beach near Dar es Salaam, its high-capacity bandwidth offered Tanzania the glittering opportunity of becoming a knowledge-based economy. But the country needs more than just fast broadband from the 17,000 km of largely African-owned fibre-optic cable that has linked South Africa, Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda and Mozambique with Europe and Asia since 2009. A long-awaited ICT boom needs reliable electric power.

By Reuben Kyama in Nairobi, with reporting from John Agunda in Dar es Salaam

The Tanzanian authorities know that bringing ICT to 44 million Tanzanians will mean cutting their power deficit. Reuters reports that with an energy demand close to 900 MW, Tanzania is currently producing less than 800 MW.

But Tanzania has potential energy, both renewable and non-renewable, coming from coal, natural gas, wind and solar power. The holes in the power network can be plugged.

New wind power projects

At the end of January, the Tanzanian government approved a 100 MW wind power generation farm to be developed by Sino-Tan Renewable Energy, a Norwegian-Chinese company, in Makambako, Iringa Region, southern Tanzania.

The estimated investment of US$ 150 million will be shared between Norway (50%), Tanzania (36%) and China (14%), the state-run newspaper Daily News reports.

Wind turbine

Upon completion in July 2013, the project is expected to be the second biggest wind farm in East Africa after Lake Turkana in Kenya which produces 300 megawatts.

The project is Tanzania’s second major wind energy investment pronouncement in less two months.

Last December, the National Development Corporation signed a contract with a private company, Power Pool East Africa, to tap the massive wind power resource in the Singida Region, central Tanzania, and generate electricity. The Tanzanian government will own 51 per cent of the shares, estimated at US$123 million in this project.

Tanzania’s Deputy Minister for Industry and Trade, Lazaro Nyalandu, confirmed that the installation of the wind turbines should start early next year.

This project will take 15 months and will generate the first 50 megawatts (MW) of wind power to be fed into the national grid. According to Nyalandu, the project can be expanded to 300 MW.

Power from coal, gas and wind

The National Development Corporation had previously signed a contract with a Chinese company to generate electricity from coal and build wind power stations at Mchumchuma and Liganga regions.

“The Mchuchuma power project will be able to produce about 1800 MW,” Nyalandu disclosed. He noted that the wind project is sustainable and will produce power at very low costs.

“In Europe, they use wind with maximum speed of five metres per second, while here, we can get as high as 21 metres per second,” he said.

Other efforts to boost power supply include the planned purchase of diesel generators capable of supplying 100 MW to Dar es Salaam and 80 MW to Mwanza.

In the southern region of Mtwara, a private company, Artumas, is producing electricity from natural gas. There have also been encouraging discoveries of natural gas.

Target: Connect 500,000 households to the grid

At present, only 15 percent of Tanzanians are connected to the national power grid. Even Dar es Salaam and the other big cities suffer sporadic electricity black outs.

This problem has held back development of sustainable and robust information and communication technologies vital to Internet and eLearning in the public and private sector.

The Tanzanian government set a target of connecting 500,000 households to the national grid in the next five years.

The power connection will ultimately facilitate development of infrastructure that aid expansion of Internet and eLearning in Tanzania.

The need for eLearning is greatest far away from the national electricity grid where, despite the arrival of the Seacom cable, there is still almost no Internet or eLearning infrastructure.

“We are determined to become an ICT hub”

In 2010, the former communications minister Peter Msolla said Tanzania expected to complete the establishment of a US$300 million fibre-optic network linking major urban centres.

Msolla added that the landlocked countries of Zambia, Malawi and Burundi would get broadband by cross-border links through Tanzania to the Seacom submarine cable.

“We are determined to become an ICT hub within the region,” the minister told Reuters on the sidelines of an African Union ICT summit conference in Ethiopia.

Fibre-optic cables are being laid with assistance from the state-owned Tanzania Telecommunications Company Limited (TTCL) and Tanzania Railways.

Given a sustainable power supply and adequate fibre-optic cable capacity, the education ministry and the private sector will be expected to provide the resources to equip institutions with computers, provide the personnel to operate them and establish an eLearning system.

Broadband close to the speed of light

Not long after the Tanzanian president Jakaya Kikwete threw the switch to connect his country to Seacom, Aly-Khan Satchu, a financial analyst in Nairobi, compared Seacom’s significance to the construction of the railway network in East Africa in the previous century.

“With the arrival of mobile phone and now broadband Internet, we are leaping from the mediaeval age, connectivity-wise, into the 21st century in a very short period of time. This represents an enormous economic boost and a political game changer, given how information is now going to be spread.”

If East Africa can deliver reliable electricity to its people, Seacom’s capacity of 1.28 terabytes per second from a cable no thicker than a man’s finger, will open the broadband tap and allow knowledge and news to flow in and out at something close to the speed of light.

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