The East African Community (EAC), currently with six member states (Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and South Sudan), is a home to about 180 million people (2017 estimates). The EAC is headquartered in Arusha, Tanzania. Coincidentally, that is where the NM-AIST campus is located. About 80% of these people are 35 years of age or younger – considered digital natives. The EAC region now commands a collective GDP of USD 440 billion, translating into an average per capita of USD 2600. The region has an average general literacy (reading, writing, basic math) rate of about 70%.
There is evidence on industrial transformations in the East African region that requires intervention on skills development and creation of employment in the region by strengthening research and development (R&D), technology and innovation capabilities (EAC, 2012). With these given facts and figures, it is acknowledged that the countries in the EAC are among the fastest growing economies in sub-Saharan Africa. There is an enabling readiness for adoption of new technologies and human resource capacity building programmes.
As it is in the whole of Africa, mobile networks collectively have emerged as the platform of choice for creating, distributing and using innovative digital solutions and services in the EAC region. An example of innovative digital solutions is the mobile banking in Africa. Several factors are driving this trend, including the expansion of advanced broadband-ready mobile networks – now with a signal coverage of over 90% of the region, the growing adoption of smart devices – with mobile subscriber penetration of about 50% of the regional population, and the convenience of accessing real-time, feature-rich content and services on the go. The proposed Centre of Excellence for ICT in East-Africa (CENIT@EA) with a Master’s Programme in Embedded and Mobile Systems (EMoS) is therefore to highly benefit from the visibility currently carried by the mobile platform, which is acknowledged to be delivering economic growth and innovations within the EAC and Africa in general. Hence, resulting into new innovative solutions, services and job creation.
Universities as key actors in higher education, research, community engagement and drivers of innovation are expected to play a central role in the struggle against inequality, poverty, and unemployment. The proposed Centre of Excellence seeks to bring together the expertise of highly experienced institutions to advance in this direction, namely the Nelson Mandela African Institution of Science and Technology (NM-AIST) in Arusha, Tanzania, the German Aerospace Center (DLR), Brunswick, Germany, the Hochschule für Technik und Wirtschaft (HTW), Berlin, Germany, and the Hochschule Mannheim (HSM), Mannheim, Germany with strong links to the entire Eastern-African as well as sub- Saharan region and the Carl von Ossietzky University of Oldenburg as an internationally recognized university with a long-standing track record in ICT research, teaching, internationalization, and community engagement. This project is based on a well-established and long-standing partnership between the partnering institutions which has been facilitated in several joint projects and activities.
However, the technical expertise in Embedded and Mobile Systems (EMS) onsite is still low to support the region towards a more aggressive economic growth through leveraging the mobile platform and use of mobile services. The technical limitation of local ICT innovation structures weights heavily on the ability of EAC member states to capitalize on the latest waves of ICT technologies – like the use of mobile and embedded systems for real-time tracking, monitoring events, instrumentation and measurement of physical quantities in agro-businesses and processing industries. For example, there are mobile applications for recording sales for small and medium enterprises and healthcare information management, however both lack real-time tracking. Therefore, technical expertise is needed to enhance the process of design, implementation, verification and validation of electronic embedded systems, whereby desired functionalities must be implemented in hardware and software within very challenging constraints, such as performance, power consumption, real-time demands, reliability, and size.