AFRICA RISING – FUTURE LEADERS: My I.T. Aspirations by Thabale Ngulube

My good friend Thabale wanted to introduce himself on my blog. We worked together in 2012 in Kitwe, Zambia, where I was conducting research and working for a Zambian-owned mining construction firm. Thabale is a skilled website programmer and worked for a popular company that assisted us with website design, among other tasks. It truly is an honor to feature his story on my blog.

Thabale Ngulube: I’ve loved Information Technology from a very young age and have always believed it to be the “future”. I first started learning  I.T at ZCAS (Zambia Centre for Accountancy Studies) where I did IMIS (Institute for the Management of Information Systems) and worked for almost 4 years mainly doing data management at CHESSORE (Centre for Health, Science and Social Research) and sometime later worked for Talktime Multimedia were I mostly did web page designing and some office administration.
Currently I’m studying BIT (Business Information Technology) and hope to become a software developer so can fully grasp Application Development and I have a few ideas of how I can contribute to the development of my country by mainly streamlining how things are done. One time I helped design a prototype database for storing hospital patient records which basically was computerising the input and storage of data thereby, minimising the paperwork needed for the same task and saving costs in terms of stationery but unfortunately I didn’t get to fully finish it as my work contract was expiring. Now that I’m working with fellow students, I have encountered many inspiring ideas like for example one of my friends wants to do a food management system which could assist his mum run her business more efficiently. He’s thinking of developing a tuck-shop software program to calculate: 
Management of activities mostly involving 
Keeping track of profits 
Inventory checks to ensure the accurate number of items in stock
Knowing the amount of ingredients used in making foodstuffs
Sales for future projection and therefore limit uncertainties on the direction of the business
I was thinking about the tenant – landlord relationship which can be quite rocky at times especially in low cost urban areas especially it comes to paying up and what the exact amount owing is. I thought of building an app which can send monthly reminders to tenants to automatically alert them in good time to make the necessary arrangements to pay up their rents with the stated due amounts and would also allow for mobile-payments if the tenant happens to be away. However, on this side of the world smartphones are out of the cost range of most people who would probably utilise 3% of the phone’s capabilities and therefore see it unnecessary owning one. 
But the same app could still be developed on the already existing cell phone platform. Tenants can be reminded via the SMS facility which a lot of people are familiar with. The challenge is that not everyone is well-educated or literate as in, they are unable to read or write properly. In order to overcome this problem, I’d recommend a voice-messaging approach in a local language which the person can understand. Much like the way how the mobile service provider, MTN for example, currently sends random special offers to their subscribers using this technique by calling the subscriber.
Another situation I hope to address is the agriculture sector when it comes to fertilizer distribution by the government or some farming cooperative. Most of the time when farmers come to get their bags of fertilizer they have to wait many hours or even days when making follow-ups which mostly leads to them sleeping over at depots or other places longer than they have to.
Again I’d propose the SMS-alert app which would select registered farmers in a batch-processing technique so that the number of people coming over is controlled and farmers can make the necessary arrangements. For those that cannot manage to make it on the expected day, they will be carried forward to a free pickup time-slot after the second batch of farmers is dealt with and so on.
The challenge I see here is how these small scale farmers will reach the pickup point because most of them stay in far flung areas where transportation is difficult in terms of distance. As a result most of them may come late only to be told to turn back because they missed their slot. Also, mobile phone network coverage in some of these places is non-existent and these farmers may get their SMS alert when they move to where there’s a signal and by then it may be too late.
This is possibly the area Chinese investment can address in terms of I.T. infrastructure i.e. platforms  and equipment which will enable communications instead of retail businesses which have flooded the market. However, that may not eliminate the problem fully because there’s also the issue of I.T education because most people here feel intimidated by I.T technology when they don’t understand how it works or how they can benefit. There are places offering I.T knowledge but he way how its marketed usually does not take into account the common man who doesn’t live in the posh suburbs.
Another one of my friends’ hope that one day when he’s started his own firm, he’ll give back to his community in the form of Corporate Social Responsibility with the aim of educating and empowering people to reach their full potential. If I.T investment is made a priority, Zambia could be a technological wonder much in the same way South Korea is. Obviously that won’t happen overnight but like everything that has a beginning, things have to start somewhere with the first step.
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