Arusha’s Technology Exhibition

IT exhibitions are big business in Europe and North America. A major one seems to take place at least once a month somewhere in the world, begging the question of when all those exhibitors actually find time to develop their products. Last weekend, Arusha took its turn with the Fourth Arusha IT Exhibition. Held at the Hotel Equator on Boma Road, the show was a far cry from glitzy events held in Las Vegas or London. This may be the “Geneva of Africa”, but Bill Gates won’t be launching a new version of Windows in this town for a while. However, event organizer Alex Rigolt of AA Computers sees the exhibition as a way to showcase new products that are available today in Arusha.

It is good that ordinary people can see what is possible. Much of what is available in developed countries is also available here in Arusha, and it is more affordable than you might think!

AA Computers were introducing some new “eye openers” at the show, specifically Data Keys and Wireless Access Points. Data keys are very small devices, about the size of a key ring, which you can use to store data. Small in size, but large in stature, the keys can hold up to 256Mb of data –more than 200 floppy disks’ worth. Wireless access points allow the connection of computers to a network by microwave radio rather than traditional cables providing flexibility for office networks. Unfortunately I was unable to connect my laptop to the wireless network that had been set up at the exhibition – those stories about the security risks inherent to that technology may be exaggerated. This hacker, at least, was locked out.

Arusha Node Marie, commonly known as Habari, was also present at the exhibition, showing off its wireless internet access equipment and showcasing the Gnu/Linux operating system. Gnu/Linux is an operating system that rivals Windows in its features and supported applications. It beats Windows hands down when it comes to security and stability. More exciting is the price. Gnu/Linux is free to use and distribute. Free – you know that is music to my ears. Arusha Node Marie plan to make Red Hat 9, a version of GNU/Linux, available for only the cost of a blank CD in the near future. Watch this space for an article dedicated to this exciting development.

I was surprised to see KK Security represented at an IT show. They had some very interesting technology to show off – a tiny CCTV camera that can be connected to the internet, and a way of controlling distant devices by sending text messages from your mobile phone. These are designed to be used for remote monitoring of sites, and control of alarm systems or refrigeration units. Aside from those applications, imagine how much more exciting this would make Big
Brother – send a text message and lock Mwisho in the toilet, whilst watching from your computer screen.

Other commercial exhibitors included Swift Holdings, who provided back up power and surge protection to equipment displayed at the show, Exact Software and SatCom Networks Africa.

It wasn’t just businesses that were represented at the exhibition. The United African Alliance Community Centre had a display showing how teachers and students have been using the internet to learn about artistic traditions around the world. Arusha Node Marie’s philanthropic wing Elimu Online provided an internet connection to UACC. Robert Mafie, head of UACC’s computer department told me that UACC is experimenting with different ways of benefiting the community through access to the internet. Aside from inspiring some beautiful textile designs and haiku poems, access to the internet has allowed students at UACC to take online courses at US high schools. Students have also been learning computer skills which are essential to Tanzania’s development in information technology. The show was successfully de-nerded by a performance of specially commissioned rap and drama by KushKemet, UACC’s resident dramatic troupe.

The exhibition proved a roaring success, attracting over 1000 in its three days. Alex Rigolt confirmed plans for future exhibitions. Next time I hope the fair can be bigger and involve more businesses and organisations in Arusha. That is an exciting prospect. A larger fair would help to consolidate the IT community in Arusha, and might feature exhibitors from further afield, putting Tanzania firmly on the hi-tech map.


Originally published in Arusha Times 291


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