By John Walubengo
Day by day, our lives become more digital. We use digital technology in everything from
cooking to communications. As the world moves towards smart cities and the internet
of things, demand for smart technology is increasing. More companies are bracing
themselves for this opportunity and the future will see more collaborations and licensing
of technology by various players in the ecosystem.
There are restrictions imposed by the US government that will bring change to the
supply chain for technology products. Under the restrictions the focus is more on semi-
conductor and software business. They essentially restrict US companies and its
affiliates anywhere in the world, especially in EU, UK, Korea, Japan – from easily re-
supplying some entities with products and software that has any US components. This
decision has a wide reaching impact on products that are in development or even those
that are already in the hands of consumers.
The debate however is whether the restrictions are entirely due to security reasons. An
argument put forth is that vulnerability argument fades when juxtaposed with the race
for technological advancements where it could be perceived that the restrictions seem
geared instead at slowing down the pace of technological development by countries or
companies seen as competitors. Some of these companies have proven track records
from operating in over 170 countries for over 30 years. The restrictions seem to target
the current global leader in telecommunications infrastructure such as 5G and is now
poised to become a leader in other emerging technologies such as cloud and AI. The
decision will have adverse impacts on the technology supply chain.
The action taken is a departure from the best practice, pioneered by the creators of the
Internet ecosystem which by design sought to develop an open ecosystem based
around common standards. The earlier approach would enable anyone to join the
ecosystem and interact with other parts of the ecosystem. Many African countries like
Ethiopia, Kenya and Rwanda are working towards being technology manufacturing
powerhouses. They would benefit greatly from technology sharing and the promise
which tremendous growth in the technology sector offers in those countries especially
The current restrictions will definitely have an impact on the partnerships
that they would need to get into to facilitate their dive into technology production.
An attempt to control who can use what technology and who can work with which
partners instead of leaving it to the forces of supply and demand goes against the
principles of an open ecosystem and is likely to slow down the whole innovation
ecosystem. Many other companies are wondering if in the future they might also be
affected by similar regulations, and thus they are planning to avoid US suppliers,
instead favoring European or Asian ones.
If anything it will lead up to the splitting of the innovation space where two or more
centers of innovations emerge with independent products that have no intention of
inter-operating with each other.
The result is that the consumer will suffer, because their ability to switch, mix and
match products from different suppliers will disappear, while the cost of being forced to
choose and stick to one line of products will also increase – given the monopolistic
realities that will emerge.
If products cannot talk to each other easily, or if they end up using different standards,
or if supply chains get fractured, and there is no trust left in the ecosystem, it will also
make the internet less secure.
It is important to ensure that trade barriers do not hamper the advancements in
technology. No country or entity has a monopoly in know-how and it is imperative to
ensure continued collaboration for the sake of development especially in these
uncertain times where we are plagued by the COVID-19 pandemic.
One thing this COVID-19 period has proven to us is that more than ever we shall
continue to be dependent on technology for the development of what will be the new
normal. We are now working from home, trying to educate our children from home,
using internet based solutions for our transport and shopping. Our need for improved
technology has increased exponentially throughout the globe in the past few months
since the pandemic struck.
This is the wrong time to be creating barriers to technological development especially
where technological interdependence has previously played a critical role in
technological advancements. We urgently need to lower costs and to accelerate
technology deployment in Africa. We need to be able to choose whichever technologies
and companies we like to buy from or to sell to.
The writer is a lecturer at Multimedia University and comments on technology issues.