As an end user, one may never discover that innovators and businesses invest heavily in product interoperability.
Little items such as bicycle pressure nozzles, car fuel inlets, ballpoint pen size and width of motorway lanes among others point at a well calculated ability to have systems work together.
During its10th anniversary forum for regional intellectuals, East African Community legislators were not impressed with presentations on how science and technology could serve as strategic drivers to integration.
They insisted that the panel on which I was a discussant did not address the “how” question adequately.
After some reflection, I strongly feel that members overlooked a powerful message that was given by Nicol Woodard, the regional technology officer Microsoft West, East, Central Africa.
In summary his message was simple: How Microsoft as a business has benefited from utilising the concept of interoperability and why member states should consider such a model.
Interoperability is the ability of diverse systems, organisations and products to work together without special effort on the part of the consumer.
For instance our ability to use the internet is due to a set of rules for transferring files popularly referred to as Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP).
Nicol further illustrated the fact that there are tens of companies specialising on different products that feed the success of Microsoft.
The East African Community ought to consider the regions’ citizens as customers and invest in pushing for “product” interoperability.
Last week, I mentioned the urgent need for tax policy harmonisation in the region.
Another strategic aspect is to invest in standardising and enhancing the capacity of immigration officers.
As an end user (citizen), I would like to receive high quality service at border points; standardised value of currency, and fair treatment for all in the region.
Business operating across the region would wish to be assured of harmonized and standardised labour laws.
The opposite of investing in interoperability is to seek to “die with your idea.”
I come across this approach mostly among the youth afraid that someone will “steal their ideas.”
The country that stands to reap most from regionalism is that which will discover the wisdom of opening up to put its “ideas” to competition.
The one that will choose not to “inter operate” will still generate wealth and ideas but in a limited fashion.
Going back to Microsoft example, one of the world’s richest men, Bill Gates reaped benefits by investing in ensuring availability of his products to many outlets.
I do, however, agree with the legislators’ concern that the panel failed to address the key “how” question.
For instance, how technology can enable farmers get weather updates, enable citizens utilise the region’s resources efficiently and help transform our erroneous mindset that foreigners hold the key to fixing the regions challenges.
It seems that the regions bureaucrats are still fixated to the assumption that technology is for “others.”
That explains in part why most government department websites rarely get updated.
By devoting time to science and technology, the East African Community leadership gave a clear indication they recognise the importance of the same to the quest of integration.
Ordinary East African citizens are well ahead by using Kiswahili as a tool for interoperability.
Educational institutions are already competing and one can witness enrolment of students as each parent tests out school systems across the region.
The regions’ elite keen on protecting their “ideas” may soon find themselves out of the market.
It is for the benefit of citizens and business that the East African Community invests in standardizing tools of trade and regulation across the region.
Mr Shikwati is director, Inter Region Economic Network [email protected]