Photo credit: Moongateclimber (Public domain) - Morning fog from the Atlantic Ocean, Namib desert, Namibia, Africa
When I recently discovered that Malaysian security expert Professor Dato' Husin Jazri was now living and working in Namibia, I asked him to give us his take on African opportunities for Malaysian companies.
A former Malaysian Army Lieutenant Colonel with cybersecurity roles at national applied research agency MIMOS and CyberSecurity Malaysia, he agreed to what turned into a wide-ranging interview, which echoed some of themes linked to this year's Security Summit in Kuala Lumpur (20 April 2017).
Photo - Professor Dato' Husin Jazri (Lt. Col.retired)
Before we move on African opportunities, could we start with a brief rundown on your career?
[HJ] I have had a most colourful career. After graduation, I was commissioned in the Royal Signal Corp of the Malaysian Army in October 1987. From there, I moved up the hierarchy of the military and ended up as a Lieutenant Colonel before ending my military career with 17 years of service. While in the military, I was able to lead the team, which set up the Army IT Centre, the Armed Forces Specialised Cyber Division, and then I became part of the Research and Development team to develop Command and Control Systems for military use.
Then I moved on to national applied research agency MIMOS and was fortunate enough to be tasked to lead the Malaysian Computer Emergency Response Team for five years by the National IT Council, and also I became the founder and the CEO of Cybersecurity Malaysia for another seven years, which is an agency under the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation. I was also privileged to be able to serve three Ministers under the Ministry of Science and Technology Malaysia before my contract expired in 2012.
Why the move to Africa?
I moved to Africa, in particular Namibia, because of a major work opportunity with the Namibia University of Science and Technology as a professor in the field of Information Security.
In addition, I was interested to venture out for new experiences beyond Malaysia. It has been a privilege to be here and serve this University. Recently, I received the prestigious Teaching Excellence Award for Senior Category in November 2016. Considering that the population of many lecturers of this University are among the best in African region - as they come from all over the world - I felt very honoured with the award. I dedicate this award to my mother in Malaysia, my family members and my beloved country. I am not a 'jaguh kampong' after all. I am grateful to Al-Mighty God for His blessings and mercy.
How have you handled the cultural shift?
The culture here is very different than Malaysia in many ways. Namibia is a very beautiful country, a land of contrasts: A population of about 2.5 million people and yet with vast land covering the Namib deserts, beautiful oceans, rivers in the north, large safari park, rocky and colourful mountains and wild animals. If you travel to the south, you are met with ocean and colourful desert, and if you travel to the north, you are met with greens and rivers, and if you travel to the east, you are met with a beautiful ocean and Mediterranean weather, and if you are travel to the centre, you will find the Etosha Safari Park. This is the land of hidden treasure, honestly speaking, in term of its natural beauties, wild animals, beautiful weather and friendly people around.
I handled the cultural differences, by embracing them with respect rather than trying to be different, while at the same time holding to my personal values. This attitude attracted mutual respect: My students like me, as much as I like them and I guide them as much as I could by giving and sharing my experience. These are the sons of Africa that will bring Africa into a different level of playing ground very soon.
What business opportunities do you see in Namibia and Africa generally for Malaysian companies?
There are many opportunities in Namibia and Africa for Malaysian companies. Firstly, Africa has a diverse culture and belief systems. We need to see these diversities and approach the diverse populations and political systems appropriately. The north of Africa is dominated by French and Arabic speaking countries. The middle of Africa can be divided vastly into east and west. Namibia falls within the southern part of Africa.
With the understanding I have gained, I realise there have been missed opportunities for many of our manufacturing products like Proton cars, motorcycles and so on. Both our manufacturing and IT companies should probably have put more focus on the African markets, perhaps to the same extent we have focused on the European and other developed economies. Over here, affordability is a significant factor: our national motorcycles and cars can meet this requirement.
As far as IT companies are concerned, there are so much opportunities in Africa. Some of our forward looking initiatives - such as Multimedia SuperCorridor (MSC) and the Digital Economy - and our experience and business value chains can serve Africa well. The concept of smart cities, integrated security, are all very new in Africa: there is a big gap here for Malaysian expertise.
Malaysian organisations can package our MSC, integrated e-government, smart cities and smart education models to suit different parts of Africa. Again, the funder and implementer should come together to make a presence here. Many African nations are rich with natural resources, they do have that long term sustainability to be able to pay back loans, and their governments can be engaged to commit to well-planned projects.
What would be the right strategy to realise some of these African opportunities?
If a company in Malaysia wants to venture into Africa, it has to be looking at a long term ROI - rather than 'a quick buck.' In this respect, China uses a more 'advanced' model, because its business strategy has always been a fundament partnership between the government and private sector. The Chinese government enters into long term projects with sustainable funding to work with foreign markets of interest. These projects are then implemented and developed by Chinese companies with some local market participation. Many of these projects embrace both the government and private sector such as building construction: government buildings and business complexes, housing, roads, IT systems, border security, and the list go on.
In Malaysia, our integrated shopping malls cum service apartment concept - such as Genting - has great potential in Africa. Another gap: as many Namibian students go on scholarships to Malaysian universities - such as Lim Kok Wing University - there may be an opportunities for Malaysian universities to establish campuses in Africa.
Many companies are here already - from Singapore, Indonesia, Estonia, and the like - except Malaysia. Unfortunately, there are very few products and services from us in Africa. We seem to have a blind spot with African market opportunities!
Another example, the plantation sector: Dates find a very fertile ground here, and they are of a very high quality, exported to even Saudi Arabia and Europe. The meat industry is very mature here: the meats are of high quality as their cows and sheep are grazing freely on dry grass, stress free, and with minimal chemical usage. The list goes on and on.
In your experience, what's the African perception of Malaysia and Malaysian IT?
I see that many Africans have high perceptions of Malaysia. The impact from the Mahathir era can still be felt, I suppose. Even now, the respect is still there, and that is probably why many African students are studying in Malaysian universities. Policies and strategies like the Felda, NEP, and so on are being closely watched. But what is more important is the reverse of this question: What is the perception of Malaysia towards Africa and how can we handle any prejudices and ill-informed ideas?
I think if we do some soul searching, we can do very well in Africa. We can catch up on the opportunities other nations are already enjoying in Africa. We should not lose out on these opportunities. My experience here gives me the confidence to say this because I am living and mingling with the African people every day, I teach their sons at their University, I am just like them in many ways, and can observe the possibilities at first hand.
Computerworld Malaysia will revisit this theme with you in the future, but for now what's your takeaway for Malaysian business leaders?
As I have mentioned, the best strategy is to work together with funders and implementers. We can compete better this way, as opposed to let each business try 'to go it alone' when entering Africa. Think of business as sailing in the ocean: If you have a big ship, the smaller ships can hang on to it when the currents and big waves come and go. Singapore is doing just that. Their IT companies are backed strongly by their Temasek-like funders, and government to government (G2G) projects.
Another thing: Take time to know Africa, because meeting a wrong person or getting a wrong contact is still a significant risk. Definitely do your due diligence and balance it with some risk taking as well. One of the best ways to get to know Africa is to come here, work here for a while, and buy property here, as property will always go up 10 percent every year - as has been doing in Namibia since its independence. The other way is of course to find an already established business partner here, but that may cost you more in the short run. There are many ways going about doing it. We do have many Africans in Malaysia as well. Get to know them.
...A final personal thought on Africa?
Art and culture is very strong in Africa. I have come to know and appreciate arts and craft activities here in Namibia. In fact, Namibians can make a living here in the arts and culture fields as opposed to Malaysia. I come to realise many Malaysian artistic values are missing from our society, from our schools and also higher up the education value chain.
We are losing much of our Malaysian heritage this way, by placing too much emphasis on science and modernisation. The balance we were supposed to be aiming for was to have helped our arts and culture work in tandem with science and modernisation. Perhaps we can learn from Africa and nurture a revival of arts and cultures - both traditional and digital arts - in Malaysia? This may add a formidable economic differentiator to our national development and drive job creation and tourism. We need to step back, reconsider, and take the best of our traditional values into the future with us.
The latest edition of this article can be found at Computerworld Malaysia.
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