By Problem Masau
“Science and technology respond to the call of times and have a global impact. To develop them, we should have a global vision and meet the needs of the times,” Xi Jinping in “Governance of China”
A two-seater microlight aircraft hovers in the sky providing surveillance in the 2 196 square kilometre Mana Pools National Park.
Mana Pools National Park, the second biggest game reserve in Zimbabwe, is best known for its large bull elephants while also being home to black rhinos.
Located in the Zambezi River Valley, the area is characterised by thick vegetation which provides camouflage for the teeming wildlife.
The game park, which is a UNESCO World Natural Heritage Site, boasts a wide range of animals, including elephants, rhinos, lions, over 350 bird species and aquatic life.
Sadly, the thick bushes also provide cover for poachers, and for years, Zimbabwe has been battling this scourge, which saw elephants and black rhinos population plummeting during the turn of the millennium.
The aircraft which was donated by Sino-Zim Wildlife Foundation has cameras onboard which can detect the movement of poachers and, via a connection to the control room, can direct the park rangers on the ground to apprehend them.
The Sino-Zim Wildlife Foundation Founder Li Song said the organisation was echoing the Chinese government’s position and President Xi Jinping’s stance on using technology and science on the betterment of lives in the world and to promote ecological conservation.
“President Xi Jinping has in the past highlighted the need for China to be a world leader in technology and science. We have donated two aircraft and drones in the fight against poaching in Zimbabwe at the initiation of the Chinese government,” said Li Song.
The Chinese president has always been an advocate of protecting nature and wildlife through technology and science.
“Green development is needed for ecological conservation. It represents the direction for contemporary scientific and industrial revolution and offers the most promising prospects.
“Human beings must respect, accommodate and protect nature in their activities; otherwise we will be punished by nature,” said Xi Jinping in his address at the National Conference on Scientific and Technology captured in his book “Governance of China”.
Facial recognition technology
Taking a cue from Xi Jinping’s urge for scientific and technological innovation, Chinese firms have spread their tentacles in robot science and artificial intelligence.
Zimbabwe is one of the first countries in Africa to benefit from Chinese artificial intelligence advancement.
“China has proved to be our all-weather friend and this time around, we have approached them to spearhead our AI revolution in Zimbabwe,” said Christopher Mutsvangwa, former Zimbabwean Ambassador to China.
Mutsvangwa said the country has recently received donations of facial recognition terminals from CloudWalk Technology, a company based in South China’s Guangdong Province.
It marks the first time China has entered the AI field in Africa.
Mutsvangwa said the facial recognition terminals are currently being installed in all the country’s border posts and points of entry for smoother passenger processing.
However, he said that the benefits do not end there as the project will help the Government build a smart financial and banking system.
“An ordinary Zimbabwean probably won’t believe that you can buy your groceries or pay your electricity bill by scanning your face, but this is where technology is taking us and as the Government, we are happy because we are moving with the rest of the world,” said Mutsvangwa.
Facial scan technology is already widely used across China, both as a method of payment and in the field of security.
In April this year, Zimbabwe signed an agreement with CloudWalk Technology that saw the Chinese firm provide facial recognition for smart financial service networks, as well as intelligent security applications at airports, railway and bus stations.
The agreement was reached when President Mnangagwa paid a State visit to the Asian country in April and forms part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative in Africa.
“The Zimbabwean Government did not come to Guangzhou purely for AI or facial recognition technologies; rather it had a comprehensive package plan for such areas as infrastructure, technology and biology,” said CloudWalk CEO Yao Zhiqiang said then.
“The differences between technologies tailored to an Asian face and those to an African face are relatively large, not only in terms of colour, but also facial bones and features.”
CloudWalk Technology has already recalibrated its existing technology, similar to Transsion through three-dimensional light to recognize darker skin tones.
By optimising cameras to better highlight the features of people with darker skin tones, Transsion has become a top player in Africa’s fast-growing smartphone market.
The company, based in Shenzhen of Guangdong Province, whose products are sold under the Tecno, itel and Infinix brands, controls 40 percent of the African market.
China is building one of the world’s most comprehensive facial recognition databases.
The Zimbabwe Government is also working with Chinese surveillance firm HikVision in a pilot smart city project in Zimbabwe’s fourth biggest city Mutare. The Chinese government has a controlling stake in HikVision.
Since Zimbabwe launched its Look East policy in 2003 after the US and EU slapped economic sanctions on the nation, China has been providing assistance in areas of technology, mining and farming.
This assistance has seen Zimbabwe launch its first ever space agency in July this year with the focus on using satellites to advance geospatial science, earth observation and satellite communication systems.
The Zimbabwe National Geospatial and Space Agency (ZINGSA) is also expected to enhance agriculture, wildlife conservation and mapping.
“The agency will deploy navigation and observation satellite systems, geospatial and space technologies for better farming, wildlife conservation, infrastructure management and disease surveillance,” said President Mnangagwa at the launch.