The last thing that most people would never mind saying and not wince, is that Africa lags behind the rest of the world technologically. This is to say that even out of the un-habited continents, Africa pales in comparison. You would be pressed hard to argue against that except to say that Africa has the fastest growing technological spaces across the world. The numbers show it but they all say one thing that Africa still has a long way to go before they can get to the likes of the Americas and Asia. These are continents that have really large technology spaces. In terms of Internet access, Africa lags far behind and Google were able to show this in the following map depending on the hits that Google was able to achieve from every region. (The map is a bit outdated).
But over the past few years, there has been an exponential growth in technology in Africa. There is no arguing that mobile telephony has enabled that and according to Business Week, Nigeria had half a million telephone line in 2001 and by 2007 it was estimated that there were more than 30 million subscribers. The story could be replicated almost anywhere else in Africa. Mobile telephony would serve as the very first option of the residents getting access to the outside world. And with several changes in the mobile telephony sector, mobile money has come of age.
When Vodafone, one of the largest mobile telephony companies in the world, wanted to launch a new service on mobile telephony, they reached to their Kenyan subsidiary to test it. Safaricom, in Kenya, was able to show the difference that mobile money could make. All that one needed was a working phone and the network provider’s coverage. Within months, M-PESA was making a total difference to the largely un-banked Kenyan population. And year after year, the service receives incredible growth in subscribers. Other phone networks have introduced similar services and this can only be said to have been enabled by technology.
While talking about technology, most people would be better off referring to hardware and not software. One would be hard-pressed to talk of any notable company that has been producing computers and it is an Africa country. Even the major computer manufacturers do not outsource to Africa at all. In the software industry, it is a different ball game. Day after day, young university graduates (and some drop-outs) will be hunched over laptops as they type out code to make applications. A good number of them are involved in coding for mobile phones.
Two things are responsible for this;
- Mobile telephony is the current and the future of Africa
- Open-user mobile operating systems
Most businesses are now shifting towards mobile telephony payment systems and this has encouraged developers to sit down and provide applications that are independent of the network providers. Other areas also require them especially healthcare and thus systems that are simple to use are coming up day after day. The only problem that hinders all this is the uptake of all this by the industries that they have been developed for.
It would be quite hard to talk of technology and Africa and not talk about Ushahidi. This is the crisis mapping solution that has been used in nearly all the continents. It is a typical showcase of what complex problems can be helped by simple solutions. It also runs alongside the SMS solutions everywhere it is deployed. The ease with which it has been deployed shows how much African solutions need not be unique to the African problems.
One of the upcoming features in Africa’s tech-space apart from the tech conferences and talks, are the incubation spaces that are coming up. Senegal, South Africa, Kenya, Uganda and Cameroon are leading in respect to getting these spaces although they can be set up anywhere as long as funding is available. These are spaces that will be able to help the African tech-preneurs be able to set-up and also help them with all the aspects of the business that they hope to come up with. With the funding, they are required to pay a minimal amount of the profits that they get so that funding is always available for the next generation of developers. It would be great to see whether the next big app will be as a result of these incubator spaces.
Africa may have just landed in the tech-scene, but it has started making ripples felt throughout.
Images from here.