Numerous articles have been written about how mobile devices are revolutionising the lives of Africans and recent trends are now showing that economic growth in Africa, has not solely been based on commodities. An increase in the use of internet enabled mobile devices for e-retail in some parts of Africa such as Nigeria, grew significantly between 2010 and 2012 according to a survey by Phillips Consulting survey released in July this year. The World Bank also released statistic which show that there is an estimated 650 million mobile phone users in African countries South of the Sahara Desert.
Exciting business opportunities for young tech-savvy Africans are being created as they look globally to collaborate with their contemporaries in far flung countries to solve local problems. Many are now looking to themselves as the solution to the high youth unemployment rate. Technological innovations created by Africans on the continent are now attracting the attention of local and foreign firms looking to invest in ventures that have the potential to grow into viable businesses. According to BBC News, IBM recently opened their first research facility in Kenya to delve into applied and exploratory research on the continent. The company has recruited top talent from the African diaspora and other people of African origin to get the research off the ground.
From Lagos Nigeria, Lilongwe Malawi, right down to Lusaka Zambia , technology hubs where creative types convene are springing up. The laying down of underwater fiber optic cables providing broadband internet service to millions of people in Southern and Eastern Africa in 2009, ushered in a new dawn. There is no doubt that web access has spurred the continent’s economy and technology industry. The huge success that mobile money has had in Kenya, has catapulted Africa into the spotlight as more tech start-ups continue to be developed.
More entrepreneurs are setting up businesses that use technology with the aim of bringing about change. Young tech-savvy Africans are no longer satisfied with just having ideas and not acting on them. Frequent Hackarthons and tech conferences are now held at the various technology hubs across the continent where young people, driven by the hunger to succeed collaborate and create. They are creating products that are compelling, interesting and easy to understand by the wider public. A slew of mobile applications that have been developed over the past few years have actually been used to help improve and expand the way business is done.
Interesting innovations such as matatu’s with Wifi (minibuses) in Kenya now enable passengers to use their smart phones on their long commute to and from work or places of business. Mfarm, a mobile app that was recently developed to help farmers access information about agricultural practices, seeds and fertilizers is being used by farmers in Ghana who have seen an increase in their profits as a result of using the app.
Mobile applications developed in Africa by Africans, are now being recognised and snapped up by foreign companies based in more developed markets. A start-up company called Saya, that was founded by two Ghana entrepreneurs in Accra was recently acquired by a U.S based company that develops Voice SMS based Mobile Value Added Services (MVAS) for emerging markets. Robert Lamptey, one of the founders of Saya, recently stated that “in launching Saya, we wanted to create a world class product, but one that was built by Africans, for Africans in mind”.
In an interview with CNN Market Place, Rebecca Enonchong, the founder and CEO of Appstech based in Cameroon recently talked about “the huge success stories across the African continent and how social media” has enabled Africans to see the possibilities of creating their own platforms. She went on to mention that the success stories are now giving people encouragement and “the idea that you can succeed in Africa in technology”.
The creation of tech millionaires on the continent is now a reality. African technology companies as mentioned by the CEO of Appstech in her interview with CNN, are now being sold for millions of dollars. There are now a good number of tech millionaires who have been profiled in reputable publications such as Forbes magazine. Among the ten internet millionaires to watch that were profiled in Forbes magazine last year were Njeri Rionge of Kenya who co-founded Wananchi Online, a leading internet service provider in East Africa, in which an American Private equity firm acquired a 50% stake in the company for $26 million.
The potential for Africa to diversify into other sectors such as technology to create a strong knowledge economy are undeniably huge. While some technophobes and sceptics might be dismissive due to the uneven spread of the internet on the continent, it is becoming clear that this is where a good number of jobs will be created. Drastic changes need to be made to the educational systems of many countries on the continent to encourage a culture of creativity and innovation. Intellectual capital will certainly be the “currency of the future” as commodity prices start to fall.
If Africa is to move ahead in the new capitalist world of the 21st century, a long term view will have to be taken when it comes to investing in science and technology as well as the necessary infrastructure. The challenges are many but the potential for the continent to surge ahead is equally huge.