By Antony Mutunga
Over the past five years, Africa has grown its footprint in the digital grid. The information technology sector in the continent has grown, with smart applications, fibre optic technology and innovation hubs taking centre stage. As a result, the African economy is gradually shifting from its reliance on natural resources to human capital and innovation.
With the continent thus focused on technological development as one of the biggest requirements needed for its desired transformation, a technological eco-system is emerging, growing from country to country, to promote regional trends in terms of investment, modernisation and business.
As the demand for all things IT continues to grow around the globe, countries like Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa have taken the lead in tech spaces in the continent. According to Partech Ventures’ 2018 report, these three accounted for 78 percent of total funding in 2018.
The introduction of M-Pesa by Safaricom in 2007 was the clearest indication of Africa’s ambition to technologically leapfrog and reach the rest of the world. M-Pesa propelled Kenyans into the digital economy as they would rely on their phones for their financial needs over bricks-and-mortar banking.
Three years later, with technology increasingly becoming a part of the Kenyan economy, Erik Hersman, a blogger, TED fellow and entrepreneur – who had seen the need for nexus technologists, investors, young entrepreneurs, designers, researchers and programmers – founded the innovation Hub (I-Hub) in Nairobi.
I-Hub, which is the pioneer tech hub in Africa, is a space whereby those interested in technology can meet, socialise and collaborate to create transformative innovations. In the same year, Kenya completed the East African Marine System (TEAMS) undersea fibre optic cable project. As a result, the East African broadband increased, and led to the establishment of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Authority.
Following this, other countries quickly jumped on the bandwagon. For example, in 2011, Nigeria opened up its own technology-oriented centre, the Co-Creation Hub. BongoHive, a Zambian innovation hub, also began in 2011. Today, according to a 2018 GSMA report, the number of active technology hubs in Africa is 442.
These tech hubs have seen a large number of start-ups established all over the continent. For example, since its establishment in 2010, i-Hub has been able to produce more than 150 start-ups.
Such start-ups have, in turn, attracted a big number of local and foreign investors to the African shores. By way of example, the Alibaba group joined forces with the Rwandan government to come up with the first electronic world trade hub (eWTP) in Kigali to promote trade. According to the Partech Ventures’ 2018 report, 146 African tech start-ups raised a total of Sh117 billion ($1.16 billion) in equity.
As well, multinationals like Microsoft, Amazon and Huawei have also set up shop on these shores. Amazon Web Services plans to open its first data centre in Africa next year while Huawei also plans two. Microsoft, on the other hand, has plans to spend over Sh10.1 billion ($100 million) on software engineering in the continent – with plans already in motion to set up shop in Nairobi and Lagos. The centres will promote technological advancement as they employ at least 100 developers to focus on machine learning, artificial intelligence and mixed reality technology. The company has plans to grow the local developer pool to 500 by 2023.
According to Phil Spencer, the executive vice president at Microsoft and executive sponsor of the African Development Centre (ADC), the centre will bring together various partners in the field of academia, government and developers who will help to drive its impact to sectors like FinTech, Agri-Tech and Off Grid energy.
With the right infrastructure and an interested young population, Africa has the potential to nest among leaders in technology.(