One unintended outcome of the “sub-Saharan Africa” classification of African countries is that North Africa is typically excluded from conversations about Africa’s tech start-up landscape. This often means we’re sharing an incomplete picture of progress being made in tech ecosystems on the continent especially given landmark events recorded in North Africa in recent years.
Bus-hailing firm Swvl raised $42 million in the largest funding round for an Egyptian start-up while Careem, the Dubai-headquartered ride-hailing start-up with vast operations in North Africa was acquired by Uber for $3.1 billion. MaxAB, an Egyptian e-commerce marketplace raised $6.2 million in what’s regarded as one of the largest seed funding rounds across the region while five year-old ride-hailing start-up TemTem raised $4 million in Algeria’s largest Series A round. There’s also enough budding local talent to sustain the growth in these ecosystems: Morocco and Egypt are ranked among the five fastest growing developer communities on the continent over the past year.
By virtue of being regionally categorised alongside the Middle East (as MENA i.e. Middle East and North Africa), North African start-ups do enjoy a geographical advantage as they can access significant funding pools solely dedicated to the region and can expand to and operate in Middle East markets more easily than start-ups in other African regions.
Indeed, within the last two months alone, Mubadala, the United Arab Emirates’ sovereign wealth fund, has launched a $250 million fund for MENA start-ups just as BECO Capital, the Dubai-based venture capital firm, raised a $100 million fund to back start-ups in the region (BECO Capital co-led Swvl’s landmark funding round).
But North African start-ups are now looking southwards for integration into other African tech markets too: Swvl expanded into Kenya and Nigeria this year and plans to launch in more markets next year, Mostafa Kandil, the company’s chief executive, said. “We see that the problem [we are solving] is very evident in Africa and there’s unique product-market fit. We are going to double-down on Africa.”
As the African Union continues to push for more integration on the continent, a good place to start for tech industry stakeholders is to include every region in conversations and tell a more complete story.