Jake Bright * Tech will be on President Obama’s agenda as he hosts the Global Entrepreneurship Summit in Kenya, taking along internet pioneer Steve Case and Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky. Nascent as it may be, Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) does have a promising tech sector — a growing patchwork of entrepreneurs, startups, and innovation centers coalescing country to country. Kenya is now a recognized IT hub. Facebook recently expanded on the continent. And Silicon Valley VC is funneling into ventures from South Africa to Nigeria. These pieces are coming together as Africa’s budding tech culture and ecosystem emerge. The Rise of Silicon Savannah Most discussions of the origins of Africa’s tech movement circle back to Kenya. From 2007 through 2010 a combination of circumstance, coincidence, and visionary individuals laid down four markers inspiring the country’s Silicon Savannah moniker:
- Mobile money,
- A global crowdsourcing app,
- Africa’s tech incubator model; and
- A genuine government commitment to ICT policy.
- State ICT Competition: Following Kenya’s lead, there are growing expectations on African governments to flesh out ICT plans and infrastructure. Countries such as Rwanda, Nigeria, and Ghana are already feeling the pressure, conscious of the success of Silicon Savannah.
- Tech Disrupting Development: IT in Africa will continue to be employed to solve longstanding socio-economic problems. Aid-agency grants previously going to NGOs are already being diverted to social-venture focused African tech organizations. On the corporate side, a directive for IBM’s Lucy Project is solving many of “Africa’s grand challenges”– many of which have been relegated to the development sector. Cracking the continent’s longstanding problems will increasingly become a commercial tech opportunity.
- African Tech Solutions With Global Application: M-PESA has become a case study for global digital payments. U.S. political campaigns used Ushahidi in the last presidential election. Africa’s solar powered, BRCK wifi device is being used in Internet dead spots in Wisconsin. And video on demand site iROKO partners, which was created to solve monetization and distribution problems for Nigerian movies, is now being eyed by Netflix to sell U.S. digital goods in Africa. Most of SSA’s tech applications are developing as solutions to local problems, but this is creating unforeseen opportunities for other markets and will continue to do so.
- SSA’s First Exits, IPOs, and Tech Moguls: It’s only a matter of time before one of Africa’s commercially oriented startups scales a revenue generating platform to large numbers of people and creating continent’s first big acquisition, IPO, and first Mark Zuckerberg type sensation.