By Kay Akinwunmi
In many parts of Africa, a tech revolution is underway. It’s predicted 475 million people will be mobile internet users by 2025.
Devices, networks and emerging forms of technology are proliferating, not least in Nigeria which, through R&D, has the potential to become a regional leader in AI and Blockchain.
Driven by an exploding population, (the average age of which is just 19.7 years old), Africa can become a tech powerhouse.
According to the World Economic Forum, between 2015 and 2020 tech start-ups receiving financial backing was six times faster than the global average. Despite the challenge of retaining later-stage funding, it’s an exciting time to be an African tech start-up, whose strength lies in retaining a local identity.
When Uber launched in Nigeria, it was forced to change its payment options to include cash, and this is a small example of a much bigger truth: in Africa, models that work elsewhere can rarely – if ever – be replicated without some adjustments having to be made to cater for local tastes and modes of behaviour.
This is not unique to Africa: China’s WeChat, described as an “app for everything”, has an interface many Westerners would find awkward to use, ugly, or undesirable; the same is probably true of Western apps looked at from a Chinese point of view. And this is one reason why anyone starting a business for the African market must have a presence on the ground in Africa: so that whatever they build looks and feels local.
But it is also one reason why the tech boom is so exciting: it gives Africans the power to develop African products that are uniquely, visibly African. Africans are best-placed to identify African opportunities, as well as African problems. Through tech, they can develop solutions in a distinctly African way.
And this is something that has been denied to Africans for a long time. The reality is that big corporations can have a homogenising effect as they expand overseas, diluting local cultures.
Tech, though innately international and borderless, celebrates diversity by giving power to the individual, wherever they happen to be. And that means that over time, through tech, Africa will be able to shape its own commercial identity: its own principles around user experience, brand and design.
By giving companies and the products they produce a uniquely African identity – an identity that reflects African people and culture – tech can strengthen that culture and showcase it to the world.
Tech also has the power to help Africa address a wealth of more serious issues, some of which have not just been persistent but seemingly intractable.
EdTech, for example, provides a solution to limited access to education for Africans, especially in poorer rural areas. Start-ups like PataTutor, based in Kenya, connects students with qualified private or online tutors, while uLesson, based in Nigeria, sells digital curricula through SD cards.
HealthTech, too, could give Africans the means to speak to medical professionals via video call or assess any symptoms they might have. In 2020, capital for health tech start-ups on the continent rose 257.5 per cent from 2019, according to a Disrupt Africa report, spurred in part by the pandemic, which shed light on the gap in healthcare services and forced healthcare providers to adjust their models and digitalise quickly.
Increasing internet penetration also means that remote working is likely to increase across Africa, and that may mean that those working abroad can return home. Some in the diaspora are returning home already. And as the cost of data comes down and the internet gets faster, the tech wave will build and roll over more of the continent.
We may not even be able to conceive at this stage of the kinds of brands, products, services and new forms of technology that might emerge out of a bustling and uniquely African tech scene. And with all this comes greater foreign investment in Africa and less brain drain, which strips Africa of some of its most talented people.
There is still a way to go before Africa’s tech industries become sustainable and world-leading. Significant problems remain later-stage funding, supply chain disruption and cybercrime:
Nigeria has more tech hubs than any other country on the continent but is also plagued by mobile malware. But through innovation and the need to diversify its economy, Africa will advance. At Zazuu, we’re proud to be part of Africa’s growth, using tech to meet the needs of African people.
Kay Akinwunmi is the co-founder of Zazuu