Why We Need More African Startup Stories To Be Told

Every startup founder has a war story.

Especially when they reminisce about their business experiences. They come off sounding like lead acts in U.S.-Vietnam war movies. Even when evidence clearly shows that the U.S Army was served a cold dish by the Vietnamese. Like American movie directors, startup founders cyclically keep on skewing the narrative to their favor.

They often sound like drill sergeants, belting out catch phrases in competitive language, but smiling as they do. They have mastered the art, but this is usually around peers and close-knit circles.

Like this soldier friend of mine, in the Uganda People’s Defence Forces, whose privacy I will protect for fear of being reprimanded. He once told me how he brokered a longstanding deal for the president to meet Erik Prince. Yup! Erik Prince, the ex-Navy seal baby-faced mercenary security contractor.

Erik is renowned for the infamous attack on unarmed people in Baghdad in Iraq in 2007 and now known for security, oil and gas consultancy in Africa.

He couldn’t divulge the details of the meeting but his face was lit with such bravado. He felt like a hero. Securing the meeting with Erik was no easy feat. Leading figures in the army had failed to land the meeting and he did. Well, I don’t even know if it's true. But he did. Ah, I didn’t care, really. I kid you not.

One thing and in this context, Erik is like the Silk Road alleged founder Ross Ulbricht or that bad techie or hacker that everyone fears but wants to secretly ask for counsel.

I was sold.

He had successfully pitched to me to read Blackwater — a treatise about Erik Prince’s behind the scenes. I picked it from his little library and left expectant.

Erik Prince Blackwater

Buy Master of War: Blackwater's Erik Prince.

The contents of the book are a story for another day.

If you looked for a related book, for example, about mercenary contractors from Uganda to war stricken middle easinspirational; or an unbiased take about Africa rising. You would sweat a little blood before you stumbled on something meaningful. A lengthy blog post maybe.

"It all comes back to storytelling. We’re not telling our stories enough."

This is probably a hackneyed tale. It is a buzzword that is getting stale because many stories have been told — usually around peers and close-knit circles. Even more — especially about defeat and loss — have been offloaded to the graveyard in quietude.

But why is this storytelling buzz persistent?

Why are we leaving out those who’d need them the most?

The little ones.

Isn’t iron best molded when hot, as eons of wisdom advise?

The first bottleneck here is stories are not being documented. This is largely a problem that stems from the oratory African storytelling roots. In present day, tools that democratize publishing are readily available on the internet for free or dirt cheap. Printing presses have come even closer for those who love destroying trees.

The second bottleneck is that many adults have probably heard it and seen it all and are probably more risk averse but things have changed. Besides that puff of smoke that Africa is rising, Africa remains the least explored continent. It is also home to the youngest population in the world in aggregate.

The Questionable Narrative Of Africa Rising

These demographics are important to note and thus in need of immediate redress.

The most interesting bit about this is that the stories don’t even have to be real. Just making them inspirational and motivating enough is all that is required.

The thematic story lines could possibly be: about a superhero that saves a village from a bad omen or about Mansa Musa’s journey in building the world’s first true startup decacorn in medieval Africa, such a long time ago.

There is a chain reaction to this. Other forms of media are created henceforth. Video and audio alike and this only means that the message is going to be spread farther and wider.

The BBC recently reported that buying a book in Uganda (and many other parts in Africa) is roughly worth a month’s salary. This is because of the associated costs of shipping content developed and printed in the wild west.

It comes as no surprise.

Of course that only re-emphasizes the stereotype about black people and books. That we’re polar opposites.

That’s why I’m impressed by some of the steps being made by Ugandan startup MixaKids is actively developing original content for children with focus on pan Africanism.


Some of the books available on MixaKids.

Nigeria’s Genii games develops a collection of interactive mobile apps and web videos for kids to learn about African Cultures in fun ways.

B.O.L.A, the Book of Language Awesomeness is the single most important relic that holds our African Languages together. To protect it from the villain, Trick, the elders led by Sultan have hidden it away from Trick's prying eyes. The clues to its location lie in another artifact, the Map of Ages. Trick desperately wants the book and will do anything to have the map even centuries after. Hope may yet lie in Ewa (7) and Tughu (8) with Sultan and Mbe on their side. To echo Sultan, "Trick must be stopped!". | Genii Games

What MixaKids and Genii Games have in common is the creation of platforms for development and dissemination of content. Building an enabling environment creates space for works that will endure and stand the test of time.

For MixaKids, for example, anybody can submit in an original story that is vetted for publication.

Think HBO but for children’s books.

This a classic model for user generated content. An author’s story once accepted, is accompanied with illustrations designed by MixaKids’ editors and converted into an eBook. It’s either sold or offered for free of charge depending on the agreements.

For Genii Games, it’s more than just the interactive apps. They want to equip kids with digital storytelling skills prerequisite for the mobile digital tomorrow.

Genii Games Workshop

Attentive school children listening to Adebayo Adegbembo of Genii Games | OneDot Photography

Kids, through tools like video editors and photo editors are learning to tell stories as they imagine them. Bringing them to life one pixel at a time.

It’s not only the aforesaid that are at it. A couple of innovators are building ‘mega-phones’ to broadcast more stories, and wider.

It’s not about the narrative glorifying the hunter because the lions can’t write. Let’s think about the cubs for a second. They need us.

Cover Image by Genii Games.