Technology and innovation are playing an increasingly significant role in Africa, from bolstering regional collaborations to disrupting business and investment patterns. There is the rapid emergence of an IT ecosystem, a growing patchwork of entrepreneurs, tech ventures and innovation hubs situated in almost every country, with Nigeria being a hotbed for start-up activity.
The influence of tech is being felt in various sectors and industries, among them energy, agriculture, banking, healthcare, entertainment, transport and fashion.
The primary driver of innovation on the continent thus far has been the series of challenges posed by a lack of infrastructure. This has led to a mobile-first approach, coupled with the adoption of bootstrapping and innovative solutions to problems line connectivity that are less evident in developed countries. As a result of this constant iteration, aspiring minds on the continent are coming up with solutions to the continent's most prevalent problems.
While South Africa long held the title of the continent's tech giant thanks to its pioneering position in adopting new technologies and significant economic advantage at the end of the 90s, Kenya has arguably led the wave of tech adoption and growth over the past decade, with four major factors contributing to its emergence between 2007 and 2010 and the creation of the 'Silicon Savannah': innovation in the mobile space, pioneering apps, a solid tech incubation model, and a genuine government commitment to ICT policy.
As a starting point, these are some of the accomplishments we have seen through technology in Africa:
Tech is contributing significantly to economic growth
Tech and related services are accounting for a larger share of Africa's economic development, with countries like Nigeria reporting that technology accounts for 10% of GDP.
Despite the country’s challenges, Nigeria is attracting big tech investments and commercially driven start-ups. Investors and entrepreneurs are drawn by the prospect of developing and breaking even for their applications, and the allure of Africa’s largest population and second-largest economy. Lagos’s tech district Yaba has become home to Rocket Internet's e-commerce start-up Jumia and a number of digital payments ventures such as Paga and Flutterwave.
Nigeria’s tech sector has benefited from a growing trend - repatriate entrepreneurs. These are individuals who left the continent in search of higher education and experience, who are now coming back to apply their experiences and leverage their global linkages in their home countries.
Some of Africa’s most recognized e-commerce startups, such as Konga and MallforAfrica, were founded by Nigerians who earned their university degrees and initial private sector experience in the US.
Taking the various developments into consideration, the continent's tech ecosystem is poised to make a huge difference in how things are done. Here are some of the trends we are likely to witness in the next coming years:
Drones will really take off
The infrastructure challenges I mentioned earlier come into play here. A lack of navigable roads in some of the more remote corners of the continent favors the use of drones to deliver cargo and bridge the gaps in service delivery at a massive scale is inevitable. This will necessitate the growth of droneports and related infrastructure, enabling the delivery of services to the last mile.
Startups will grow and tap into the informal economy
The African Development Bank estimates that 55% of sub-Saharan Africa’s economic activity is informal. That’s a massive commercial space without such services as business enterprise software, small business banking, affordable third-party logistics or internet access.
With combined efforts of entrepreneurs, innovators, telecom operators and giant tech companies, to continuously drive the growth of tech industries on the continent, the merging of these different sectors is driving innovation, which attracts funding and the development of a vast support network.
African solutions will find use globally
M-Pesa is now a case study for global digital payments. Ushahidi has found uses in natural disasters, elections and crowdmapping exercises all over the world. The BRCK wifi device is being used to facilitate internet connectivity in remote areas. iROKO is distributing African content online.
All these solutions have found traction in Africa, and without a doubt there will be more apps and solutions that have been tested out in unique environments all over the continent that will find a market elsewhere in the world.
FinTech will reign supreme
There has been much talk of financial inclusion in Africa, and one of the ways that this will really take off appears to be in the fintech ecosystem. At the #WhatsNext FinTech event that we co-hosted with Nest, one of the things that came up was that more still needs to be done to bank the unbanked and get more people, especially low income earners, to participate in the economy.
Kenya and South Africa topped a survey on financial inclusion, despite their vastly different financial landscapes. Kenya's success is due to the uptake of mobile banking and remittance, which has failed to take root in South Africa due to the prevalence of formal banking. However, fintech is taking root in both countries, adapting to the unique financial environments to provide solutions such as secure payments and banking services.
More smartphones, faster internet
The growth in mobile broadband and smartphone usage, coupled with new business models to stimulate data usage from mobile operators thus greatly increasing the use of mobile internet, especially among low income users,resulting in increase data traffic overall.
Faster internet is making services such as streaming video more feasible, opening new avenues for content delivery. Phones are quickly becoming the second screen through which video is consumed in addition to television, and content creators are taking note.
Tech will make a difference in development
IT will increasingly be used to solve long-standing African socio economic issues. Aid grants that were previously only awarded to NGOs are now being diverted to social-venture focused African tech organizations. IT and Innovation are leading the way in solving the continent’s long-standing problems and also creating commercial opportunities for the youth,the continent's largest population which is mostly unemployed.
Robots will do more than just control traffic
The use of robotics holds economic promise for Africa. The use of robots to attend to emergencies such as epidemics where it’s dangerous for humans to be in contact with one another, robotics can help to screen for radiation or for infectious disease. The Africa Robotics Network is currently looking into how to spread the use of robotics beyond humanitarian use into the production of robots. With this in play, there will be more research into robotics for healthcare and search and rescue functions.
Governments will get more involved in the ICT sector
There will be a growing pressure on African governments to make good use of ICT plans and infrastructure. Countries such as Ethiopia, Nigeria, Uganda and Ghana are already feeling the pressure.
One way is through the adoption of ICTs in education, as has been seen in South Africa, Botswana and Kenya, where content is disseminated to learners through connected devices.
Africa's tech potential is largely untapped, and it needs direction in order to accomplish its full potential. This will need government involvement, more focused policies, venture capital and an environment that supports growth. I look forward to the "Rise of Afrika".