Too many times, when we speak about the future of Afrika or the future of technology in Afrika, we do so with an air of ignorant homogeneity. We speak of Afrika like we speak of one country, and in so doing we sometimes forget that there are 54 countries on the continent and that each of them is growing at its own pace.
We forget that each country operates by its own policies and that these policies affect its rate of growth. We forget that each country has its own cultural practices and a political history that affects the way the citizens conduct business.
"We speak of Afrika like we speak of one country, and in so doing we sometimes forget that there are 54 countries on the continent."
Afrikan countries couldn't be more different in their preparations for the future. While some are progressive in the sense that they study and embrace technology knowing it will impact every industrial sector and they change, improve, distort the current standard of living of their citizens; others are either moribund or regressive. If they are even remotely bothered about the future, it is not obvious from their policies and actions. Two prominent examples of this: Rwanda and Nigeria.
Why these two?
Both countries are definitely on then you talk about "Afrika Rising" in terms of technology, startups, investment, and innovations. Both have a history of ethnic civil war and genocide.
While Rwanda has progressed since the 1994 Rwandan genocide, Nigeria’s growth has been stuttering, slowed down by corruption, lack of vision and wicked problems as Victor Asemota puts it.
Under President Paul Kagame, Rwanda has seen tremendous growth. The country has introduced policies that actively encourage economic development and the ease of doing business.
"Rwanda embraces technology like few other countries in Africa do."
In 2017, Rwanda surged 15 places to number 41 in the World Bank's Doing Business Report. It is now ranked the second best country to do business in Afrika after Mauritius.
Rwanda’s growth has been fueled by how it has embraced technology. This growth was sparked by specific policies that make it easier for startups and SMEs to operate. The country upgraded its systems to make available the Building Permitting Management Information System. This BPMIS cut down the time and cost of obtaining building permits by at least 10 percent. It has also improved its tax payment system and improved its ability to protect minority investors by 16,6%.
Nigeria, on the other hand, has not lived up to its potential. It is a country still very dependent on oil as its primary revenue source. So much so that a crash in the global oil price in 2015 sent the country into its worst economic recession in 25 years, erasing 55% of its oil revenues.
Despite Nigeria's population of 180-200 million people, which is predominantly young; Nigeria, as a country, has made very little technological advancement. I have expressed my opinion before about the dangers of letting young people grow in such an unsupportive business environment.
Government short-sightedness and the inability to prioritize correctly, power supply deficit (addressed in-depth by Edmund Olotu), expensive electricity bills, bad roads, security issues, real estate deficit and poor education systems are just some of the problems plaguing Nigeria and holding back city-level technological advances.
Technological advancement in Nigeria is significantly driven by the innovativeness of private organisations, hardly ever in partnership with the government. The country has a vibrant startup scene, especially in Lagos. Being the first stop during Mark Zuckerberg’s 2016 Afrika visit validated this. Zuckerberg had meetings with Nigeria's Federal Government and also attended the Aso Villa Demo Day, but little progress has been made on that initiative since then. The Demo Day has never been organized again and has now become a controversial subject, tainted by allegations of mismanagement.
Looking into the future
While governments are greatly responsible for the direction of their countries, private corporations also play a vital role. One way they do is by adopting new technologies to improve their business processes and create more jobs for the youthful population.
When new technology is adopted by big businesses, it could soon be fragmented and democratized to the point where small businesses have access to it too – this has happened with telecommunications, the Internet, FinTech services, digital marketing, etc.
It is only logical to conclude that while some Afrikan countries will continue to leapfrog and run with technology; for various reasons, many others will continue to regress. So, when we speak of Afrika and the future, we must do so with care and specificity, lest we ignore the many complexities that surround the continent, and the countries within it.
Rwandan President Paul Kagame (left) and Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari attend the 2016 African Union Peace and Security Council.
This article was edited for publishing on iAfrikan.com. It was originally published on Kelechi Udoagwu's website.