From the Editor-at-Large
Ngithemba ukuthi ningene kahle kunyaka omusha Afrika!
2016 was a pretty big year for tech in Afrika, and we covered a lot of the goings on on the continent- the ups and downs, openings and closings, starts and ends. We had a look back at some of our biggest stories as read by you, as well as our writers' picks. As we start the new year, there are a number of things we are looking forward to.
First of all, 2017 will see elections in a number of countries. Tech powerhouses Kenya and Rwanda will have elections in August, and we are keen to see how tech will be applied in those polls, especially given developments elsewhere on the continent in the past year.
We are also likely to see the growing adoption of the blockchain, as the technology gets increasingly divorced from bitcoin and finds applications in smart contracts, digital identity management and distributed cloud storage.
2017 will also likely see the growing adoption of drones and other means to overcome the continent's logistical challenges, the continued emergence of African fintech startups,
We're also going to have the Annual African Roundup later in January, where we look back at the year that was, and chart our way forward into the future of tech on the continent.
What do you think the (near) future holds for African tech? What are you looking forward to? What would you like to see more of in 2017? Talk to us at [email protected]
Ten Things We're Looking Forward To In 2017
Here's a brief list of the things we are looking forward to in 2017:
Our Annual Tech Round-Up
Yup. What better way to start things off than by looking back at how far we've come over the past year? We will be having the iAfrikan Annual Roundup on January 26 at Metta's flagship new space in Nairobi. On the agenda is a series of panel discussions covering topics such as tech education, journalism, policy and governance, and startups.
Bitcoin and Blockchain
With bitcoin closing 2016 at US$1000, the cryptocurrency has found adopters in the midst of cash crises in India and Venezuela. Blockchain, which is the ledger system that powers bitcoin, shows promise, especially for smart contracts and record-keeping. We are likely to see innovative uses of these technologies in the coming year. South Africa's Reserve Bank shared a smart contract on the Ethereum blockchain, and Senegal launched a bitcoin-based digital currency, and we are likely to see similar moves in 2017 as the technology becomes more mainstream.
One of the biggest challenges in getting things safely and quickly from one point to another on the continent is the lack of supporting infrastructure - transport links in the form of roads and railways. In 2016, we saw the application of drones and other unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to deliver medical supplies and other small packages in Rwanda and Madagascar, and the establishment of a humanitarian air corridor dedicated to drones in Malawi.
We are likely to see further trials with this technology in 2017, accompanied by increased investment in supporting infrastructure as one way of overcoming these challenges.
There will be a number of polls in the coming year, among them Angola's legislative election, Kenya's general election and Rwanda's presidential election, all in August. The past year saw election-related internet shutdowns in Uganda and The Gambia, and already there has been much discussion over plans to introduce a manual backup for the technology that will be used to run Kenya's poll.
Ghana's 2016 general election was significant because it saw the successful use of technology to transmit results. The Electoral Commission even developed an app for this, making the results instantly available as soon as they were published.
The coming year is likely to see a repeat of these paradoxes - the blocking of internet access, and the use of technology to transmit results after polls are done.
The African financial technology space saw much promise in 2016, with a number of high-profile fundraising rounds by startups such as Paystack and BitPesa. Going into 2017, we are likely to see more funding going into the sector, as investors put money into startups fixing up the payments ecosystem.
Governance and Technology
As e-government initiatives take hold in Africa, an increasing number of essential services are being delivered online. We're keeping an eye on these, and the difference they are making in our everyday lives. One place where they can make a difference is in easing the interaction between citizens and their governments, making it easier to access services such as registration of businesses, acquiring essential documents, and keeping the authorities accountable.
A report published in 2016 stated that the number of tech hubs in Africa had doubled, and we asked if this was really the case. There have been a number of closures as some hubs found it hard to keep up with the 'everything is free' model, and the lack of proper growth models has brought this statistic into question.
Going forward, we are seeing spaces like Nairobi's iHub adopt a more commercial approach in order to stay open and provide a much-needed service to the tech ecosystem. 2017 will likely see more spaces adopt this commercial approach, as funding patterns change and startups have to work harder to earn their keep.
One of our biggest stories last year was about a breach in a bank's security that exposed customer data. As more and more of our information finds its way online, we are seeing instances of data loss and other similar breaches. It is clear that we need to take information security much more seriously in 2017.
More Africans are using mobile phones now than ever before, and innovators are finding new and innovative ways to use the technology, from virtual post office boxes in Kenya to hyperlocal weather forecasts for farmers in West Africa and more. 2017 will likely see more innovations along this line, with the technology expected to further change how we consume news, information and entertainment content.
Mobile tech continues to make an impact on the lives of Africans everywhere, and 2017 will likely see the trend continue.
On a panel discussion at the Kenya round of the Seedstars World startup competition, I hosted a panel discussion on the future of African startups. One of the talking points was where startups could most likely thrive, and the main areas where this could happen are in agriculture, energy, technology and logistics, where significant gaps exist that tech could potentially solve.
Going forward, a number of startups are trying to solve these problems, which we have featured at some length. As we meet and talk to these startups, one thing is clear, despite the challenges that keep getting in their way, they are determined to solve some of the continent's most pervasive problems, be it a need for creativity and innovation, collaborative brilliance, or opportunities to showcase their work.
We're looking forward to finding and talking about more innovations and startups in 2017.