The Next Big Thing: Afrotech – Kenya Dig It?

Africa Tech Boom

Lately, I’ve been brushing up on my Swahili and French skills, both of which are non-existent. Why? Because in a few years, I plan to relocate to an African country like Kenya, Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Ghana, or South Africa. Okay, I confess. Not so much Nigeria or Ghana. But why those particular countries? Because it allows me to sneak in the acronym KINGS, which investors were using a few years ago to describe a boom that was happening in parts of Africa. As with any nascent period of explosive growth potential, there are definitely naysayers, like ForeignPolicy.com, who as recently as the end of last year proclaimed Africa’s Boom Is Over. They focus on Africa’s reliance on exporting raw commodities and failure to industrialize, and paint a gloomy picture. But they’re also dismissive of the importance of mobile tech and the entrepreneurial spirit of Africa’s youth.

M-Pesa

Want to shop in Nairobi? You’ll probably want to have M-Pesa (Image: GrowthInEastAfrica)

All of which isn’t surprising; there are a lot of know-it-all old geezers whose entire livelihood is built upon either keeping African countries unstable, investing in that instability, or writing about it. But disruption is not based on the experience and knowledge of old people, and their thinking. Remember when Time/Warner stopped doubting the internet boom and sunk their hopes into the AOL acquisition? The key word there being “sunk” of course. Or remember when aging record industry execs retooled to embrace digital media? Of course not. Apple had to show them the way, by creating a whole new retail environment that strangely was centered around a mobile phone.

Matatu

This is a fairly typical Matatu. See some seriously pimped Matatus here.

Well, that’s the kind of disruption you can expect to see occurring in Africa; in fact, it’s been happening for over a decade. First, Kenya’s lack of hard-wire telecom infrastructure drove the evolution of mobile service that’s probably better than what we have in the U.S., then, the need for mobile financial micro-transactions fueled the birth and explosive growth of Safaricom’s M-Pesa. And last year, MIT, the University of Nairobi, and private sector partners collaborated on Digital Matatus, a sophisticated app that links Nairobi’s ad-hoc mini-bus system with Google Maps.

Yes We Kenya

Obama GES

President Obama at GES 2015

As we said, there are still plenty of folks living in horseville, like The Economist, who says it’s going to be more a marathon than a sprint, but those who are actually keeping their eyes open and looking at reality are noting that African startups are in fact defying the global tech slowdown. And Obama’s visit to the Global Entrepreneurship Summit in Nairobi last summer – with a hundred US business people and government figures in tow – was reported with headlines like Obama In Kenya For Global Entrepreneurship Summit 2015: African Youth Start Businesses Amid Severe Unemployment .

The Future of Africa is African

We’ll share part two on this topic soon. For now, get even deeper insight from this self-consciously titled TechCrunch piece by Clinton Mutambo, who describes himself as “an Afro Optimist driven by a passion to make a difference, both on the continent and globally” and “part of Africa’s cheetah generation”. He points out that “The future of Africa is African”

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