Spotlight on Silicon Savannah
It’s an oft-cited aphorism that innovation is driven by adversity. It should come as no surprise, then, that tech hubs are springing up across East Africa to help solve the problems facing thousands of people every day. While Africa is often overlooked by investors, it has experienced the fastest growth in smartphone adoption over the last ten years.
It has become common, lazy practice to generalise when you’re talking about a continent spanning 55 countries, but the important thing here is that people are having a conversation about Africa’s burgeoning tech sector in the first place. “We think that there will be tremendous growth in the technology ecosystem overall across Africa,” Intel Capital’s managing director Marcin Hejka told CNBC earlier this year. “Africa will produce multi-billion companies in the next ten years, and I am very confident in the growth of the continent.”
Thanks to a number of disruptive ventures in Kenya, Nairobi has been dubbed “Silicon Savannah”. Whether it’s the microfinance and money management app M-Pesa or the agricultural pricing tool MFarm, the focus of Africa’s growing mobile app ecosystem is making immediate, viable improvements to peoples’ health and livelihoods.
“Still in their infancy, Africa’s technology start-ups matter for the continent because they have the potential to help solve problems in basic services such as education and health,” writes Helen Nyambura-Mwaura at Reuters, citing Ghanaian social enterprise m-Pedigree, which helps users verify whether the medicine they’re buying is genuine or not.
Italian advisory firm U-Start sees the potential of Africa’s growing tech industry, and intends to direct up to 15% of its $5.2BN AUM into this new space over the next couple of years. “We are convinced that there are great business ideas that have the chance to become global players, not just local ones,” says CEO Stefano Guidotti.
While the software scene in Kenya is taking off, hardware is another matter. One device which may change that is the BRCK, a portable Internet router which can be charged using solar energy, mains power, or even car batteries, and may prove crucial in helping more than the current one in five Africans get regular internet access. “Can we truly add that silicon name into Silicon Savannah?” Asks BRCK creator Juliana Rotich. “We don’t have hi-tech manufacturing here yet… But we are starting to.”