[ View the story "Sub-Saharan Africa's Emerging Tech Giants" on Storify] Sub-Saharan Africa's Emerging Tech Giants
Storified by The Stream · Tue, Mar 20 2012 13:25:16
Several countries in sub-Saharan Africa are emerging as regional techleaders including Kenya, South Africa and Ghana. Terms such as Silicon Savannah have been used to describe hubs of innovators who are making waves in the tech industry.
Industry analysts attribute sub-Saharan Africa's tech revolution to the growth of mobile technology, cheaper barriers to entry and growing entrepreneurial activity. Less than 10 percent of sub-Saharan Africa has Internet access however sub-Saharan African countries are amongst the world's largest mobile phone consumers with mobile penetration
ranging from 30% to 100% from country to country. The infographic below features a wide range of mobile and internet statistics across sub-Saharan Africa.
USAID developped the following infographic which highlights the benefits of mobile technology as well as several predictions, including that by 2016, there will be one billion phones in Africa. Full infographic can be seen
The impact of sub-Saharan Africa's burgeoning tech industry on development seems promising by some. In the video below, Herman Kojo Chinery-Hesse, a Ghanaianentrepreneur dubbed “The Bill Gates of Africa”, rejects the aid model for development, arguing that trade andinnovation have set successful precedents while aid has not. Chinery-Hesse runs one of the most well-known software houses in WestAfrica, SOFTtribe Limited.
Herman Chinery-Hesse on the Aid Modelpovertycure
Two major areas of technology innovation are micro-payments and mobile banking. Not everyone has
access to a credit card, a bankaccount or an e-currency solution, but nearly 8 in 10 people in sub-Saharan Africa own a mobilephone. Mobile banking services like Wizzit in South Africa, pictured below, allow clients to make payments by SMS.
M-PESA, a Kenyan mobile money transfer service, is increasingly popular with only 4 million Kenyans with bank accounts but 10 million M-PESA . The short film below highlights how mobile money is impacting banking practices in Kenya.
M-PESA Mobile MoneyCGAP
Various mobile technologies like mPedigree are also innovating the medicalfield. Developped by Bright Simons from Ghana, mPedigree is a mobile app which allows you to check the authenticity of drugs. The video below provides a brief demonstration of how the app functions.
Arthur Zang, a Cameroonian engineer, designed the Cardiopad, the first fully touch screen medical tablet that allows medical examinations like electrocardiograms to be performed remotely.
CarDioPad First Live démo: First African MEDICAL TABLET PCembedkoder
Ghanaian entrepreneur and executive chairman of Alltel in Ghana, Kofi Kludgeson, recently unveiled the KPad, an Android based tablet device in the aims of distributing the tablet to one percent of Ghana’s population in the next three years. DRC company VMK Tech also released a Congolese-designed Android tablet and plans to expand into the West African market. The video below, in French, features VMK Tech's tablet.
La Way-C, la première tablette africainenzwamba
South Africa-based Motribe allows any user to create their own mobile social community, attracting over 500,000 users.
Technology is facilitating citizen reporting and serving as an accountability tool of good governance. Ushahidi, an online crowdsourcing platform, was initially created to map the 2008 post-election violence in Kenya. The video below explains the origins and purpose of the Ushahidi platform.
What is the Ushahidi Platform?Ushahidi
Ushahidi has evolved and been adapted to various projects such as the BongoHive initiative which produced the first ever on-line
of Africa’s "technology hubs, business incubators, hackerspaces and university technology hubs." The initiative revealed that the initial number of tech hubs was very underestimated and showed that there are three times as many technology entrepreneurship hubs in Africa.
Hubs in AfricaAJstream
There are many initiatives promoting app development including Apps for Africa who organises development-themed challenges for app developpers like its 2010 Civic Challenge and 2011 Climate Challenge, seen below. Other initiative is m:lab in Kenya which opened in collaboration with Nairobi University as an incubator for talented mobile application developers.
With founders hailing from Senegal, Mali and Ghana, organisations like Coders 4 Africa aim to introduce DevHubs across the continent and provide developers and content-creators with an open space to create solutions in sectors like agriculture and education.
The brewing tech revolution is not without its challenges. Beyond financial resources, an IT skills gap exists and the alternative, importing necessary skills, is costly. The graph below provides a regional comparison of the World Bank's
Knowledge Economy Indicator.
To counter strict curricula that may not keep up with tech industry trends, learning hubs are emerging which allow students, investors and industry professionals to interface and promote innovative enterprise. Organisations like Seven Seas Technologies, which has offices in Uganda, Rwanda and Ethiopia, provide training for graduates. Its logic wheel of services can be seen below.
Another challenge is the lack of consistent industry standards. In order to streamline standards for software design and documentation, countries like Kenya have responded with certification & standardization programs.
Learning hubs are playing an instrumental role in promoting national, intra- and inter-regional collaboration on tech solutions. For instance, Nigeria has opened up its first workspace, Co creation Hub while South Africa has a more established tech community, often referred to as 'Silicon Cape.' Conferences like Tech 4 Africa's annual meeting convene leading professionals from budding and established 'Silicon' communities across the continent.
Governments, local banks and international companies like Google, Facebook, Nokia and Blackberry are lending technical support and funding to IT infrastructure projects. Below is a flash mob video of Google Trader's launch in Ghana.
Google Trader Flash Mobs, Ghanagoogle
Despite the support lended by international tech companies, the evolution of market competition between local startups and tech giants remains uncertain. For instance, Mocality, Kenya’s largest business directory, provides businesses with their first online presence which stirred some controversy in January when Google contractors attempted to
steer Mocality clientele to Google's Getting Kenyan Businesses Online initiative.