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Africa’s tech innovators: ‘We have become an internet-consuming culture’

Approminence Technology Africa’s tech innovators: ‘We have become an internet-consuming culture’
Africa’s tech innovators: ‘We have become an internet-consuming culture’


Africa’s tech innovators: ‘We have become an internet-consuming culture’

Posted By John Allen

As part of the Guardians series on technology in Africa, we gratify 10 leaders of the continents digital transformation

Africas digital transformation would be nothing without the tens of thousands of people who have invested, and continue to invest, energy into propelling it forward.

They are the leading lights driving altered in infrastructure, mobile connectivity, online activism, e-commerce and financial services. Some are opening up digital cultural spaces or working to bring in investment for tech startups.

As part of the Guardian focus on technology in Africa weve listed 10 individuals whove been pioneers in the transformation from Tanzania to Tunisia, with the three of sub-Saharan Africas big tech hitters South Africa, Nigeria and Kenya particularly well represented.

And in a bid to look forward we asked each of the 10 innovators to predict the next developed as Africas digital transformation and to each nominate an emerging talent to watch.

Jason Njoku, Nigeria: Weve got everything to play for, but it wont be easy

Photograph: Jason Njoku

The British-Nigerian entrepreneur founded iROKOtv which hosts the widest online catalogue of Nollywood content in the world. Nicknamed the Netflix of Africa, iROKOtv is one of the continents biggest internet TV providers and has raised over $35 m in international investment.

He says

Africas digital transformation is ahead of us. By my calculations, we havent even really started, were still building, was currently scaling.

Everything is to play for the majority of Africas potential digital population arent properly online yet, but its not going to be an easy ride. We need homegrown investors to get behind the tech sector and understand the opportunities that are under our noses.

He nominates

Fikayo Ogundipe, co-founder of ToLet.com.ng which has completely reshaped Nigerias property market, starting with Lagos. Buying, selling and renting homes in the city isnt for the faint-hearted but Fikayo and his team have painstakingly researched the market, pouring their findings into a website to help consumers navigate the process. But Fikayo is not building the Foxtons of Nigeria, hes constructing a Nigerian company for Nigerians, that tackles the problems encountered by Nigerians in the Nigerian property market.

Lina Ben Mhenni, Tunisia: Digital action must be combined with real world action

Photograph: Lina Mhenni

Author of the blog A Tunisian Girl, Lina Ben Mhenni rose to prominence during the Tunisian revolution in 2011, as she documented the Tunisian mutiny and violence at the hands of the security forces.

Mhenni was one of the few Tunisian cyber activists who blogged under her real name while President Zine Ben Ali was still in office. Her blog was turned into a volume and she was later a favourite for the Nobel peace award.

She says

After Ben Ali fled Tunisia, people all around the world focused on the duties of the internet in his departure.

Some “was talkin about a” a Facebook or internet revolution. But this ignored the sacrifices of the ones who took to the streets and demonstrated, often against live fire.

No one can deny the importance of the internet and social networks when a regime imposes a media blackout, they can be used to both inform and mobilise people. But some have overestimated its role. Action in the digital world must be accompanied by actions in the real world.

She nominates

Rahma Sghaier a young leader who is using ICT to bring change to Tunisia, Rahma blogs on the YaLa platform, commenting on politics and advocating for international peace.

Her main mission is to support young Tunisians to write, create photo essays and videos and explore their talents. She also promotes citizen journalism through blogging and vlogging and wants to train young girl in how to induce videos.

Ory Okolloh, Kenya: Weve reached the important stage of African-led technology thats not over-hyped

Photograph: Ory Okolloh

Ory Okolloh is an activist, lawyer, blogger and technology commentator. She helped to create Ushahidi( add connect ), and mapping platform that crowd-sourced incidents of violence after Kenyas disputed 2007 election. The site had now been been used to map crisis everywhere from Haiti to Gaza.

Okolloh was previously Googles policy manager for Africa and now works with the Omidyar Network. In 2014 she was featured in Time magazines top 100 list of the worlds more influential people.

She says

Whats next? To borrow a phrase from founders of mobile money providers Paystack we must do the difficult things differently. We are ripening from the appear how amazing Africans can code to a stage of solid African-built-and-led technology: companies tackling real problems or without much hype. This is an important stage because its how we get to a sustainable digital Africa.

She nominates

Billikiss Adebiyi-Abiola, co-founder of recycling company Wecyclers. Why? Ive long spoken against the tendency to espouse tech as a solution to the myriad of problems facing Africa as an aim in itself, rather than a means to an end.

Bilikiss turns this on its head. At the heart of her work is solving a problem that previously seemed intractable: creating livelihoods and leveraging technology to improve how we live in our cities. Shes also a fantastic entrepreneur.

* Okolloh is commenting in a personal capability

Nii Quaynor, Ghana: The internet improved developing by making communication more efficient

Photograph: Nii Quaynor

The computer scientist and engineer is a innovator of internet further expansion on the continent. He was the first African to be elected to the board of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers( ICANN ), the global non-profit body that coordinates databases across the internet and is often referred to as the parent of the internet in Africa.

He says

The internet has already improved developing by making communication more efficient in Africa, but the next steps are to look at how we improve digital currency transactions like Bitcoin. Citizens currently rely on companies to act as the go-between when transferring money, but when they are able to transfer money directly between peers then growth is likely to be further improved.

He nominates

Ashifi Gogo, the CEO and founder of Sproxil, a company that uses mobile phones to opposed counterfeiting in developing country markets. The product lets consumers to check if their products are genuine with a free text message.

Gogo came up with the idea after witnessing how damaging counterfeit medications were for developing countries. Now, clients can check their pills in one simple step. The technology is also being used verify other products from vehicles to electrical goods.

Mbwana Alliy, Tanzania: Drones are the next big thing for Africa

Photograph: Mbwana Alliy

Mbwana Alliy is the founder and managing partner of Savannah Fund for tech startups in Africa, specialising in $25,000 – $500,000 seed investments. As of this year, Alliy has invested in 22 companies across six African countries Kenya, Uganda, South Africa, Zimbabwe Nigeria and Ghana and hhas generated over 200 full-time jobs and raised more than $20 m.

He says

Drones are the next big thing and the possibilities run style beyond delivery. Drones can help farmers understand their land better, they can help with mapping, with construction and mining, even market research.

They are becoming available to the masses with prices starting as low as $300. Drones may well bring the most exciting potential to marry the real and vast physical challenges facing Africa with the digital revolution.

He nominates

South African telecommunications entrepreneur Alan Knott-Craig for all the work that he is doing to improve internet access through mobiles and public wifi.

Anyone who is spreading affordable internet access not under a corporate umbrella deserves a lot of respect. Without air, you cant inhale and without dependable and affordable internet, were doomed in Africa tech.

Jepchumba, South Africa and Kenya: Our digital transformation will be seen through the content we create

Photograph: Barry Christianson

A digital artist and founder of the African Digital Art project, that provides an online space to display the work of African artists utilizing technology in the performance of their duties, and a space for digital artists to connect. She recently received a Creative Disturbance Fellowship, and has been listed by Forbes as one of the 20 Youngest Power Women in Africa.

She says

With the explosion of mobile and access to new and faster devices, we have become an internet-consuming culture, hungry for digital content created in Africa.

The next frontier will be the exploration of our stories and collective culture: tales that will help us explore political instability, immigration, security, racism, religion and spiritualism. Our digital transformation will be seen through the content we create.

She nominates

Tegan Bristow, a Johannesburg-based interactive media arts and lecturer at the Digital Arts Division of the Wits School of the Arts. A behind-the-scenes champion of African culture and technology. She was also involved in Africas first digital invention festival, Fakugesi, in South Africa. A true innovator in the development of digital art.

Opeyemi Awoyemi, Ayodeji Adewunmi and Olalekan Olude, Nigeria: Well watch transformations to our lives in ways we cannot yet expect

Photograph: Jobberman

The idea for Jobberman, sub-Saharan Africas largest tasks site was conceived in the student dorm room of its cofounders, Opeyemi Awoyemi, Ayodeji Adewunmi and Olalekan Olude, in 2009. Seven years on and the site is now used by over 45,000 companies and is estimated at millions of dollars.

They say

Africa will see transformations that touch the fundamental aspects of our lives in ways we cannot yet expect, or have not yet experienced, all made possible by the ubiquitous presence of the mobile phone on a continent with limited infrastructure.

They nominate

Solar electricity provider Txtlight, which wants to bringing light to the 90 million Nigerians who currently live off grid. They provide home solar panel linked to indoor storage units and the Lumos service that offer a pay-as-you-go option, letting people buy electricity by text message.

Hilda Moraa, Kenya: Financial technology is set to grow and grow

Photograph: Hilda Moraa

Hilda Moraa is known for her work as the founder and CEO of Weza Tele Ltd. A Kenyan startup that offers furnish chain, payroll and distribution solutions for businesses and a company that sold for over$ 1m in 2015. Moraa has since become a director at PesaZetu, a mobile lending marketplace.

She says

The financial technology space is set to grow and grow. Nearly 80% of adults in Africa do not have access to formal or semi-formal banking services the majority of the continent is still unbanked. The failing of three Kenyan banks in the past year has made mobile fund most attractive as the Uber consequence forces-out the banks that remain to think about how their services work online.

She nominates

Wangechi Mwangi, CEO of Valuraha a company that is trying to foster a new generation of African investors. The company, which Mwangi founded as a student in Nairobi, runs investment clubs in schools where students learn about personal finance and practise investing in a virtual trading platform, a platform lately opened up to the public via a low-cost subscription. Last year she won the Global Social Impact Award at the Global Student Entrepreneur Awards.

Mteto Nyati, South Africa: Entertainment-on-the-go is gaining traction

Photograph: Mteto Nyati

Mteto Nyati has been CEO of MTN South Africa, the countrys second largest telecommunications provider, since July 2015. He previously worked at MTN South Africas parent MTN Group, and at Microsoft and IBM.

He says

Africa has already demonstrated leadership in innovation in the mobile ecosystem. We have assured a surge in e-commerce and we expect this momentum to continue as affordable sub- $50 smartphones are introduced to the market. Entertainment-on-the-go is also gaining traction and clients now demand TV viewing that is not dictated by broadcasters, but by their viewing requirements.

He nominates

Founded in Cape Town in 2013, Hepstar are trying to transform the insurance market by making policies more freely available online. It assists its partners, including airlines and online travel agencies, to maximise revenue from the sales of insurance providing plug-and-play options for websites to help customers sign up quickly and efficiently. Its an industry worth billions.

Funke Opeke , Nigeria: Submarine cables and spacecrafts connect us, but mobile networks are congested

Photograph: Funke Opeke

Funke Opeke is the CEO of MainOne, which was responsible for bringing broadband connectivity to Nigeria, and other west African countries, via a 7,000 km undersea fibre optic cable from Portugal. The company now provides wholesale internet capability to eight countries across the region.

She says

Submarine cables and satellites mean that Africa has more than adequate connectivity. Mobile penetration is high, 60%, of and more than 50% of those users have access to the internet. However the quality of the service is poor limited infrastructure on the ground have contributed to congested mobile networks.

For digital services to become permeating citizens require affordable access to the internet and business need to provide continent-specific services that address low incomes and limitations on infrastructure.

She nominates

Iyinoluwa Aboyeji, co-founder of Andela, a global talent website that develops developers and connects them with employers. The company recruits the brightest on the continent and helps them grow into the next generation of global technology leaders. Over the past two years, the company has trained over 200 tech talents.

Read more: www.theguardian.com

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