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Hey Africa’s tech scene, I am sick of your whining: an open letter


Dear Africa’s tech scene (ATS),

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Shut the frack up. I am starting to get bored with your whining. Don’t get me wrong, you are doing some pretty great things but enough with the moaning. It’s time we had it out. Africa’s tech scene is upset when it is criticised, upset when it is praised, and especially upset when Kenya or Nigeria are mentioned more than other countries. In effect, there is just no pleasing you.

Perhaps an explanation is needed.

Writing about Africa’s tech scene can be a lonely job sometimes. Sure there are many people writing about it, we wax lyrical about a continent we love, an industry that has stolen our hearts, and a time we are proud to see things happen. It’s great but…

You hear a lot of talk about Africa’s tech startup scene, things are apparently happening. But when you travel across the continent you hear all about it and you see it, but a lot of the time you can’t. It’s a mystery wrapped within an enigma seasoned with a side of misdirection. This is what makes writing about you a lonely gig.

Africa’s tech scene feels that it isn’t getting the attention it ought to. There is desperation to prove that it is doable here. People are building amazing products that will change lives and redefine destinies. But it seems the biggest problem is that TechCrunch doesn’t write enough about it, because that is the sum of a successful tech ecosystem — running commentary from TechCrunch or whatever other tech media you care about.

Every day I get gingered up to talk about this tech scene that I am passionate about, and every now and again I wonder how it can get better. But it feels that all the tech scene is thinking is: “Why won’t they [international press] take us seriously?”

When WordPress founder Matt Mullenweg visited South Africa a few months ago, he confessed that though he loved Africa, Africa’s tech scene isn’t really something people in Silicon Valley obsess about. That’s interesting considering how much energy Africa’s tech scene spends obsessing about Silicon Valley.

The way I figure, ATS, you’re so desperate to get noticed that all the wrong things are coming to the fore. It’s becoming more about building something in the hopes to get published on TechCrunch rather than a case of “this is really cool, we could actually change things so let’s build it”.

Africans are always ready with criticism about Africa when an international ear is listening, an interesting thing I have noticed. I think criticism is good, when it is constructive and solutions are offered, but people bad-mouthing the continent to other people? How do you expect international investors to invest? How do we expect the world to take us seriously?

Have you ever met an American that dissed his/her country to foreign media? Think about that.

There are some really great things happening here, and we the African tech journalists want to write about it. It would be a crying shame if it all gets missed because you are too busy gussying up for international recognition that you forget to smile for the local cameras.

Sure it’s a rising tech scene, but there are major issues that require fixing, and conversations that need to be had.

So let’s discuss some interesting points about your traits and see where we are at:

First: we as the media don’t take that much offence when you seem happier to be written about on an international tech site than on a local one. Forgive us for dedicating every waking hour to writing about you. It’s not like we send out countless tweets asking you for your news, and to tell us what interesting products you’ve launched, and receive only two replies. No we don’t take that stuff personally at all, because we can write about China. China doesn’t mind sending its news our way.

It’s not as if when you put up your media props that even though 10 different publications in Africa have written about you, only one is mentioned among a slue of international ones. No we don’t let things like that get in the way of our hard-hitting journalism about ATS.

We like writing about Africa’s tech scene because we are passionate about it. Its great to see people like Teddy Ruge return to Uganda to build a thriving tech ecosystem, or watch Nigerian expats return to build what is being touted as Africa’s Netflix. It’s fantastic to see mobile gaming thrive on the continent, and seeing people find solutions to Africa’s connectivity problems. These are great things, and they all make writing about ATS so much fun.

But guys, why is it that we are constantly writing about your successes as individual case studies? Where is the big collaboration that this continent’s tech scene so desperately needs? Where are the African innovators thinking about a cross-continental solution for a continent wide problem?

So ATS, do you think you could quit the moaning for a moment and find a way to take all that individual greatness and make it a group thing? Maybe it’s time we turned this Africa is not a country thing on its head and think like a country and build great things?

Also, it would be great if you stopped making our lives a living hell, and made it a tad easier to talk about the amazing things you are doing. We know you would prefer those big American tech sites to talk about how awesome you are so you can get accepted into the Silicon Valley fraternity, but here is the thing: we are building a tech fraternity here too.

African tech journalists

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