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My favorite thing about Africa right now is how everyone is gingered up about amazing things that are happening in the tech scene. It’s not just about the innovations or the fact that the continent has more than 45 tech hubs, it’s the culture that is emerging. We are building a real tech-obsessed community here and that is great.
Uganda’s Hive Colab is gaining respectable traction and Teddy Ruge is determined to grow the country’s tech scene. All around, Africa hubs and incubators are popping up to help foster a renewed interest in tech and entrepreneurship. Expats are returning to the continent to see how they can help and ecosystems are searching for their next mavericks.
Africans are building something special and in ways the world has never imagined.
South Africa is searching for in-country mavericks
I read an article a few weeks ago on TechCentral where Duncan McLeod said that “South Africa needs to develop a culture of risk taking and entrepreneurialism if we’re to produce more Mark Shuttleworths and Elon Musks”.
The piece cites the amazing work and maverick-esque nature of Shuttleworth and Musk, entrepreneurs born in South Africa but who have long since left the country to make more of their billions in the western world. McLeod argues that more of these mavericks need to rise and that as a country, South Africa just isn’t producing enough.
He is right, but I wonder: if our mavericks gain success and decide to leave and pursue more of that success in foreign lands, does it not stand to reason that we create mavericks and then ship them off to the west? Shuttleworth is indeed still active in the country but it is not his home anymore. He invests in South Africa, and has his charity there, but he lives in Europe. Musk though South African and claimed by South Africans, doesn’t own his South Africanness all that much. I am uncertain if he actually has anything to do with tech in the country. These are great role models for African entrepreneurs to look up to, but emulating their very move may be problematic for the continent.
McLeod’s argument boils down to the risk that is the very essence of the entrepreneurial spirit.
“Fostering a risk-taking culture in South Africa will not be easy. At the most fundamental level, the school education system — especially the shocking state of maths and science education — needs surgery,” he says.
South Africa needs risk-taking mavericks and the school system needs to help foster that. Preferably these mavericks shouldn’t flee the country at the first chance.
Nigerians heading back to build empires
Jason Njoku is probably Nigeria’s most celebrated techpreneur, the founder of the wildly popular iROKO TV which is outed as Africa’s Netflix, is really playing the maverick card out well. Unlike Shuttleworth and Musk, Njoku left the west to go back to Nigeria and build his tech empire.
According to Njoku, he founded his company because there were tons of Africans, Nigerians in particular, in the diaspora who craved content from home. So he found a way to give it to them and managed to raise some reasonable cash from New York-based VC Tiger Global. Njoku has made some serious change and has been written about and hailed by the likes of Forbes and CNN. He’s building like a maverick, with a music division, and a forthcoming gaming arm, in his company.
What does a successful Nigerian internet maverick do? Invest one million dollars into the tech ecosystem. Now that is cool, and something successful African entrepreneurs need to do more. There are some doing it, but they are few and far between.
This is something that former Mxit boss Alan Knott-Craig Jnr thinks is one of the major issues with South Africa’s tech ecosystem. “The main problem [with the ecosystem] is a lack of people who have made lots of money in tech in South Africa,” he says. “This is the sort that is at the core of the Silicon Valley investor scene.”
As great as Njoku’s efforts are, he is one man in Nigeria’s insanely fiery tech ecosystem. Where are the rest of the successful techpreneurs?
Kenya is about to change the game
Kenya is changing the game because it can. Meet the BRCK, possibly one of the single most significant innovations to come out of East Africa this year. Developed by open source company Ushahidi, BRCK is touted as the “easiest, most reliable way to connect to the internet, anywhere in the world, even when you don’t have electricity.”
According to Erik Hersman, one of the founders of Ushahidi, BRCK was born out necessity (like most innovation in Africa) and he argues that it is a product that can be scaled around the world.
“At Ushahidi we’ve always used simple technology to create tools and platforms that work for us in Africa, and which is also useful globally,” says Hersman. “This holds true for the BRCK too. We’re redesigning technology that’s been around for years, but making it work for our needs in Kenya.”
Thinking globally: mobile gaming becoming a thing in Ghana
When I first heard of Leti Games, Michael Szymanski, the Director of Business Development for the Meltwater Entrepreneurial School of Technology (MEST), was talking about how they are about to change gaming in Africa. If anything needed to be disrupted here it was finding a way to get an African gaming culture, and that’s what this Ghanian startup is up to.
Leti Games is taking African folklore and turning them into mobile entertainment. How? By building cross-platform experiences on mobile devices and digital comics for an engaged African audience with internet enabled devices. And what is really big in Africa right now? Mobile.
Mobile gaming is becoming quite popular in Africa with companies popping up around the continent. According to Szymanski, the creators at Leti Games want to see their characters fight side by side with established superheroes such as Batman and Superman. They want to build franchises that tap into the local myths, but can also be exported to the global stage.
That’s pretty cool.
There are so many more interesting things happening on the continent, so please send us your stories or tell us about them in the comments.