How Africa Could Lead The World in Tech
In recent years, Africa has witnessed phenomenal digital progress. Between 2010 and 2017, internet access more than doubled.
From Cameroon to Rwanda, tech entrepreneurs invent medical tablets, run smartphone factories, reimagine digital finance, and empower the next generation of digital changemakers.
Investment too is on the rise. African Tech startups raised $2.02 billion in 2019, a 74% increase from the previous year.
A wind of digital change is blowing across the continent. Soon, humanity’s birthplace could become a global leader in emerging fields like artificial intelligence, virtual reality, and big data.
For this change to come to fruition, it will be critical to improve internet access, make capital available for tech startups, and promote good governance.
These actions, however, tend to require enormous investments in time and capital.
Today, I propose three low-cost interventions that can speed up digital transformation on the continent.
On a recent trip to California, I was shocked when someone asked me:
“Do you have internet in Cameroon?”
For too long, international media coverage has convinced the world that Africa only needs—and deserves—mosquito nets and vitamins to save starving children.
This depiction is inaccurate.
While Africa faces many emergencies, it’s also overflowing with talent and innovation. You’ll find African app developers and graphic designers whose skills rival those of Silicon Valley professionals in almost every country on the continent.
There’s an urgent need to reframe and reclaim the African Technology narrative.
At a continental level, the African Union and the African Development Bank could invest in a strategic rebranding program. This initiative would have one clear objective: to ensure that the top internet search engine results for the term “African technology” are associated with excellence, innovation, and creativity.
At a National level, tourism boards could blend safari pitches with “Invest in African startups” narratives.
Foundations, international organizations, enterprises, and governments can fund movie directors, novelists, and social media influencers, whose works would promote African tech.
These tech stories would feature women, people with disabilities, seniors (as opposed to only young people), and other underrepresented groups.
A new narrative around African technology is vital to attract foreign investors and create a global market for Africa’s digital platforms and products.
It will also inspire more people to pursue careers in technology.
In its Continental Education Strategy paper 2016-2025, the African Union calls for: redesigning education, focusing on inclusive Science, Technology, and Skills Development.
Today, to speed this transformation, Africa needs holistic and contextual digital skills education.
Take, for example, high-schools. Students could not just learn theoretical digital concepts but be empowered to pursue culturally-relevant digital projects to gain the tech skills required by the local market.
African educators can take inspiration from successful work-training, co-op, and apprenticeship programs around the world.
Teachers in resource-limited communities can get creative. They can train students to use business applications like Excel on smartphones which cost as low as $20.
These students, though digital internships in small enterprises, would gain real-world digital experience. In the same vein, small businesses would digitalize their systems and find possible future hires.
Acquiring foundational digital skills would make it easier for students to learn specialized skills later on, like A.I. or big data.
A vital piece of these new digital specialization training programs would be to match technical abilities with soft skills.
Software developers can learn buyer persona development. This way, they’re able to create software that addresses real problems in real African communities.
Data analysts armed with storytelling skills can craft moving accounts using data insights.
Graphic designers could utilize online branding competencies to capture markets beyond the African continent.
A major misconception about digital development is the myth of the self-made individual.
A few months ago, I delivered a keynote address at Cameroon’s National Digital Skills Campaign. At the event, I met a young entrepreneur who believed that he could code, design and pitch an app all by himself.
He was very adamant that these abilities would make him the next Steve Jobs.
I pointed out to him that Steve Jobs didn’t create the iPhone alone. Jobs had incredible collaborators. Wharton magazine even argues that collaboration, not innovation, is the top leadership skill Steve Jobs shared with Benjamin Franklin.
My take? Africa’s tech enthusiasts could invest in collaboration and networking with the same zeal they seek funding or customers.
Such collaboration is not only vital for individuals but also for organizations and nations.
“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”
Together, we can change Africa’s tech narrative, reimagine digital education, and foster collaboration to take Africa to the pinnacle of digital development.
We can start these right now.
About the Author
Momo Bertrand is a speaker, trainer and communication expert from Cameroon. He currently works as a Communication Officer at the United Nations’ ITCILO, an international training institution in Italy.
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