Africa's Tech Engines
1 July 2013
App and software developers are springing up in Africa’s tech-savvy markets. Better engineering training and a few breakthrough stories could promote long-term growth.
Much has been made in recent years of Africa’s ‘innovation boom’, as Nairobi, Cape Town, Lagos and Accra emerge as stomping grounds for technology start-ups. The surge of activity tracks the continent’s blossoming relationship with the mobile phone, with penetration rates now in excess of 60 percent. Sub-Saharan Africa’s mobile market currently has the fastest growth rate in the world, with the number of connections increasing by 44 percent annually since 2000, according to Deloitte.
A closely related trend has been the proliferation of development centres for mobile technologies, or ‘apps labs’, across Africa, with Blackberry, IBM, Google, Orange and Microsoft all setting up such sites across territories. To date, there are over 50 tech hubs, labs, incubators and accelerators in 20 African countries.
Alexandra Zagury, Blackberry’s managing director for South and southern Africa, attributes this to the great demand from local entrepreneurs who want to make their own software. “We flew out our specialists to Botswana [for a ‘BlackBerry Jam’ seminar], and there were 260 developers out there wanting to develop apps,” she says. “Who would know that there is an avid app developer community in Botswana?” She also notes that the labs are filling a practical skills gap currently left by academic institutions. “That hands-on lab approach is what’s missing,” she says, “and that is why we have had so much interest from universities across Africa.”
This enthusiasm also extends to an increasing number of Africa’s politicians, notes Jonathan Batty, communications manager for IBM Growth Markets. “A lot of African governments are betting on information and communications technology,” he explains. “Rwanda has made tremendous progress in terms of leveraging ICT. We’ve seen this in Ghana, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa. In general on the African continent, many governments are realising that to reach their citizens, as well as for economic improvements, ICT is one of the major engines.”
This engine is humming in Lagos, where the gaming industry, led by self-taught locals, is thriving, as epitomised by the success of KULUYA, an online gaming company, whose valuation has risen to $2m within just six months of launching.