Hacking the Future22/09/2015
In July 2015, Kenya was engulfed by ‘Obamania’ as U.S. President Barack Obama visited the country, the first sitting American President to do so, for the Global Entrepreneurship Summit (GES.) His arrival was heralded as both a ‘homecoming’ and as proof of the country’s strides in technology, innovation and entrepreneurship. Although conversation and recognition of Kenya as a continental hub for technology and innovation has been ongoing for years, President Obama’s visit drew the spotlight back on the country, and acknowledged it at a state level.
The President announced that the U.S. had secured $1B in investment for countries around the world, with the aim to support entrepreneurs and unlock potential. He added that Africa needed to regard itself as a hub of global growth.
Kenya, dubbed the ‘Silicon Savannah,’ has been home to groundbreaking inventions such as MPesa and Ushahidi, and entrepreneurs have innovated around immense obstacles in service provision, health, and data collection amongst others. While things have changed immeasurably over the last decade, some have argued that the developments in the country are less about ‘leapfrogging’ past obsolete systems and technologies, and more about leveling the playing field in order to lay a foundation for lasting growth.
A Bloomberg article from April 2015 pointed out that while “Nairobi, Kenya has become the tech hub of Africa, a niche that could be worth more than one billion dollars to the country in the next three years,” the country still has a 40% unemployment rate.
African business leader and Tanzanian CEO Ali Mufuruki implored listeners to look critically at the ‘Africa Rising’ narrative in his TedxEuston 2014 speech “The Africa rising narrative is based on a very simplistic observation; the unfair comparison of the economic growth of African countries over the last 10-15yrs averaging six to seven percent compared to a very sluggish growth in the West after the global financial crisis,” he said. “We need to get real, we need to make sure we don’t mistake hype for reality, we do not mistake hope for achievement.”
In her keynote speech at the Africa Innovators Summit, co-hosted by GE and Quartz Magazine on September 14, 2015, one of Africa’s leading ladies in tech Ory Okolloh shared some concerns surrounding the expectations people have for technology and entrepreneurship in the region. “I’m concerned about what I see is the fetishization around entrepreneurship in Africa,” she said. “We can’t entrepreneur our way around bad leadership. We can’t entrepreneur our way around bad policies.” She cautioned against using entrepreneurship to fill the void and develop the infrastructure that should be developed at state level.
One might argue that the dark side of the hype around the Silicon Savannah, and the whirlwind of new ideas and companies, is that it doesn’t directly address the systemic deficit, and it creates a (harmful) status quo of working around problems rather than addressing some of the root causes.
“There is growth in Africa, but Africans are not growing. And we have to question why is there this big push for us to innovate ourselves around problems that our leaders, our taxes, our policymakers, ourselves, to be quite frankly, should be grappling with,” Ory Okolloh added.
Technology, business and entrepreneurship are fast paced, rapidly evolving industries, and in the regional and African context, it is an issue that is proving itself more complex as time goes on. It is key to speak with leading thinkers and industry professionals on the continent to understand and appreciate the reality on the ground. AS+A’s impressive roster of entrepreneurs, innovators and strategists are at the epicenter of regional and pan-African conversations about what the future holds, and the best ways to get there.Read more Read less