There is a clear understanding among Africa’s more rapidly developing economic players that in order to continue the pace of progress, technology must be brought centre stage.
The thriving start-up scenes in Kigali, Nairobi and Lagos are excellent examples of the promise that entrepreneurship and technological development offer to both strengthen the economy and serve the needs of their populations.
The latest success story is in India, which a short while ago was more or less in the same stage that many African countries are in today – on the cusp of major success. Wildly successful over the past 20 years, India has grown its tech industry to a value worth more than $80 billion, directly and indirectly employing more than 10 million people.
Channelling technological innovation to strengthen a wider economy is a tried and tested way to simultaneously boost growth while strengthening the foundation for future success. Many countries are well on their way to making ICT a core component of their long-term growth strategies.
At the World Economic Forum Summit on Africa, Rwanda will showcase the major steps it has taken to make ICT a core element of our future development. Below are a few key factors that we have identified as being critical to unlocking Africa’s economic potential through technological innovation.
Infrastructure as a priority
Governments across Africa are operating with the clear understanding that technology is a critical channel to economic growth and that continuing the development of our ICT sector should remain high on the agenda. Yet, to truly ensure that this reality comes to be, the foundations for long-term growth must be prioritized. Businesses and individuals must be able to connect and engage with mobile technology every day, following the model of other cosmopolitan countries.
Cities looking to become “smart” will need to give service providers the ability to be accessible to their users at all times. Rwanda has already made internet access a priority throughout the country and soon will introduce wi-fi to public places in major cities. A small investment in connectivity offers service providers the ability to engage with customers on a level that competes with international cities.
The rise in tech hubs across Africa – right now there are more than 50 – is part of a strategy to give young software developers and recent graduates in science and engineering the training and skills they need. Tech entrepreneurs at these hubs now have a place to develop their product and receive guidance from experienced mentors. Without strong infrastructure, which only the government can provide, the sector will never reach its full potential.
ICT across sectors
The benefits of technology can be felt far beyond high-tech industries. ICT developed at one of the many African tech hubs can be used to meet people’s needs everywhere. From mobile payment systems like M-Pesa, which many suggest has overtaken the West in terms of ubiquity and ease of use, to the world’s first drone port, African nations are certainly aware that technology outside the tech scene is exactly what governments can and should foster.
What’s more, the technology that is solving a problem also contributes to the economy by providing jobs and injecting cash into outdated systems. More widely, it can revolutionize the way African populations engage with everything from healthcare to banking, transportation and more.
African countries have been actively shedding the stereotype that the only capital injections in the region come in the form of aid from the West or investments in mining and resources. Friendly business policies and tax incentives are being used by governments to great effect and these activities are helping to change perceptions and unlock new opportunities.
Rwanda’s system is structured to enable anyone to establish a new business in just three hours and flexible visa policies have allowed Kigali to become a hub for regional entrepreneurs. This type of action helps create a win-win scenario where the local economy and foreign investors can benefit equally and substantially.
ICT investment opportunities are very rich, and span from major innovations in mobile connectivity to hardware development. Top research universities in the West are establishing degree-granting programmes in Africa, and major companies such as Microsoft and Intel have invested in Africa’s potential with a range of new schemes.
This type of foreign involvement allows our young tech ecosystem to receive guidance that will enable local entrepreneurs to channel their expertise into a new wave of solutions.
As we look forward to the World Economic Forum on Africa and the African Union summit later this year, now is the time to collectively decide on a wider vision for making technological innovation a core channel for our wider development goals.
The World Economic Forum on Africa is taking place in Kigali, Rwanda from 11 to 13 May.