AFKInsider’s Tom Jackson attended the Africa Tech Summit in Kigali last week, and what he discovered was an understanding of the obstacles and a clear path to continuing tech growth on the continent.
“We need to build a taskforce that can sustain the tech growth that is happening.”
So said Stacey Ondimu, director of operations at Kenya’s Moringa School, during a panel on tech talent during last week’s Africa Tech Summit Kigali.
Ondimu was specifically focused on developing more talent for Africa’s tech companies, but she could just as easily have been talking about the event itself, which brought together 430 stakeholders from across the continent for two days of discussions.
“We see an opportunity to invest in human capacity and reshape the world’s view of where talent comes from,” said Andela chief strategy officer Wambui Kinya.
“Software engineering has a really low entry point. You can go online and start learning. You just need a space, and a computer, and an internet connection, and you can make great things,” said Amy Robinson, software product manager at Fenix International.
That Africans are making great things is undeniable, but much of the summit focused on what happens once these exciting innovations have been developed. A panel specifically dedicated to innovation said the nature of innovating had changed, with startups less focused now on simply creating jobs, but more dedicated to identifying problems and fixing them.
This is especially the case in the mobility space, where companies like Rwanda’s Yego Moto are bringing informal markets – in this case moto taxis – into a new era with the help of tech.
Managing director Karanvir Singh told the conference that individuals were benefiting hugely from innovative solutions like these.
“He sees a lot of value. He gets a new helmet, a new way of understanding tech. He doesn’t have to stand on the roadside waiting for cash or change. He doesn’t need to ride around looking for rides. They get the larger picture, but it is a step at a time,” he said.
The opportunity is huge, but the continent isn’t there yet. As Crystal Rugege, director of strategy and operations at Carnegie Mellon University Africa, said: “There’s a massive opportunity. But there’s still a long way to go in terms of scaling.”
What holds back that scaling? Internet access is one, with a panel including representatives from Facebook, BRCK and Liquid Telecom bemoaning the fact that internet services are often still too expensive for many Africans in spite of the increasing penetration of smartphones. The good news? The panel believes that in a few years the internet will actually be free.
Funding is another thing that holds the tech scene back. Ido Sum of TLcom told the conference that it was not always necessary for tech startups to raise money, but where they do need to, where does it come from?
Sum and his fellow panelists agreed startups are often unprepared for how long a process of obtaining funding is, and participants in a round-table on angel investing called for more people to start backing startups at an early stage, and called for more linkages within the investment space.
So what does the future hold? As ever, the takeaways from events like these are a mixed bag. Progress has been significant, but building a tech scene where there wasn’t one before is not an overnight job. Rwanda – the host country – has done good work from a tech point of view. Many startups present are developing exciting solutions. The likes of TLcom are raising huge funds to back tech startups.
But concerns about connectivity, market sizes, talent, funding and scalability have not gone away. All stakeholders must do more if the pace of development is to be quickened.
Yet by bringing so many stakeholders from across the continent to a country that has proven how much can be achieved in a short period of time, Africa Tech Summit Kigali made its own small contribution to assembling the “taskforce” that will be needed to sustain the tech sector’s growth.
Tom Jackson is co-founder of Disrupt Africa, a news and research company focused on the African tech startup ecosystem.