Why A Tech-Enabled Future Is Within Reach For Africa: Tech Summit Kigali

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Written by Tom Jackson

Almost 600 stakeholders from across Africa came together at last week’s Africa Tech Summit in Kigali, Rwanda, to discuss what a tech-enabled Africa looks like, and how close it is to becoming a reality.

The annual event, which this year featured three summits rolled into one, brought together startups, investors, corporations, nonprofits and government officials to talk about the potential of technology in Africa, and most of all establish partnerships.

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So what does that future look like? It includes everything from artificial intelligence and drones to fintech and blockchain, with innovative solutions combining to help Africans develop both socially and economically.

Lawrence Muthoga from Microsoft, Tramayne Monaghan from Tencent and Paul Kotze from Jumo came together on day one of the Futures Summit to discuss how their organizations are using artificial intelligence to improve efficiency and access to services such as lending and credit.

Access was a theme at the Startup Summit, with representatives from innovative startups such as Vula Mobile, Farmcrowdy and ARED explaining how innovative mobile tech in agriculture and health can help Africans meet the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals — a universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity.

To bring this all together, Nigeria’s Co-Creation Hub (CcHub) used the event to formally launch its Design Lab in Kigali, which will provide a space for product designers, engineers, scientists and stakeholders to explore the application of emerging technologies to solve challenges on the continent.

tech-enabled
African tech companies are solving the continent’s problems through technology. Photo by NESA by Makers on Unsplash

These challenges include mobility. Justin Spratt of Uber, Karan Singh of YegoMoto and Obi Ozor of Kobo360 took the stage to explain how their solutions are making the movement of people and goods across Africa easier.

Panelists Bitange Ndemo of the Kenya Blockchain & AI Taskforce and Marvin Coleby explained why blockchain has potential far beyond cryptocurrencies in Africa, with smart contracts providing greater levels of transparency in a variety of industries.

Record-breaking year for African startup funding

The event also dwelled on the current status of tech in Africa. Aaron Fu from the Meltwater Entrepreneurial School of Technology, Uche Ogboi from EchoVC, Emilian Popa of DiGAME and Ido Sum from TLcom discussed a record-breaking year for African startup funding, and brainstormed ways of ensuring even more investment in the future, including getting more local investors on board.

Investment is starting to filter through to other regions of Africa from the so-called major markets of South Africa, Nigeria and Kenya, according to Startup Summit panelists Aziz Sy of Impact Dakar, Pedro Beirao of Appy Saude and Grégoire de Padirac.

They discussed opportunities in Francophone and Lusophone markets that are still being missed.

Talent, as always, is a major issue. The Futures Summit featured representatives from Google, Andela, Gebeya and Carnegie Mellon University.

They talked about what their organizations are doing to increase the talent pipeline in Africa, and what governments and funders need to do to speed up this process. These remain crucial issues in African tech development.

Tech development through partnerships

Lawyers at the Futures Summit discussed the importance of providing the appropriate legal framework for tech disruption in Africa, while different accelerator models for tech startups were discussed at the Startup Summit.

But the key ingredient to the progress of the continent’s tech scene will be partnerships.

Bringing together investors with startups, startups with corporations, and
corporations with other corporations will be key to growth. Tech summits go a long way to ensuring that happens.

The Startup Summit selected 10 startups from across the continent to pitch to the audience and a judging panel of investors. The Queens Young Leaders Programme showcased their own selection of startup initiatives.

A pre-day Chamberthon organized by the Dubai Chamber, meanwhile, sought to build links between African startups and their counterparts in the United Arab Emirates for the benefit of both. Such initiatives are likely to become more common in coming years.

The general optimism was captured at a Startup Summit panel on collaboration, which brought together representatives from the GSMA, Merck and Microsoft 4Afrika to plot the way forward.

The future is bright and it is coming more quickly than you think.

Tom Jackson is co-founder of Disrupt Africa, a news and research company focused on the African tech startup ecosystem.