Europe shows how Africa’s tech hubs can thrive

Cities in Europe have woken up to emulate the success in Silicon Valley.

The New York Times reported that President Emmanuel Macron urged the French to make their country “the leading country for hyper-innovation.” He encouraged the crowd of entrepreneurs to “transform” and “shake up” the country. On its part, the French government committed to support entrepreneurs through a number of incentives including, making the country more business-friendly.

Photo: Credits

The story of European start-ups is the same across capitals. New venture capitalists are emerging to support the growing appetite for entrepreneurship and they are succeeding.

The United Kingdom, which was a front-runner in creating technology hubs, is reaping big returns from the sector. According to Tech Nation, a government report says that, “technology industry grew a third faster than the rest of the economy from 2010-2014. The sector now accounts for 1.56 million jobs, and generated £161bn (Sh23 trillion) in 2014.” 

Virtually every African country has some sort of tech hub but most of these technology spaces (118 out of 173) are supported by civil society.  Only a handful of governments support this emerging tech sector. These include South Africa, Angola, Mozambique, Mauritius, Ghana, Morocco, Egypt and Senegal.

Just a few academic institutions have developed innovation hubs. According to a GSMA report, 50 per cent of the tech hubs are from 5 countries: South Africa, Kenya, Nigeria, Morocco and Egypt.

However. In as much as civil society helps countries in many ways, it will never drive economic growth.  There are limits, especially when it comes to hiring talent to develop competitive products.

According to the Daily Nation, Kenya was among the first countries in Africa to aggressively start building an IT ecosystem. It was ahead of some European countries but the cynicism, mistrustfulness, quarrelsome nature and pettiness denied the youth employment.

Those who did not have their way as we embarked on developing the ecosystem leveraged the corruption narrative in the country to shoot down projects. Three organisations that had firmly committed to be anchor tenants with some 5,000 jobs took off to Ethiopia and India.

The potentates of graft succeeded and celebrated as they choreographed the media to drive a wedge between the people, their pawns and the truth. The truth, as they say, will one day come out.

We must create incentives for senior faculty to participate in the development of local tech start-ups and ensure that all higher education institutions countrywide become innovation hubs.  At the same time, we must develop new degree programmes that can address future labour needs and make it mandatory for all institutions to teach creativity as well as critical thinking.

Africa can stride forward and become an innovation hotspot without relying on any outside interventions.  Innovation thrives in areas with lots of problems and no continent has more problems than Africa does.

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