The rapid growth of the African tech sector was mainly due to the expansion of mobile technology and driven entrepreneurs seeking to find answers to some of the main challenges facing the continent. In three key tech ecosystems of Kenya, Nigeria and, to a lesser extent, South Africa, innovation has been fuelled by necessity.
GSMA’s 2017 report into the mobile economy in Sub-Saharan Africa noted that the number of unique mobile subscribers in Sub-Saharan Africa will grow to 535 million or 50% of the population in 2020 – making it the fastest growing region in the world (in terms of mobile subscriptions) over the five-year period.
However, according to recent analysis by IDC, Africa’s smartphone revolution is showing signs of a slowdown, with feature phones singled out as being largely responsible for the growth.
HP claims that there are 340 million Africans connected to the internet today, 99% of which is via a handheld device.
“The mobile payment system in Africa itself is unrivalled by anywhere else in the world, and it was developed out of a need and out of not having access to banking systems. But what we’ve got now is the fabric of something that can be truly disruptive,” said Shane Wall, HP CTO and Global Head of HP Labs.
Mobile internet is the platform of choice due to its relatively low cost when compared to wireless broadband. The growing uptake in mobile technology has fuelled many of the innovative digital solutions and services emerging from the continent, and, as mobile infrastructure advances and the cost of smart devices falls, tech entrepreneurs are developing uniquely African tech solutions to African problems.
The hive of activity last year alone shows that the tech sector in Africa is in a strong position. However, compared to more developed markets such as Singapore and Silicon Valley, Africa still has some way to go.
“The bandwidth may be slow, the phone may not be as good, there may a lot more feature phones, but there’s a unique payment system. How to exploit that payments system to do something unique for Africa will be a huge opportunity,” he added.
Wall described blockchain as one of the more fascinating adoptions in the continent, “And they have taken over from a need, it’s about how to get money from another country, into another, or from a different part of the country to another. The unique combination of those with mobile, I think creates an opportunity for Africa that it can capitalise on.”
He also cited an example in Rwanda where drones are being used by the government deliver blood platelets to remote areas. “The ability to develop a unique service, test it out, to solve the real problems here, and for that to scale to other parts of the world. It’s an indigenous technology creation that I think can impact the world.”