ICT ‘holds hope for Africa’

By Kokumo Goodie, Lagos, Nigeria

Nigeria’s Communications Technology Minister, Dr (Mrs) Omobola Johnson says the ICT industry holds hope of a better future for the African continent, adding that the despicable image of a hopeless continent created about Africa has changed.

Speaking at the opening ceremony DEMO Africa held at the prestigious Oriental Hotel, Lekki, Lagos, Nigeria’s economic capital,  she said the combination of an ‘Africa Rising’ and one that still has to overcome challenges represents a significant opportunity for African start-ups especially those in the tech sector.

Johnson while reflecting on Africa of past and present recalled that, “On May 13th 2000, The Economist, an international current affairs magazine, had on its cover page a silhouette of the African continent, within it was the image of an armed guerrilla fighter; its caption read: ‘The Hopeless Continent’.

“Within the pages of that edition, the prognosis on Africa encapsulated the prevailing beliefs held not only by the majority of those living outside its borders, but also by those that considered themselves ‘trapped’ within it.  Africa –a starving, poor, disease ridden, fractured, war-torn, corrupt, dying mass of humanity … described by former UK Prime Minister, Tony Blair, as a “scar on the conscience of the world" .

“Fast forward a decade; December 3rd 2011, the cover page of The Economist bears the image of a boy running across a savannah landscape at sunrise, flying a rainbow coloured kite shaped in the image of the African continent. The caption reads: ‘Africa Rising’. Within its pages the magazine paints a scenario of dynamism, resilient entrepreneurial activity, fledging… yet growing economies, nascent… yet stabilising democracies, a population getting healthier and more educated, an expanding middle class signifying a potential to even out the distribution of wealth.

“An Africa, that is ‘getting its act together’. 54 countries of different ethnicity, culture , language and different levels of development, home to 1.1bn people, the second fastest growing regional economy (second to Asia) and home to more than half of the world’s fastest growing economies”.

She however, noted that in spite the efforts, Africa still has its challenges, which IBM has encapsulated and coined as Africa’s Grand Challenges which include education, access to water, energy, healthcare, financial inclusion, public safety and transport and agriculture.

The Minister said: “The combination of an Africa Rising and one that still has to overcome challenges represents a significant opportunity for African start-ups especially those in the tech sector.

“Mobile subscriptions in sub-Saharan Africa are forecast to exceed 635 million by the end of this year (2014) and predicted to rise to around 930 million by the end of 2019. 

The increase in the number of mobile subscribers has fuelled increases in mobile internet use in Africa and we are considered to be at the cusp of a mobile internet revolution.  Predictions are that mobile internet use in Africa will increase twenty fold in the next five years … this is double the estimated growth rate in the rest of the world. Lower priced devices (in particular smartphones and tablets), increase investment in network infrastructure, and increase availability of spectrum for mobile broadband, are among the factors that will drive this growth.

“One report that highlights this potential predicts that the Internet can contribute up to 300 billion United States dollars to Africa’s GDP by 2025; and this is from an estimated 18 billion in 2013 .

“This translates directly to opportunities to generate income, to create wealth, to create jobs, new business opportunities, economic expansion etc. ... the very opportunities African governments are looking for and need to transform their economies and the economic lives of their populations”.

Over the next two days, the Continent will witness 40 African start-ups pitch their solutions to these great opportunities and challenges with a hope to secure funding and support to take their ideas and innovations to the next level.

She added that the Nigerian government has done and will continue to do her bit to support the software development industry.

The DEMO Africa event finally kicked off at the Lagos Oriental Hotel in Nigeria to an expectant audience of top investors, IT buyers, IT consumers, Government officials and IT enthusiasts from across Africa.

Also speaking, Harry Hare, executive producer of DEMO Africa commended the participants for showing such great enthusiasm towards finding the much needed solutions for Africa.

“It is inspiring to see that, now, more attention is being accorded the pursuit of solutions to problems that are uniquely African. The continent has one of the most diverse and talented pool of young people and finally, we are seeing a real intent by authorities to utilize the massive power within these brains to bring positive change, especially through technology.”

The DEMO Africa forum has seen serious minds put together through various organized forums including the [email protected] Summit and the Pan African Angel Investors forum held yesterday.

Ben White, VC4Africa’s CEO and Founder, added: “Going into the third year of DEMO Africa, we are excited to introduce a new exclusive investor-only event as part of the DEMO Africa 2014 event. This is the next step in making sure the leading innovators from across the continent are going to get the backing they need to achieve scale. At the same time, we see angel networks emerging across the continent. Now is the time to bring them together in a shared conversation about how best to move forward.”

This year’s event has been organized in collaboration with the [email protected] partners such as Microsoft, Nokia, US State Department, DEMO, USAID, African Development Bank, VC4Africa among others) and Nigeria’s Federal Ministry of Information and Communication Technologies and sponsored by Nigeria Information and Technology Development Agency (NIITDA), Software Giant Microsoft, USADF, Department of State, Evernote, SWELL, Airtel, Bank of Industry, Nigeria Interbank Settlement System, Accenture, MTN, Oasis Management Company, Tony Elumelu Foundation and Main One.


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