The saying “African solutions to African problems” will resonate deeply and likely leave a rie smile on the face of anyone who has spent enough time on the continent to appreciate its unique nature and the way in which it operates.

With its cultural nuances, economic and political volatility and great geographical footprint, the continent of Africa its very own set of challenges, often unique to anywhere else on the globe. With this in mind, it has always been seen to be somewhat of a laggard on a global scale and not too long ago it would have been absurd to think that small Africa startups scattered from North to South, East to West, would be taking major strides in attempting to solve some of its largest challenges, normally earmarked for governments or large NGO’s.

It simply takes analysing the start-up distribution across the continent, to see how small pockets of innovators are challenging the status quo. With their expertise in technology and their deep understanding of their community and the challenges they experience on a daily basis, these innovators are coming up with first world solutions driven by a foundation of technology, in order to solve these age old issues.

It is really off the back of mobile penetration that the ability exists for these solutions to be realised. One may argue that the continent has not seen the growth in mobile penetration like has been seen elsewhere in the world and there are several plausible reasons which contribute toward this, none less so than cost. Even so, consider the expanse of mobile network infra-structure that has rolled out across the continent in comparison to the extent of other essential services like access to clean water, energy, healthcare and education. Relative to these essential services, this expansion has taken place at an alarming rate and following close on its coat tails has been the equally rapid proliferation of smarter devices finding their way on to African shores, largely from Asia. The combination of these two has meant that the foundation for smart solutions has been well established and it is really up to innovators and the people of the continent to take advantage of the environment that this has created. Continued hinderances to mention include, in the main, access to 3G an 4G data, data costs, as well as a large skills gap and steep learning curve on the part of the consumer and their ability to successfully make use of the solutions provided.

2016 vs. 2018 Active Tech Hubs in Africa Source: GSMA Association : The Mobile Economy Sub-Saharan Africa 2018


Mobile Penetration Comparison Source: GSMA Association : The Mobile Economy Sub-Saharan Africa 2018


In Which Industries are Innovators Most Interested?

As could be expected, industries which are receiving the most attention from innovators across the continent are those within the primary sector. It is these industries which have largely remained in their foundation phase, despite being in existence for a significant period already. It is also in these industries, which often cater to the most basic of human needs where the greatest challenges continue to exist for the majority of Africans. In this vein, we consider industries like healthcare, transportation, provision of energy and water, education, banking and agriculture. If more successfully provided to the people of Africa, it is these services which have the ability to play a significant role in the rise of the continent.

As a microcosm of the innovator landscape, we look at the likes of telemedecine solutions beings used in Botswana to enable remote diagnosis through the assistance of Skype for Business, a marketplace for farmers and buyers in Kenya (M-Farm) and energy being delivered to small village communities through the use of solar power, cloud infrastructure and a micro-grid layout in remote location across the continent (Standard Microgrid, South Africa). The list goes on with innovators making a significant difference in the lives of so many across the continent, powered by technology and the wave of digital transformation which continues to intensify.

Where to Next?

With expanding mobile infra-structure and spectrum, an increase in smart devices, lowering data costs and a wealth of innovative minds, the assumption exists that Africa has a real opportunity to catch-up on what has been decades of slow growth and disparate opportunities for its’ people, when comparison to their peers the world over. One can only hope that no unnecessary economic or political roadblocks are put in place to stifle this innovation, as has been seen elsewhere on the continent. With a new generation who have grown up alongside this technology and who are likely to be even more comfortable than the generation who came before them, one can only imagine that the future of the continent is likely to be brighter than ever before.

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