So, 2016 got a bad rap in many circles, and with good reason: Boko Haram terrorists did not relent, Nigeria went into recession, the Brexit vote happened, Mr. Trump became the president of the U.S. Yet, in the midst of this, a glimmer of hope: Africa’s tech industry made strides. In fact, some might argue that it consolidated its place as a new frontier for the global tech industry. The most widely covered proof of that consolidation was Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerberg’s visit to the continent during which he declared, “this is where the future will be built.” He put his money where his mouth was, making the first investment of his and his wife’s Mark Zuckerberg and Dr. Priscilla Chan Fund to the tech training company, Andela. This choice is telling since Andela’s “product,” so to speak, is a “world class coder.” It is as though Zuckerberg and Chan are throwing their weight behind not just Andela as a company, but the human potential in the region.
Many funders, both local and foreign, are placing their bets alongside Zuckerberg and Chan. In 2016 alone, startups across the continent raised over US $129 million in funding, a 16.8 percent increase from the previous year. A team from Y Combinator, “the world’s most powerful start-up incubator,” was in Nigeria in September, seeking startups to fund. Investment insiders, like Lexi Novitske have written over, and over, and over again about the potential of and their faith in the industry. There has been an explosion of innovation hubs in cities across the continent— Nairobi, Lagos, Accra, Dakar, Lusaka.
As one might expect, Africa’s startups are thinking first about the needs in their communities. But their products are also going out to serve global markets. Take PayStack for instance. The start-up, which received funding from Y Combinator, has built a payment gateway for Shopify, one of the world’s largest e-commerce websites. Work like this signals the potential for tech as a viable African export.
Of course, the potency of the entire tech industry remains grounded in the fact that Africa, with the world, continues to go definitively digital. Mobile penetration rates are projected to reach 54 percent by 2020, and the number of mobile broadband connections is expected to more than double from its 2015 value of 28 percent to 60 percent by 2020. It’s numbers like thesethat led Lexi Novitske to write “digital content and digital advertising opportunities are everywhere.” But it’s not just any kind of digital marketing that would thrive in this landscape. It’s the targeted kind that would help customers to match with businesses/services that would best suit their needs, and vice versa.