Africa is the guest of honour at Viva Technology 2018. Its ecosystem, its start-ups and its unique challenges are the focus of the Afric@Tech theme, as well as a series of conferences and a dedicated space. Here’s a round up of the challenges to address by the African tech ecosystem so it can truly take off, according to its representatives.
Network access is the key to innovation
Without connectivity, there can be no digital ecosystem. The first major challenge one finds on the African continent is that only 20% of its population enjoys access to the Internet. The lack of infrastructure is another complicating factor: only 30% of the population has reliable access to energy. Furthermore, the poor state of other local infrastructures – such as roads – hinders installation and maintenance operations.
During a round table dedicated to this issue, Orange MEA spokeswoman Elisabeth Medou Badang nevertheless highlighted a promising development: “In many [African] countries, it took 4 years to transition from 3G to 4G; in Europe, it took a decade!” This reflects a unique feature of African digital transformation, which does not progress in a linear fashion, but rather through technological “leapfrogging”; this results, in part, from the absence of technological legacy and its constraints.
An ecosystem with huge potential
“Afric@Tech is an opportunity to highlight how Africa could leapfrog over the gap that separates it from the 4th industrial revolution,” says Viola Llewellyn (Ovamba Solutions Inc.) as she inaugurates the series of Afric@Tech themed conferences. From the VivaTech Stage-X, she reminds her audience that Africa, whose population is expected to reach 2.5 billion by 2040, only numbered 314 Tech Hubs and accounted for just 0.3% of global VC and tech investment in 2016. Moreover, many African start-ups in series A or B manage to raise tickets comparable to those of their European counterparts, but fail to scale up across the continent. However, Viola underlines that “the answer to Africa’s capital problems is not ‘more capital’; rather, we need to improve the velocity of capital and make sure it’s allocated correctly.”
Data, the new natural resources?
In this regard, lack of data is also a considerable barrier, explains Kenfield Griffith, CEO of the Kenyan start-up mSurvey (opens in a new window): “African start-ups have a huge market of potential consumers, but no means to study, target and communicate with them.” On the stage dedicated to Afric@Tech, Kenfield demonstrates the power of mobile money as a contact tool by performing – live – a market survey of randomly-selected Kenyan mobile users, who are compensated in communication credits. The data generated in Africa over the next few years will be of enormous value if it can be exploited by companies with a local footing, who are using solutions that have already proven their effectiveness elsewhere.
“One size does not fit all!”
The vitality of the African ecosystem also translates to international financing. Emmanuel Macron notably mentioned, during his keynote, the Digital Africa (opens in a new window) initiative, which the French Development Agency will finance up to 65 million euros. The beneficiaries will be entrepreneurs, with tickets varying from 30,000 to 50,000 euros in value to “fill in the gaps in support systems”. Although this change in capital attribution will help solve some of the issues discussed during VivaTech, some speakers warn against painting start-ups as the end-all, be-all solution. To quote Viola Llewellyn: “the number one rule in Africa is that there is no one-size-fits-all solution!” The mechanisms that will help liberate the continent’s potential must reflect its very diversity, from the variety of funding sources available (opens in a new window) to governmental initiatives, such as the African Union’s efforts to facilitate cross-border exchanges.