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Africa or bust: tapping into a continent’s tech potential [SXSW]

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Panels focused on Africa at the annual SXSW conference have become a place for those who’re passionate about the continent to spread the word on new technology and its role there. And it’s not just Africans themselves doing the convincing. Companies working both from outside the continent and within in, took part in a panel titled “Africa or Bust! Content, Monetization, Opportunity” on Monday afternoon.

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Aimed at spreading the word about the opportunity which exists for content creators, service providers, brands, and media companies on the continent, the panel featured three speakers — Fadzai Makanda from iROKO Partners, which distributes Nollywood films, Nadeem Juma, chairman of the AIM Group, touted as the first new media agency based in Tanzania and Matthew Dawes, the MD of All Amber, which organises mobile-focused events in Africa. The panel was moderated by Ngozi Odita of Society HAE, the Afrocentric media site.

The panel highlighted the fact that in Africa, more people than ever have access to the internet (about 140-million) but that this only represents a small percentage of the entire population (about 13%). By 2020, internet penetration in Sub-Saharan Africa is expected to reach 24.7%, outpacing internet penetration rates across the world.

The panelists described how their companies have been working to tap into this growing market, which has unlimited potential. Africans are using their newly acquired connectivity to engage each other, launch tech starts, develop apps, create content and organize grassroots movements. The web and new technology are used to solve all sorts of local problems and diversify economies — from mobile money to “smart’ water pumps that send SMS messages when in of need repair.

Each panelist spoke about what he or she believes the future holds for Africa. Juma believes that as access to new technology becomes more available, use for it is only going to grow. “Social media is not new to Africa,” he said. “It was born here – oral tradition is at the root of the craze.” He conveyed his belief to SXSWers that these conversations will become social action, and both an export and an income.” Dawes agreed, saying he believes most of the growth in African investment will come from one major aspect: change in perception. “The eco-system growth shown from successful monetization by African companies will help increase the international respect for excellence and this will lead to positive perception change.” Makanda ended on an even more insistent note — declaring that “billions of dollars of value have been ascribed to the tech scenes in the USA, Europe and Asia but not Africa, until now. The African tech revolution begins!”

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