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African women in tech: Nkem Begho on being geeky and manly in the tech space

“Women in tech are thought to be geeky and manly. They are thought to have no fashion sense and probably all wear nerd glasses. I find that women in tech are perceived as unsexy, however I believe that your profession has nothing to do with how you look or who you are as a person.”Nkem Begho

Where are the women in tech? Who are the women building technology or working in technology in Africa? These questions and many more are asked on a daily basis. When it comes to technology in Africa, the general consensus is that women are not present. We beg to differ.

Africa has a range of women working and building cool technology for the continent and the world. To answer the above questions we are launching a new article series that highlights Africa’s tech women: Women who work in technology, women who build technologies and women who are passionate about what technology can do for Africa.

In this, our fourth instalment of African women in tech, we feature Nigeria’s Nkem Begho. Nigeria’s tech ecosystem has recently had a particularly nasty variation of the “where are the women in tech?” conversation. An article pointed out that women just aren’t capable of handling the world of tech and in response an organisation created a women only tech bootcamp. While Bhego wasn’t at the centre of that debate, she could easily have been used a killer example of what Nigerian women playing in the tech space are capable of doing. Begho is the Managing Director of Futuresoft, a Nigerian IT solutions provider focused on online solutions, e-learning and IT Security. She also argues women are very much capable of doing tech.

“This is my main hustle as we would say in Nigeria,” she tells me. “I’ve been the MD for six years and have successfully rebranded and refocused the company. Our vision is to be Africa’s leading IT Solutions provider.”

Begho is quite impressive and is recognised across Nigeria as a leading figure in the tech space. She was recently featured on the African Women Power Network Top 40 African Leading Women’s list and named one of the top 100 most innovative in the Nigerian Tech Space by Ndani TV.

Exploring the second wave of technology in Africa

Though she says her “main hustle” is Futuresoft, Begho is also working on a number of startups. For her, technology breeds the next wave of Africa’s growth and the revolution that began with the telecommunication companies.

“Technology is opening Africa up and allowing Africa to see the world without leaving Africa,” she says. ” Tech is accelerating development and has created a second wave after the Telco revolution. It has brought a lot of freedom and endless opportunities to Africa.”

Begho reckons that tech has created many opportunities for the continent and opened up so many doors. Many often argue whether or not Africa needs saving, its seems technology is doing that.

“Tech has given Africa access to a massive knowledge base,” says Begho. “It has allows Africa to show case its talents such as entertainment and fashion.”

Though the saviour that is tech has done much for the continent, Begho does concede that there are a number of challenges that Africa needs to surpass in order to embrace the second wave. She says that the continent still suffers from a skills shortage as well as infrastructure, though she reckons things are getting better on the infrastructure front in Nigeria.

However, she feels there is a bigger challenge that Africa must over come in order to truly take its tech revolution to the next phase.

“[There is a] lack of original and indigenous content and ideas,” says Begho. “The love of everything foreign, how can we build applications for Africa if all Africa wants is applications built for the West?”

These challenges she argues need to be challenged from all sides but more importantly a governmental level.

“[Africa] lacks of governments that understand the need to embrace technology and embed technology in the educational systems.”

Women in tech in Africa need to be professional

As a woman in tech, Begho feels it is her duty to empower other women in the space but also in business. She says when it comes to taking their place at the table and being part of the discussions women need to “be professional and let your work speak for itself”.

She also advises women to be “very very very good” at what they do, start their own companies and “grab opportunities and add value” to their work.

For her, being in the tech space has been a struggle in being take seriously.

“Most people (men and women) have the misconception that IT is only for men and you can only have an IT guy and not an IT girl or IT lady. Even in the industry you have to prove that you know your stuff before people acknowledge you as one of them (the boys).”

However, the question still remains of what the role of women in Nigeria’s tech space.

“The Nigerian tech landscape is getting more and more interesting,” says Begho. “It’s gone from 0 to 100 real quick and there are startups and new online services springing up left, right and centre.”

Nigeria has seen a lot of excitement in the tech space in the last few years, especially the young entrepreneurs. The country has seen the rise of many new businesses, some of them have failed and others have succeed. However, it is a landscape that is yet to truly embrace women has part of its fabric.

“Women sadly are not key drivers in this development,” Begho sighs. “There are a few female faces in Nigerian tech that I am sure will be making waves in the next few years.”

Though Begho recognises that there are a number of misconceptions around when in tech in Nigeria and Africa. She thinks these are global and not just bound to the continent. She does think that women in the tech space in Africa need to start rising up on their own and making their own path of they are seen in the ecosystem.

“For now the role of women is very limited, because we simply do not participate. I really hope that changes with the great Girls in ICT advocacy programmes we have in the private and public sector.”

Author | Mich Atagana

Mich Atagana
Mich started out life wanting to be a theoretical physicist but soon realized that mathematics was required. So, she promptly let go of that dream. She then decided that law might be the best place for her talents, but with too many litigation classes missed in favour of feminist... More

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