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Exit stage left: lessons from reporting Africa’s tech scene
In the last four years I have learnt a lot about technology, innovation and entrepreneurship in Africa. I have met Africa’s brightest and its bravest. I have walked the path of its past and seen the clearly marked walkways of its future.
Erik Hersman from the iHub once told me that once you have been to deepest darkest Africa, it’s hard to ignore the opportunities for innovation. He was right, and you don’t have to search to far to find the opportunities. From Madagascar to the beautiful red sunsets of Tunisia, the opportunities lindy hop for anyone who will see them.
No more building eBays for Africa, no more building Africa’s Facebook. It is time Africa built is own legacy when it comes to technology. We have to stop thinking of our place in the world in terms of how it fits into the rest of it. As a continent, we must take our place in it without consequence of where we should or shouldn’t be. Entrepreneurship is the adrenalin sport of business and Africa should play with style.
People are too obsessed with the supposed PR problem that Africa has. It has taken up too much of the conversation around the continent. Africa doesn’t have a PR problem, it has a discourse problem. The discourse of how Africa is spoken about needs to change and Africans need to change it.
Here is what I have learnt from reporting this great continent:
Women in tech: the approach needs to change
I have been to enough women in tech events and written enough about this subject to hit the point of fatigue. The women in tech movement, in most parts of the continent, seems to be purely aimed at women and proving they are geeks too. We all know that bullshit has to stop. Your geekiness does not qualify you to rock the tech space — it is your talent, dedication and whether you’re good at what you do. If you want to truly promote equality and a cultural shift for women in tech, start talking to the men. Women already know all of what you are preaching. Promoting women in tech needs to be more inclusive than divisive.
The rise of the African developer
Africa’s developer pool is growing very nicely. Don’t let anyone fool you into thinking that talent is lacking — it really isn’t. Most of the developers I have met through my travels around the continent are self-taught and innovative. Africa’s talent pool is growing very nicely and the more programmes that pop-up to promote that, the more developers Africa will see. In the very near future, Africa will likely be next outsourcing hub for technical work.
Tech hubs galore
In our mission to build a tech-obsessed continent, many tech hubs have begun cropping up across the continent. The more hubs popping up to support the ecosystem, the better. For Africa to truly be a thriving tech continent with opportunities and jobs and services created for its mass population, the entrepreneurs must be supported.
Government initiatives and more collaboration
Guys, we need lots more of these. Tech need to be supported heavily by African governments. That is all. African governments need to learn from Israel and other governments that have that recognised tech and entrepreneurship as key aspect for their economy. More interest from African governments could take this sector the next level and provide entrepreneurs and innovators the much-needed room to grow and create.
Africa is not a country, yes we know! Perhaps it is time Africa started looking at what makes us the same and stopped focusing on what makes us different. There is so much potential for collaboration. Someone recently asked me if there was an African way of doing business, my instinct was to say no and that there shouldn’t be. In trying to grow an economic powerhouse on the continent should Africa not begin looking at key values and traits that will spell success incorporating it into business practices on the continent?
Telling the untold stories
One of my favourite things has been our Built in Africa series on Ventureburn. We began exploring what it meant to build in Africa, what it meant for the creators and change makers of the continent to create and celebrate African innovation and ingenuity. So we set out to tell those stories, seek out those change makers and the audience responded with enthusiasm.
It is time to stop obsessing about what the West thinks — Africa has wasted enough time on this matter. The West is certainly not losing any sleep over what Africa thinks of it. Barring big tech companies that recognise the potential and have come to the continent, the West doesn’t really care that much about Africa. It has its own problems to worry about.
Right about now Stuart Thomas, the real hero behind Memeburn, is saying something like “Mich, stop yelling at Africa’s tech ecosystem”. I do that often, I yell at you guys because I know the potential here. I yell at you guys because I have seen the ingenuity that comes from this continent. However, chances are my opportunities to yell at you guys are dwindling, so I am going to say one more thing.
No more self-proclaimed gurus, please
If we can put an end to this guru business I would very much be grateful. I am not sure who began this trend but Africans have adopted with great vigour. Why are you a guru? Are you changing people’s lives with your careful spiritually divined wisdom? I am yet to meet a social or tech guru that actually knew what they are talking about.
This also goes for brands who are relying on said gurus to tell them how to speak to consumers. The African consumer is complicated and multifaceted individual who doesn’t fit into the one size fits all principle. It is time for more learning’s and less wanting to teach people because you spent some time in the geriatric ward of social media.
As this is my last day as editor of this fine content distribution network, I feel I should say what an absolute pleasure it has been to tell Africa’s stories and to witness the victories as well as the losses. I have had the opportunity to meet and work with some amazing startups, innovators and investors and Africa could not be readier to enter its fourth quarter of business innovation and the domination of tech innovation. I have been called many things when it comes to Africa’s tech space, one of them was a champion. In telling the story of Africa’s rise or its growth I felt an exorbitant amount of anxiety and vulnerability, it’s not easy being a champion. I hope I never stop.
Finally, to my team… How do I say thank you? This remarkable journey would never have been possible with out each and everyone of you. I stood on your shoulders and called myself tall. Colleagues past and present: Hendri, Jeremy, Stuart, Steven, Lauren, Mvelase, Roger, Ronan, Andy, Kyle, Jason, Kyle K, Myolisi, Jacques, Louise, Job, T, Cindy, Candace, Rory, Bridget, Amy, Martin, Marguerite and of course Matt.
To our readers, thank you for reading. To the ecosystem, thank you for allowing me the pleasure.