From OLPC to VC: Africa leapfrogs the digital divide

Afrinnovator got a mention on Involution Studio’s blog in a series of posts by Niti Bhan and Muchiri Nyaggah on technology in Africa. Involution Studios is a design studio based in the US that does design work for major corporations such as McAFee, Oracle, Microsoft and Yahoo.

Niti Bhan and Muchiri Nyaggah collaborate to offer real world expertise and a holistic understanding of the emerging markets of Africa. Semacraft Consulting Group focuses on understanding the mindset and customer behaviour, market segmentation and archetypes that drive effective product and service concept design as well as the supporting business and transaction models.

In an insightful article Muchiri writes:

Where once the idea of technology for young Africans meant bright green laptops in the hands of smiling schoolchildren, young people today are far more ambitious in their dreams. Almost half the population in most African countries is between 15 and 25 – a demographic dividend that is rapidly evolving into a digital one, as mobile phones become ever more affordable and open platforms accessible.

“Africa’s youth are at the vanguard of this fundamental shift in expectation of a connected future. They’re bold, they’re hungry, they’re ambitious – they know that a decent education and decent grades offer no guarantee of long-term employment,” says Wambura Kimunyu, Chief eXperience Officer at Cellulant, one of East Africa’s leading mobile commerce companies. “They’re coming of age in an era where the only opportunities available to you are the ones you make yourself.”

Leading the change are the digital class – a much smaller subgroup who have as much access to leading edge technological tools as their peers around the globe. They’re the ones who gather for Mobile Monday nights or fireside chats to listen to speakers such as Larry Wall, creator of Perl. They’ve banded together to form a loosely knit alliance of tech incubators and open collaboration spaces located in Kenya, Uganda, Cameroon, Senegal, Ghana and Nigeria. They’re seeing the opportunities on the web as more and more Africans are going online for the first time by using their mobile phones. Mikul Shah, a Nairobi based entrepreneur, is already in the black with, an online restaurant guide that offers table reservations as part of the service while South African media giant Naspers is backing the newly launched small business marketplace Dealfish in both East and West Africa.

In a previous article in the same series, Muchiri and Niti claim ‘Africa is the next frontier‘:

What kind of opportunities are there? Who are these new customers? Where are they and what do they want? Is it possible to step away long enough from the overriding concerns of chaos, poverty, alleviation and humanitarianism to consider a long term business strategy in a sustainable manner? Certainly, yes. Google, for example, has been investing in a significant African presence with offices in Ghana, Senegal, Nigeria, Kenya, Uganda and South Africa. Needless to say they see the potential of this burgeoning – and no longer dark – continent. Acumen Fund’s East African Manager Biju Mohandas was recently quoted as saying:


“This whole region is growing dramatically. The nature of conversations is changing from that of a continent in shambles, and that requires aid, to a continent that is becoming the next big growth area in terms of economic interest.”

Articles such as these continue to give credence to the emergence of a new Africa! It’s time to shed off that old mentality of ‘poor, hungry, unhealthy Africa, let’s go help them’ to a new mentality, one of optimism, entrepreneurship and progress! Here’s to the new Africa!