Africa: The land of digital natives.
Part 2 of a 3 article part series called “Africa’s Digital landscape is unique”.
In terms of digital in Africa innovations are the sole way to go. Africa counts the most Information, Communication and Technology innovations in the past 5 years, more than any other other continent. We’re not catching up to Asia quite yet, but the innovations the motherland have produced in the past 5 years are notable.
Africans might not have created your favorite app (yet), but they will use it in way you’ve haven’t thought of before.
Innovation in Africa is two-fold. On one hand you have the adaptation of a service to suit local needs. Africans use all the apps you’re familiar with, yet they use it differently. In an environment where SMS is king, airtime and sms charges are expensive, so people found innovative ways to use wifi to communicate. Long before Facebook, Africans were the first to see the real value of Whatsapp since its launch in 2009, they will use it to communicate with family and friends abroad and locally. I would like to believe the Swarm App from Foursquare was developed after observing Africans’ use of Foursquare. Since its inception in Africa, Foursquare had always been used to make plans. People would remotely check-in into a place and friends will comment and arrange plans and set dates that way, rather than text. Africans might not have created your favorite app (yet), but they will use it in way you’ve haven’t thought of before. Yet success stories of local solutions are there, they’re just not broadcasted.
The African digital landscape is unique. It’s a fairy tale world up for grabs for anyone who has a superior understanding of the fundamental problems hindering his community. Information, communication technology in Africa is mostly used to problem solve. The continent has a huge rural population, mostly without access to bank services, which lead an entrepreneur to convert cell phone minutes into cash to facilitate transactions (M-Pesa); in a way bringing banking solutions to people previously unreachable by banks. Note that M-Pesa was developed years before Google Wallet, which also is light years behind how infrared technology has transform cell phone usage in Japan.
Kelvin Doe, Sierra Leone, created a radio and a generator from scratch parts found around his village. Also known as DJ Focus, Kelvin created the station to entertain the people of his village. He also managed to teach his friends and the other kids of his area how to duplicate his radio to make their own shows.
DJ Focus Youtube screenshot
Other problems are linked to entertainment. Some villages don’t always get signal, so a brilliant kid decided to create his own radio (from scratch) to entertain his community. Some problem are more serious. E-Health has thrived in Africa for the past decade. Drugs are perishable, for the longest time, Africa was the dumpster of choice for the west perished goods. So a couple of guys create a way for people to check validity of purchased drug via SMS. Or more recently a young man from Cameroon created the CardioPad allowing the users to conduct remote EKG through sms technology ( IBM was swift to acquire). These are a few of the success stories that have populated the continent over the past 5 to 10 years.
But I often like to differentiate the English speaking African startups from the French speaking countries. I think the progression in countries like Nigeria, South Africa and notably Kenya where Nairobi has become the mecca of innovation and technology on the continent are different from their french speaking counterpart. Part of it comes from the fact most programming language are written in English. Africa is 70% french speaking, it’s only natural that english speaking countries had the edge, but their french speaking counterpart are finally catching up. Their success stories a pretty well known, M-Pesa and several others come to mind, but looking at the rest of the continent, notably the french speaking countries, 12 startups really stand out.
Much like the 12 apostles, these are the 12 pioneers of the digital innovation landscape in french speaking Africa. They’ve made major contributions to the digital landscape over the past 5 years.
French Africa 12 innovation pioneers, image from Moshare Magazine editorial
Although none of them has reach the “success story” status just yet, they have tremendously changed their ecosystem. This list also hits home with me even more because out of the 12 innovation pioneers, 3 are from Cameroon: Djoss TV, CardioPad, and Njorku.
Djoss TV: Created in October 2011 by four local entrepreneurs, Djoss TV is a platform that allows users to comment on events (concerts, and even presidential elections), or live TV shows through sms or online post on a local or global scale.
Arthur Zang during his presentation at the 2014 Rolex challenge, where he won first place with his invention.
Arthur Zang (left), Cecilia Nebel (right) © Rolex
CardioPad: Created by a young student from Polytech (Cameroon’s leading engineering school), the cardiopad allows doctor to remotely conduct EKGs, radioscopy, and several other functions using a tablet and sms technology. The entrepreneur recently won the rolex innovation award for his creation.
Njorku: One of Africa’s leading job search/posting platform. The site allows users to look for employment in their respective countries in a few strokes of their computer keyboards.
In terms of technology use and adoption if you take Asia out of the picture, our baby boomers are your Gen Y. Our Gen Y are your millennials and our millennials are the future of technology.
These 12 disruptors understood one thing: Africa needs custom-tailored solutions. That’s why in our landscape, we don’t focus so much on creating but much more on innovation. Which means that It could be a pre-existing API flipped over heels to suit a problem in a local community. Or hardware created to harness solar power to filter water. African tech entrepreneurs live to solve problems in their communities, because they understand it better than anyone else.
Coming into our ecosystem, you need to understand that it’s crucial that you leave all your preconceived notion of what technology in Africa looks and feels like. You need to understand that the Average African has 2 cell phones, a tablet and a laptop. You need to understand that we’ve started to design and manufacture our own devices. You need to understand that Cyber cafe are going to die in the next 5 years. In terms of technology use and adoption if you take Asia out of the picture, our baby boomers are your Gen Y. Our Gen Y are your millennials and our millennials are the future of technology.