Opinions expressed by Digital Journal contributors are their own.
While the global repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine have affected all of us, they have not done so equally. Those bearing the greatest hardships arising from these crises were already the most vulnerable: the populations of developing countries. Many tenacious, hard-working people have faced rising import costs for staple goods, increased debts, and aid cuts, and are all but rapidly losing all hope. Against this dismal background, how can we expect innovation and discovery to flourish? What steps can we take to ensure that the opportunity and agency to create a better world is open to those who need it the most?
As the CEO of Tingo, Inc., one of Africa’s largest Agri-Fintech companies, I have witnessed first-hand the incredible potential technology holds to connect and empower people. Despite the challenges of the pandemic, Tingo, Inc. continues to keep farmers from underserved communities connected to buyers through an accessible marketplace platform, in addition to delivering essential financial support through a unique mobile leasing, which enables these individuals to pay for utilities in a safe, no-contact way.
My journey towards solving the structural challenges faced by rural farming communities, however, began on a much smaller scale. I started my career as a young tech entrepreneur with big dreams and a burning desire to support rural advancement in Nigeria. I was incredibly fortunate to benefit from the right set of circumstances which allowed me to bring my visions into reality, but am deeply aware of the numerous structural barriers holding so many dedicated, driven, and brilliant young minds back from their mission of changing the world.
To fulfil Africa’s potential, we must seize the moment and provide the targeted investment, forward-looking policies, and innovation-driven infrastructure that are essential for the boundless entrepreneurial spirit of African youth to be translated into positive action.
Young tech entrepreneurs in Africa face numerous challenges in developing innovative and creative solutions. Due to restrictive regulations, a gap in digital skills, limited investment and disjointed markets, the continent accounts for only 0.2 percent of global startup value. African start-ups are forced to deal with higher operational costs as a result of the prohibitively high cost of doing business, the lack of digital infrastructure and the difficulty of accessing markets. Investment in these businesses still lags behind the rest of the world, as a shortage of trusted information, volatile currency rates, and inadequate regulatory and legal frameworks drive investors elsewhere.
Despite these challenges, however, Africa is witnessing incredible growth: funding for tech start-ups nearly quadrupled in 2021, increasing at a rate six times faster than the global average. This increase of global interest in the African tech ecosystem is indicative of a perspective shift: the world is finally beginning to recognise Africa’s true potential.
With the youngest population of any continent, Africa is equipped with a real abundance of dynamic, passionate, and ingenuous minds who are wholly devoted to releasing its full potential. Indeed, Africa’s rate of working-age population starting new businesses is the highest in the world.
Entrepreneurs, coders, web developers, graphic designers, and other talented individuals have all contributed to the remarkable growth of tech hubs across the continent, where young Africans can come together to set up businesses and create new digital products. Investors, donors, technology providers, and NGOs across the world are currently exploring ways to tap into this extraordinary human capital.
Tech start-ups are key to Africa’s future development for three obvious reasons: they provide employment for young people, create innovative solutions to a myriad of challenges and stimulate economic growth. In fact, nascent companies with fewer than 20 employees provide the most jobs in Africa’s formal sector, with the tech sector contributing more to Nigeria’s GDP than the oil and gas sector in the last decade.
More crucially, however, technology can dramatically improve living standards and welfare for all across the continent. Tech innovations formulate solutions to the greatest challenges of our time: enhancing food production and supply chains, shielding vulnerable people from escalating climate catastrophes, and addressing inequalities in access to world-class education and healthcare, in line with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.
Just one example of the extraordinary youth-led initiatives blossoming across Africa is BrightGreen Renewable Energy, led by Chebet Lesan. Through her company, the 32-year-old entrepreneur from Kenya introduced an innovative solution helping to solve the lack of affordable fuel in her country. By converting biomass from waste materials into charcoal briquettes, BrightGreen has been able to reduce cooking costs by 50% for over 10,000 families and has saved over 5 million kilos of wood fuels, supporting global efforts towards the UN SDGs of Zero Hunger, Affordable and Clean Energy, and Climate Action.
We are witnessing an exceptional and promising moment for Africa: the dawn of its technological renaissance. There exists an immense wealth of human capital across the continent, and we must act to remove all barriers in its way.
It is therefore absolutely crucial that African governments provide a supportive framework through policies which enable the growth of private-sector innovation, adaptation, and adoption, whilst removing hurdles of cumbersome regulation, corruption, and limited investment. Alongside these efforts, countries must act to develop an environment that encourages investment in technology and science, not merely to promote discovery but to allow breakthroughs to access the market more swiftly.
Let me ask again: will the next tech superhero be born in Nigeria? Absolutely, and then again in Kenya, Ethiopia, Rwanda… If we seize the moment, and take the right steps, thousands of these bright minds will spring up from Africa to change the world – and they will be like nothing we have ever seen before.