Eric Osiakwan’s African Economic KINGS

Sylvana Lewin, Tuesday April 3rd 2018

Over the past decade, Africa has seen an immense technological boom, from the formation of Silicon Savannah to the emergence of Africa’s first unicorn, Jumia. More and more Africa is becoming an important player when it comes to innovation. According to a recent GSMA report there are 442 active tech hubs across emerging markets in Africa, and in 2017 African tech startups raised 53% more funding than they did in 2016, reaching a total of $560M. As the tech scene in Africa thrives, many African economies are growing. Ghana is projected to be the world’s fastest growing economy in 2018. In fact,six out of the top ten fastest growing economies in 2018 are in Africa.

“The Africa Rising narrative is a tech rising narrative,” says Eric Osiakwan. Osiakwan is known for his strong stance on the importance of technological innovation and the ICT economy in advancing Africa. A managing partner at Chanzo Capital, Osiakwan is an entrepreneur and investor with 15 years of ICT industry leadership experience across the world. He has worked in 32 African countries, authored numerous books, and has served as an advisor for several startups, including Forhey, cofounded by MEST alum Kelldick Bakorkor.

Recently Osiakwan gave a TEDx Talk at TEDxBerkeley called The Kings of Africa’s Economy, highlighting the role tech will play in the future of the continent. Here are some key takeaways from his talk.  

Tech Rising in Africa

“In 1999, there were more landlines in Manhattan than all of Africa. In 2008, there were more cellphones in Africa than all of the US. Africa leapfrogged the US and went straight to mobile. Africa is skipping industrialization and going straight to the information age.”

Mobile has permeated the continent, with penetration exploding to 82% in 2018. There are 1,040 billion mobile subscribers in Africa.  This has been made possible by a network of submarine cables across the continent and has led to what Osiakwan terms “a mobile web leapfrog”.

He states, “Africa is a mobile first, a mobile only, and a mobile web continent.”

From Vodafone’s introduction of airtime to Safaricom’s mPesa, the rise  of mobile in Africa has also led to the advent of mobile money, which has allowed Africans to participate in the online economy. The development of mPesa was followed by a boom in mobile innovation and the growth of the African ICT industry. Companies like Ushahidi, which has since become an international tech company with multiple applications in over 20 countries, quickly followed, as well as innovation centres such as iHub. Today Africa’s mobile and telecom economy contributes 7.7% to GDP and has an economic value of $110 billion.

By 2012, the ICT sector in Ghana was outperforming the oil and gas sector. Osiakwan explains, “There’s no way you can tell me the Africa Rising story is a resource narrative. It has to be a tech narrative because the tech sector has been growing year upon year in the last two decades since Africa adopted mobile.”

The Creativity Era and the Kings

Osiakwan believes that this is just the beginning of the story. These past two decades in Africa have been spent in what he terms the “Connectivity Era” and it is only now that Africa is moving into the “Creativity Era”.

In the Creativity Era, Osiakwan believes, “Entrepreneurs are going to leverage on the mobile web platform to create amazing technologies.” MEST is certainly seeing the start of this with our alumni and founders taking to mobile and creating technologies that are solving issues in a variety of sectors from  agriculture, health, commerce, and education.

“There are five countries that are leading this revolution across the continent. The KINGS countries. Kenya, Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Ghana, and South Africa. These are the countries leading the digital economy in Africa,” says Osiakwan.

These are precisely the regions in which MEST has a presence. We see these markets as the leaders in tech and innovation, and see a growing source of talent continuing to rise there. . Kenya, Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Ghana, and South Africa are fast becoming leaders in the African tech world, even producing Africa’s first unicorn, Jumia. Each country has an ecosystem ripe for entrepreneurship and is fostering this through supportive government policies.

Tech infrastructure and entrepreneurial ecosystems have sprung up in the major cities of these countries. Over the past 10 years on the continent, MEST is happy to have played a strong role in the creation of the vibrant entrepreneurial ecosystem you can now find in Ghana, and we are looking forward to continue to shape the ecosystems in Nigeria, South Africa and beyond.