“Until lions have their own historians, tales of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.” ~ African Proverb
That proverb has been used to sum up the continent’s state (or fate) for a long time. And what’s become more apparent is that in some cases, you need to point out which Africa you are referring to, South Africa or the rest of Africa. Given that we’re now seeing the kind of innovative web & technology startups coming from Nigeria and Kenya, the Tech4Africa conference put a lot into perspective.
South Africa has always been one of the main doors into the continent. A leading economy no doubt with a vibrant entrepreneurial space with the likes of Naspers showing how powerful an emerging market this is. However, even as the crown jewel of the continent, with we’re beginning to see a balance play out with the South, East & West shifting as each develops not on a linear path, one after the other, but each on its own tangent, converging and diverging with time.
Take Kenya for instance, who recently trumped South Africa in broadband thanks to services like Wananchi Online & Cisco’s Zuku which brings fiber-to-the-home and an uncapped service of 1 MBps as well as 100 television channels. Crisis mapping and visualisation platform Ushahidi was the centre of attention at Tech4Africa, from cofounder Erik Hersman sharing their missteps, challenges and shortfalls in “failing spectacularly.” Even to mentions from Clay Shirky at Tech4Africa and his most recent TED Talk where he shares how it began, and how it fits in with his thoughts on collaboration and cognitive surplus. Or in West Africa, where Bright Simons and mPedigree are changing the pharmaceutical landscape by allowing consumers to verify via SMS the authenticity and safety of their medicines.
Leila Janah, keynote speaker at T4A, spoke about her non-profit Samasource, who’ve created a network of 800 women, youth and refugees across the world in developing countries and empowering them with digital work and resources to make better livelihoods. Her keynote showed the scale, reach and impact of Samasource’s efforts as well as their plans and challenges. It’s certainly clear that East and West Africa are learning from South Africa and now more than ever, the continent’s developing three pillars to build on.
Any pan African approach will present very unique challenges in comparison with what works in South Africa and Tech4Africa’s ability to share between tried and tested practice in the Southern part of Africa, with input from The East and West and an international perspective is what differentiated it for me.
Whether it was debating approaches for the mobile marketing arena shared or the insightful tips and tricks behind the proposed redesign of Payfine.co.za or Andy Budd’s entire session at that. The value in creating simple, relevant user experiences may inadvertently not be at the top of many priority lists across the continent but from what the principles behind it are, what they unlock can be the difference between success and failure. We can expect that with time, these user experience and interaction principles will adapt and be tailored to fit the African context in new ways.
The inspiration and vision to shift perceptions about Africa and those in Africans about the possibilities for great things when it comes to technology are what struck me about Gareth and his remarkable team. Gareth Knight, the man who returned to South Africa bearing the Tech4Africa vision has been the one brave enough to take the first step. And if one African proverb proves true then as Gareth leads this generation to plant the seeds, we’ll wait to how the next generation of Africans use the shade.
It was certainly an honour to witness this beginning.