The UK trade commissioner for Africa said, in a South African newspaper recently, that a spirit of innovation, and the ensuing embracing of tech, is resolving many issues in countries across the continent. Tania Broughton reports.
For three years, as trade commissioner for Africa in the UK department for international trade, she has been promoting UK trade and investment in Africa with innovation and technology a key focus.
Last year, the UK government described the tech sector as one of the fastest growing sectors in Africa.
The continent's start-ups raised 50% more venture capital in 2017 than in 2016, the majority being invested in South Africa (£130 million), Kenya (£114 million) and Nigeria (£89 million).
And, Nigeria and Kenya's technology sectors were generating more than 10% and 11% of their respective economic output.
In a recent article, posted in South Africa’s Business Day, Wade-Smith says tech transforms business and improves lives and, “what surprises those less familiar with Africa, is the range and sophistication of innovation taking place across the continent”.
“Africa’s entrepreneurs and innovators are at the apex of a technological revolution that is transforming the continent. Their citizens are finding solutions to deep-rooted problems.”
The UK is well placed to partner with these entrepreneurs - and technological innovation will be the key theme for a UK-Africa investment summit to be hosted in London in January 2020.
Wade-Smith cites the success story of Pelebox as an example of this.
It is a smart locker system for distributing prescriptions to patients with chronic conditions giving patients access to medicine within 36 seconds.
It recently won an engineering innovation prize from Britain’s Royal Academy of Engineering, which provided some seed capital.
Another example is M-Pesa, Kenya’s phone-based money transfer app, which was started with seed capital from the UK’s department for international development.
“The system was launched by Vodafone’s Safaricom mobile operator in 2007 as a simple method of texting small payments between users,” Wade-Smith says.
“Today there are 30 million users across ten countries with a range of services on offer... It is an inspiration to the world.”
She said governments needed to provide enabling environments for entrepreneurs and connectedness was a high priority. Africa’s growing network of tech hubs — more than 440 - proved that the continent was fertile ground scaling up a technology-led entrepreneurship culture.
Wade-Smith said by 2020 Sub-Saharan Africa would have more than half a billion unique mobile subscribers — twice the projected number in North America and close to the total in Europe — making the continent the fastest-growing area for mobile technology.
The UK recently hosted the first “prosperity start-up games” in Cape Town and next month, in Nairobi, UK experts in urban development, medtech and fintech will be looking to find local partners to address challenges presented by the changing world.
“Our ability to connect the trillions of pounds that flow through the City of London to the millions of entrepreneurs and rapidly expanding businesses in Africa — fuelled by technology and innovation — will be key.
“Never has there been a more opportune time in history for the African continent to have a more conducive environment for innovation and shift the balance towards technology-led purpose and prosperity,” Wade-Smith says.
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