Kenya’s answer to Silicon Valley

Kenya

Sayo Ayodele

19 July 2016

Heard of Silicon Valley? Kenya’s response – dubbed the Silicon Savannah – is now home to local and global tech companies alike. Facebook, Microsoft, IBM and others have recently set up shop here, eyeing the combination of a burgeoning tech sector, developing middle class and growing young population. A significant number of people now get around by Uber, and make payments via M-Pesa, a pioneering mobile money system developed locally.

M-Pesa was a first mover in the mobile money space, and is estimated to have just under half of Kenya’s population as customers. A whopping 40% of the country’s GDP is transacted through the service, which has provided access to financial services for low-income citizens. Many others have now followed suit, recognising the huge social and economic benefit on offer.

AkiraChix, a project that provides women of limited resources with access to technological training, has ambitious plans. During its rigorous training programme, it aims to set up a fund to invest in businesses for women to develop – one such example is an ‘Uber for rural areas’, a viable proposition given the size of the potential market. Another example is TICAH, which aims to promote health through indigenous remedies. The initiative uses mobile phones to share traditional healing methods with those suffering from HIV and other ailments.

This creativity and innovation is a regional and continental trend – from local community organisations to large business. As a Nigerian woman, I feel proud of many of the developments coming from the continent that rival and even outperform those around the world.

For instance, Africa Internet Group’s Jumia, Nigeria’s answer to Amazon, is now valued at over $1 billion. The company has rigorous mechanisms to avoid fraudulent transactions that plague Nigeria’s consumers, allowing them to access everyday necessities from the comfort of their homes.

Rwanda will host the world’s first drone airport – droneport – to facilitate the transfer of various supplies to those in need. Boxes of blood for transfusions will be sent around the country by the aerial vehicles, cutting the transport time by over 50%, and saving lives in the process.

Most interesting is that technological innovation in this part of the world tends to be about solving everyday problems, given that almost half of the population still lives on less than $2 a day according to World Bank data.

Step out of the sky-high, air-conditioned offices that host incubators and business, and it’s impossible to avoid the challenges of life here. Climb into your Uber, and face a bumpy ride on bad roads in excruciating traffic. Look out the window and you might see young men sitting on the sidewalk next to a construction site, waiting to be offered a day’s work in a country with the demographic challenge of high youth unemployment and a large and growing number of under 25s.

There’s a huge market readily available to those companies willing to tackle challenges of transport, access to fresh food, water, and sanitation using innovative technology. The creativity and passion of these entrepreneurs is infectious, and has underpinned the Africa rising story.

Amplified conservation efforts in recent years give us hope that generations to come will enjoy the fruits of nature in this beautiful country. Similarly, local and global companies and community organisations that have decided to tackle micro and macro challenges faced by Kenyans and other Africans will continue to reap the benefits – both social and financial – for years to come. Like the Savannah, Kenya has much to offer to those ready to reciprocate.