Technology Holds the Key to Realizing Africa’s Full Potential
Given the rate at which young populations in many African countries are expanding, the continent promises to emerge as a major consumption market in the coming decades. Over 75% of Africa's current population is under the age of 35, and by 2030, 42% of the world's young people are expected to reside in African nations. These statistics point to the potential for the continent to develop itself and contribute largely to innovative spaces and the world economy. However, for the continent to compete in world markets, technology will be critical to help this emerging population of leaders and doers reach their full potential and take their rightful place in the world.
Technology: The Pivot of Africa's Future
Technology, particularly the ever-evolving digital ecosystem, has rapidly grown its web in recent decades and shows no signs of slowing. Successful leaders must not only embrace and adapt to new technologies, but also create more of them, and use them to solve pressing issues. In this swiftly changing world, Africa requires leaders who recognize what their communities need, anticipate their future needs, and possess the creativity to connect those needs with emerging technologies.
Technology is continuously becoming the driving force behind everything we do, from banking, purchasing, and investing, to socializing, enjoying entertainment, and networking. This steady advancement creates constant opportunities for growth and progress. More than 10% of the world's internet users now reside in Africa, owing significantly to the massive influx of smartphone and tablet availability. This is paving the way for internet capability in rural areas that still often lack traditional computer resources.
Despite recent market reduction, Africa has cemented itself as a "mobile-first" continent. Over the past two decades, countries such as Uganda, Kenya, and Tanzania have seen cell phone use skyrocket, increasing from one in ten people owning a cell phone to nine out of ten — ownership numbers comparable to those of Western nations. Even countries such as Tanzania, which have a relatively smaller market than other African countries, are now trending in the direction of a tech-savvy and tech-dependent future. Such advancement paves a way for young populations to bridge the technology gap by accessing content and opportunities that would otherwise be limited.
The Barriers to Progress
Despite the positive statistics, for many African nations, this advancement is still difficult, hindering the growth potential. Factors such as poverty, lack of resources, and shortage of educational opportunities have long been obstacles. In addition, internet access has historically been costly, restricted, and difficult to secure in the region. Many locations are cut off from the same due to geo-restrictions, with access being limited primarily to central locations, such as internet cafes. The COVID-19 pandemic added to the strains on the developing economies in Africa, which were further affected by the food and supply chain delays owing to Russia's war against Ukraine. However, although impoverished nations and communities are seemingly at a disadvantage, resources are slowly becoming more readily available, particularly due to cellular technology.
Africa's youth is ready — hungry, in fact — for their turn in the tech world. The increased access to technology is imperative to both their growth and their nations' development, aiding in factors such as education, social and business networking and development, and participation in global financial and trade markets. Increasing access to the internet and the subsequent opportunities require commitment both from the African governments and the international community.
African governments should invest in infrastructure to make internet access more affordable, especially in non-urban communities. International support, such as Google's partnership with African governments to invest in building infrastructure to increase technology access can go a long way. Google is also contributing by upskilling and training African youth in technical roles.
Similarly, organizations like Girl Power Talk which provide opportunities and mentorship to youth need to make conscious efforts to bridge the technical, skill, and opportunity gap in Africa. Organizations that provide blockchain technologies, such as Input Output Hong Kong and the Cardano Foundation, are also gaining interest in the future of Africa's youth, evidenced by Cardano's recent collaboration with the World Mobile Group, a global network provider working to ensure that everyone has access to mobile networks. The goal of this and other deals, such as Cardano's previous partnership with Ethiopia's Ministry of Education, is to increase the availability of digital, financial, and social services in underserved African countries. The expanding digital ecosystem needs to be supported by such global players to ensure young minds get the exposure they need to thrive in today's connected world.
A Booming StartUp Space
Successful start-ups are bringing change and progress to Africa by introducing services that have not been readily available before and by working on solutions to problems that are specific to the continent. Farmerline, a start-up founded in Ghana, is a prime example. In 2013, founders, Alloysius Attah and Emmanuel O. Addai, recognized the need to increase global food production and simultaneously help local Ghanaian farmers grow lasting wealth. By connecting users with an online marketplace, Farmerline is using technological resources to increase opportunities for local farmers and to bring African agriculture up to the international standard. Today, the company is one of the largest private employers in Ghana's agricultural industry.
Nigeria is another country hosting a blooming startup sector. This is supported by the Nigeria Start-Up Act signed by the president in 2022, to regulate and support the growth of startups. Afrinolly, a start-up based in Nigeria, has created a popular mobile phone app that makes the Nigerian entertainment industry, Nollywood, accessible to the world. The venture's goal is not just to increase the exposure of their thriving film industry, but also to bring opportunities to younger people who are interested in the industry through training and the introduction of better equipment and newer technologies. Sky.Garden, a Kenyan start-up, allows a diverse set of merchants to set up a free mobile web shop to showcase and sell their inventory. This platform helps local businesses connect with international e-commerce opportunities, thereby expanding their reach and potential for success.
With improved technological capabilities, young African innovators and entrepreneurs are taking the world by a storm, introducing more and more start-ups each year. The rest of the world is taking notice and even providing much needed financial backing to help ensure their success. For example, tech start-up investment across the continent hit the $3 billion mark for the first time in 2022, showing an increase of more than 50% on the funding secured the previous year. This growth further indicates that African start-ups are not only on the rise but also have significant support from the rest of the world. Technology and external support are opening up opportunities for Africa's development.
Today's digital ecosystem facilitates numerous opportunities for African youth, who are eager to compete on merit with the rest of the world. It brings services closer, solves issues that are specific to Africa and its people, and provides networking opportunities that were previously available only to very few. Insurance can now be easily purchased, and consumers are able to comparison shop. Online banking and investing are enabling financial stability and growth, while international marketplaces become more accessible to everyone, regardless of their location. Online learning options are bringing education to a much wider audience, and even internet access, which was once restricted to limited locations such as internet cafes, is at the fingertips of anyone who has a mobile phone.
With this ever-evolving digital ecosystem and a growth-oriented outlook, Africa can no longer be justifiably seen as the burden or threat it has been perceived to be. As a land rich with natural and human resources, it is brimming with countless possibilities. Development in Africa can reap amazing dividends for the global space both in terms of contribution to the global economy and innovations that benefit the world.
What will be imperative to Africa's future success is the drive, resilience, and adaptability of its tech-hungry youth. The young people of Africa are creative and are looking to upskill themselves beyond the traditional knowledge gained in educational institutes. Armed with technology, there will be no limit to the ways in which they will bring about change and advancement to their own lives and the world around them. Given the power of this potential demographic dividend, Africa is ripe for impact investing by international investors. Investing right now can not only change lives for the African population, but also result in benefits and profits for the investors.
Girl Power Talkis a purpose-driven organization empowering today's most capable youth with the confidence, knowledge, and opportunity to become tomorrow's global leaders. Rachita Sharma, CEO & Co-founder of Girl Power Talk, is a technology entrepreneur, financial literacy advocate, and gender rights activist.
Photo Credits: Girl Power Talk
The opinions expressed on this blog are solely those of the authors. They do not reflect the views of the Wilson Center or those of Carnegie Corporation of New York. The Wilson Center's Africa Program provides a safe space for various perspectives to be shared and discussed on critical issues of importance to both Africa and the United States.
About the Author
Girl Power Talk
The Africa Program works to address the most critical issues facing Africa and US-Africa relations, build mutually beneficial US-Africa relations, and enhance knowledge and understanding about Africa in the United States. The Program achieves its mission through in-depth research and analyses, public discussion, working groups, and briefings that bring together policymakers, practitioners, and subject matter experts to analyze and offer practical options for tackling key challenges in Africa and in US-Africa relations. Read more