National Geographic : 2017 Dec
106 national geographic • DeceMBer 2017 ideas could, in the manner of SafeMotos, improve the lives of their fellow Africans. This development should not be surprising, despite the many political and socioeconomic travails bedeviling Africa’s overall progress. “On this planet only one continent is growing faster than all the others in population, and it’s likely to keep growing even faster,” says Steve Mutabazi, a chief strategist with the Rwanda Development Board. “I’ve watched Asian countries enviously, and one thing is clear: When you have a develop- ing region with enough members developing an ecosystem, it generates incredible momentum for investment in that region.” Africa, Mutabazi adds, “is at that point now.” Africa’s late arrival to the digital economy comes with certain competitive advantages. It benefits from advances and mistakes already made by Silicon Valley. Its population is younger than that of any other continent. Its marketplace amounts to a new frontier. Its largely untapped labor force presents an appealing prospect for tech-assembly plants. “Look at how China and India are competing in the electronics market,” says Bitange Ndemo, Kenya’s former perma- nent secretary at the Ministry of Information and Communications and now a professor of entrepreneurship at the University of Nairobi’s School of Business. “India is well on its way to becoming a global production center for elec- tronic products. And how? By having so many young people with little to do that they can make things for next to nothing. What other continent can do that? Africa.” It happens that Ndemo was one of the first Kenyans to promote his country’s tech potential with the nickname Silicon Savannah. Today he says the hype is warranted. Thanks to the mobile money-transferring innovation launched in 2007 by Kenya’s M-Pesa, Africans with a cell phone can deposit and withdraw cash at many shops without having to visit a bank or ATM. Mobile money transfers also are being used to pay for power from solar panels that off-grid- energy companies install on homes lacking elec- tricity. Uber is a fact of life in urban East Africa, as are homegrown car-sharing competitors.