Did You Know About The Latest ICT-Trends In Africa?

Since the year 2015 is almost over, I have taken some time to read up on ICT-trends in Africa for 2016. It goes without saying that staying up to date with the latest ICT-innovations is of vital importance for the African continent. Innovation in the ICT-sector serves as a catalyst and encourages further innovation. This is why I would like to dedicate today’s post on some of the ICT-trends in Africa for 2016.

According to africastrictlybusiness.com, there are six main ICT-trends to watch in 2016. In this blog post, I will highlight three of them.

Firstly, public sector actors such as governments will become more involved. Governments will come to realize how important connectivity is to encourage economic growth. Thus, they will become more involved in the market. Whether or not this is a good thing is highly questionable.

Secondly, mobile payment will expand in 2016. I have published a blog post about mobile payment in Africa before. Apparently, this trend is getting more and more important. According to the author, in 2016 growth will take place in different areas: New countries such as Tanzania or Zimbabwe will experience significant growth in mobile payments and will eventually challenge Kenya, the current forerunner in mobile payment proliferation. Furthermore, mobile payment will increasingly be used for merchant payments or international remittances.

Thirdly, industry consolidation will increase in the telecommunications sector. This is due to the high infrastructure costs. Apparently, five companies own 60% of all telecommunications subscribers in Africa. It goes without saying, that this makes it harder for small operators to remain competitive and for innovative start-ups to enter the market.

To learn more about the latest ICT-trends, you will find the article here.

As one can see, emerging ICT-trends in Africa will also provide challenges for innovation. My new year’s resolution for 2016 is to shed light on how African innovators intend to meet the challenges that are brought about by the changing ICT landscape.

Did You Know About Corruption In The Timber Sector In Many African Countries?

It is a well known fact that corruption affects potential innovation negatively. A few weeks ago I blogged about the negative impacts of online censorship on innovation. Today I would like to address another corruption-related issue. According to an article on howwemadeitinafrica.com, in many African countries the artisanal sector is dominated by logging companies who operate illegally and without regulatory guidelines. In doing so, not only do these companies damage the environment, but they also force many individuals to work illegally.

Although regulatory efforts have been made, for example by the EU’s Action Plan on Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade, little progress has been made. Nevertheless, it is of vital importance to fight corruption and illegal business in the timber industries. As the author sums up nicely:

“By bringing the hundreds of thousands of individuals working in this industry into the formal sector, Africa’s timber industries and companies will stand to benefit from increased transparency, equal opportunity and sustainability.” (Source: howwemadeitinafrica.com)

The article provides an overview on how to increase transparency in the timber sectors in these countries.

Firstly, African governments and trade organisations must team up with international organisations to ensure that trade policies apply to all producers. It is only by doing so, that a well-functioning policy framework can be created.
Secondly, governments must provide incentives for sustainable forestry and encourage innovation within the timber industries.
Thirdly, urban manufacturing and creative movements must be encouraged to innovate:

“In the innovation space, I would look forward to exploring ways that urban manufacturing and creative movements such as the Maker Movement, Fiction Factory and Angola’s new social incubator, Fábrica de Sabão, can play a role in jump-starting a new timber innovation ecosystem for rural communities. Sharing know-how and technologies such as 3D printing and computer numerical control (CNC) machining with smallholders or even youth communities can help to unlock creative potential, drive innovation, and launch new joint ventures in urban manufacturing and design thus giving rise to a new breed of artisanal timber entrepreneurs at a grassroots level.”(Source: howwemadeitinafrica.com)

Did You Know How A Smart Business Model Can Help NGOs In Africa?

I would like to start today´s post with a question for my readers: I am always looking for more interesting websites and blogs about innovation in Africa. Unfortunately, informative online-resources concerning innovation in Africa seem to be rather scarce. If any of you know of a good website, please let me know in the comment section.

In other news, I have stumbled upon an article on venturesafrica about an organization called TechSoupGlobal. TechSoup is a technology solutions company that works with big technology firms such as Microsoft. In collaboration with these partners, they provide NGOs throughout the world with affordable technology software and solutions through their new TechSoupGlobal plattform.

Personally, I find this an incredibly great project. Nowadays, adapting to technological change is an important resource for NGOs and thus facilitates communications, logistics and organization of projects all around the world. Since NGOs usually have fewer financial resources than profit-companies, affordable technology solutions might just be the key for these organizations to fulfill their charitable mission.

Until recently, TechSoup only operated in South Africa, Kenya, Botswana and Egypt, excluding NGOs operating in other parts of the African continent. However, the company has now expanded its services to the rest of Africa, paving the way for many NGOs to potentially benefit from their services.

TechSoupGlobal is just one example for the numerous ways in which smart business models combined with the effort to make a difference can potentially benefit the lives of many in Africa. Furthermore, the above example shows that innovation doesn´t necessarily mean creating a new technology or product. Instead, a change can be made by solely innovating a remarkable business model. If any of you know of more projects like TechSoupGlobal, be sure to let me know.

Did You Know About How Infrastructure Networks Affect Innovation In Africa?

This weekend, I stumbled upon a really interesting article stressing the vital importance of a functioning logistics sector for innovation and economic growth to flourish in Africa. Apparently, in East Africa the freight and transport costs are among the highest in the world, with freight logistics costs per km being more than 50% higher in East Africa than in Europe (Source). It goes without saying that this is reflected in reduced competitiveness of goods exported from East Africa. Thus, suboptimal logistics networks create a major barrier for innovation and economic growth.

An additional factor that makes trade across national borders more costly are national taxes that need to be paid when delivering products across borders. As the article states:

„Increasing regional trade, and making it more efficient, leads to natural business development opportunities and for entrepreneurs to trade with each other, across borders. Physical logistics aid this, but governments continue to stymie regional trade by imposing import and export duties. This is an administrative and financial barrier aggravated by trading across multiple currencies.“ (Source: venturesafrica.com)

How can these infrastructure problems be dealt with? As the article states:

“The key is to understand what the African-specific challenges are and work around them to arrive at innovative solutions that work for the continent. For example, the Innovation Prize for Africa 2015 showcased hydrogen-fuelled cabs with adaptable, renewable body shells and a mobile application to book cab rides payable with cash or credit. The minicab service fills the gap for commuters who need organised, safe and affordable micro transport within a three mile radius. This environmentally friendly taxi service also eases traffic congestion in cities without causing pollution.” (Source: venturesafrica.com)

I read up on an interesting project that was mentioned in the article called LIFT (Logistics Innovation for Trade) that aims to match funding for projects that have the potential to reduce the cost and time of transport and logistics in Africa. I was keen to read more about their ongoing projects, but unfortunately they are still in the process of building their website, so I couldn´t find any more information.

All this goes to show that, for innovation to flourish in any given region it is important to establish the necessary preconditions first. This is something that I have been trying to stress in my blogposts for a while. For example, I have recently done a post about the impact of online censorship on innovation (read it here).
The future will show how these challenges will be dealt with. I am guessing that addressing governments for deregulation of financial trade barriers will prove to be an especially difficult challenge. In the meantime, I will try and do more research about this interesting topic.

Did You Know How Online-Censorship Affects Innovation?

In October, freedomhouse.org published the annual Freedom on the Net-Report – A study designed to measure the freedom on the internet in 65 countries. Over the weekend, I had a look at the 2015 report. This made me think about how censorship potentially affects innovation and left me wondering what can be done about it.

Apparently, one of the big issues concerning freedom of the internet in African countries is the heavy censorship by some authorities and governments. Censorship entails the blocking or takedown of relevant websites as well as detaining users who post certain types of content on the internet.
According to the report, in all countries in North Africa and in nearly all countries in sub-Saharan Africa criticism of authorities is subject to heavy censorship. Furthermore, topics such as Corruption, Political Opposition or Confict are heavily censored in many North- and Sub-Saharan African Countries.

All in all, only two Sub-Saharan African countries, South Africa and Kenya, qualify as free. While most of the other Sub-Saharan African countries, namely Angola, Nigeria and Uganda, qualify as partly free, Sudan, The Gambia and Ethiopia are classified as not free.

The report is extremely interesting. I urge anyone interested in innovation and media freedom to have a look at the data on freedomhouse.org.

Why is the freedom of the internet so important for innovation, one might ask. There are different perspectives to the problem.

Obviously, the blocking of certain types of online-content results in huge information barriers. Innovation often draws on insider information about the latest trends, know-how and on new technological opportunities. If access to the internet as a global database of information is restricted, its educational potential can´t be tapped.

Furthermore, censorship creates a general atmosphere of discomfort and fear. As allafrica.com put it:

“Censorship is essentially a negative process; it is inhibitory and restrictive of action. It derives its force largely from fear and the threats of power. All forms of social taboos are designed to do just this. They furnish the individual with guideposts in his thinking, which keep him within the boundaries set by the dominant power. Where it exists, censorship greatly inhibits creativity and innovation.” (Source: Allafrica.com)

All in all, the internet provides manifold opportunities for businesses, scholars and the public to educate themselves and to strive for global change. Unfortunately, as the Freedom of the Net Report 2015 confirms, censorship by authorities remains an issue in Africa and in many other regions in the world. And it is unlikely to just go away. The questions are: What actions need to be taken to encourage innovation in such a repressive political environment? And what alternatives are there to foster a culture of (sustainable) innovation, if access to important information is denied?