Encouragement needed for African solutions to African problems

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There are African solutions to African problems, most specifically in the tech and innovation space, but ways need to be found of maximising their impact if the continent’s startup scene is to fulfill its potential.

This is according to panellists at last week’s Africa Technology Summit (ATS), hosted by the Meltwater Entrepreneurial School of Technology (MEST), which convened leading corporate executives, entrepreneurs, investors and media who are shaping Africa’s tech ecosystem.

Panellists agreed there had been positive steps towards developing African solutions for African problems, but more collaboration and consolidation was needed to really harness the power of technology to boost economic and social development.

“We need to find the ways of appropriating the technology to the use cases specific to Africa. There are definitely significant efforts on the continent,” said Mitchell Elegbe, chief executive officer (CEO) of pan-African digital payments company Interswitch.

Elegbe used the example of low debit and credit card penetration on the continent.

“As a result of the difficulty in using credit cards in Africa, we now have come up with solutions that tie your money to a wallet on your mobile phone. The next step is to incorporate these solutions into traditional systems to bridge the gap,” he said.

Estelle Akofio-Sowah, Ghana country director for Google, said there was clearly “something about Africa”, yet the issue was that efforts are isolated.

“The goal should be to consolidate these efforts in the various countries across the continent. As an African I want to see solutions from Africa for the issues of Africa,” she said.

According to Akofio-Sowah, patience and perseverance are crucial when dealing with African markets.

“We have all been part of public sector dialogues, and sometimes when the implementation comes out it is very different and requires further dialogue. It takes patience,” she said.

The panellists agreed that importing solutions to Africa’s problems had not proven very effective thus far, with IBM Ghana country director IBM Angela Kyerematen-Jimoh saying the idea of encouraging African solutions to African problems was behind her company’s research lab in Kenya.

Alastair Curtis, international launcher of Uber, perhaps had the best example of the troubles with applying solutions that had proven effective elsewhere to the African context in describing the challenges Uber had faced launching on the continent.

“We could not translate the solution we had in the West for Africa, we needed to come up with a solution specific to Africa, and that has informed the adoption and rollout methodology,” he said.

“Payments was one of the major areas to adopt quickly, because we learned quickly that we cannot impose the US playbook on Africa.”

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Passionate about the vibrant tech startups scene in Africa, Tom can usually be found sniffing out the continent's most exciting new companies and entrepreneurs, funding rounds and any other developments within the growing ecosystem.

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