Africa has a dynamic startup scene. But is it scalable?
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Photo Credit; Shutterstock, Himba Woman with Cell Phone in Namibia

A Nigerian blogger says Africa can’t advance unless it learns to make things. He sees hope in his continent’s maker movement

Sub-Saharan Africa is a confusing place, at least to outside observers. You’ve got a dynamic startup scene alongside widespread poverty and hunger.  You have a moon mission in the works, at the same time that most of the population lacks passable roads.

Some observers believe that these development gaps can be overcome through digital technology.

As the Wall Street Journal has reported, many African startups aim to design the next product that will “leapfrog the current generation of technology, similar to how mobile phones replaced the need to build landlines in much of Africa.”

Indeed, much of Africa lacks landlines, yet 3G and 4G mobile broadband are becoming widespread. Similarly, drones may soon be used to deliver goods in Africa in the absence of good roads.

In other words, skip the industrial revolution and go right to the digital one.

A future made in Africa

But at least one African technology blogger is not so sanguine. Writing in Quartz, Nigerian blogger Bankole Oluwafemi argues that Africa cannot truly enter the digital age unless it acquires the ability to make things for itself.

“Skipping the industrial phase of development has come at an incalculable cost,” he writes. “We never acquired significant industrial and manufacturing capacity, much less scientific knowledge and skill for future generations. At this rate, we’ll be stuck with consuming technology, never making it—doomed to live in a future that we did not help create.”

Oluwafemi believes there is no shortcut around the hard work of improving Africa’s education system. Schools need to double down on science instruction, he says, because “solving the problems of the world is impossible for people who don’t understand how it works at the fundamental, atomic level.”

But beyond that, he does see hope in 3D printing and Africa’s nascent maker movement.

He cites Maker Faire Africa as well as the BRCK device as promising initiatives.

And he is very excited about projects for kids, like quarterly kids hacker camps at the iHub in Nairobi. Fundibots in Uganda and Nigeria’s Bot Club.

“Imagine if we started now,” writes Oluwafemi. “With toddlers, and went on for the next twenty years? Can you imagine how that would shape Africa’s future? I wonder what they would make.”

Photo Credit; Shutterstock/ Himba Woman with Cell Phone in Namibia

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Simona Weinglass

About Simona Weinglass

I’m an old-school journalist who recently decided to pivot into high-tech. I work in high-tech marketing as well as print and broadcast media covering politics, business culture and everything in between.

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