Where Africa Connects: A Dynamic Week at the Africa Tech Summit

The excitement at the African Tech Summit (February 13-15, 2019) at the sprawling Kigali Convention Center in Kigali, Rwanda was electric and palpable.  An annual three-day conference that showcases the best of Africa’s growing influence in the tech sector, the Summit brings together representatives from the private sector, universities, civil society organizations and other influential stakeholders.

As part of the Insights and Impact team at DIAL, my work entails keeping abreast of new and immerging technologies and how to leverage them for development work, particularly in low and middle income countries. I attended the Africa Tech Summit in Kigali to learn about current and future developments in tech innovation and financing on the continent, and to share our work and resources with this community.

The Summit is broken up into three separate convenings – The Startup Summit, The Future Summit and the Creative Summit. I got the opportunity to attend both the Startup and Future Summits.

The Africa StartUp Summit brought stakeholders in the tech space to discuss solving social and infrastructural problems in Africa while also investigating viable investment opportunities for startups. One of the major issues raised was access to capital which is still unevenly distributed across Africa. While funding raised by startup in Africa has steadily grown over the past three years, most of it goes to a select few countries. According to Quartz Business publication and Disrupt Africa Report, about 80% of funding raised goes to startups based in three countries: South Africa, Nigeria, and Kenya. Unsurprisingly, the same countries are also home to the most valuable and advanced startup ecosystems on the continent.

DIAL’s research has maintained the need for governments to invest in ICT building blocks such as messaging and identification services, which enable a strong tech ecosystem and incentivize private sector actors to tap into local markets in a more efficient manner.

This startup summit featured a pitch competition where a global logistics handling startup from Ghana, a health information service from Angola, and a virtual banking service for displaced individuals piloted in the D.R. Congo and Rwanda. They pitched their ideas to an interested audience of investors at the conference hoping to scale their activities and at the same time divert some of the funding from traditional destinations. The short pitches mainly focused on their value proposition, market opportunity, and projected revenues. While the time allotted to each presenter was not enough to answers all questions, the conference succeeded in putting the spotlight on these ventures for further connections.

DIAL has produced related resource guidance, as designing digital products for scale and sustainability is part of the digital principles stewarded and espoused by DIAL.

The future summit highlighted opportunities presented by new and emerging technologies including blockchain, 3D printing, cloud and IoT technologies. It also discussed related challenges such as the lack of an enabling regulatory framework, and a limited skilled workforce. Panelists discussed the need to upskill Africa’s young population where the average person is 19 years old. This will enable the continent to prepare its growing population for the future of work which will be more automated and distributed.

DIAL’s Open Source Center supports programs that aim to equip people across the world with tech  skills. On the sidelines of the Africa Tech Summit, DIAL organized an information session with Carnegie Mellon University – Africa about the Google Summer of Code – a remote and semi-annual internship program aimed at providing students participants with software development skills while contributing to open source projects.

Events such as the Africa Tech Summit align well with DIAL’s mission to convene, enable, and empower different players of the digital ecosystem to usher in the transformational power of digital technologies.