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Persistence is the important key to success in Africa

Opinion
At the inaugural Enterprise Africa Summit that was recently hosted by the British Council in Accra, Ghana, I was fortunate enough to land a taped sit-down with Stephen Ozoigbo.

Ozoigbo is the chief executive of The African Technology Foundation. He has dedicated his energies to addressing the obvious gaps in Africa’s tech startup pipeline by championing some of the most high profile ecosystem growth initiatives on the continent - not least by serving as managing partner of [email protected], being a key executive supporter of Demo Africa and helping to organise the Geeks on a Plane Africa Tour, which ended this month.

Whenever I’m asked to rate the performance of Africa’s various emerging tech hubs, relative to more developed ecosystems around the world, I often cite Ozoigbo’s pragmatic insights on the subject. He maintains that often such comparisons are pointless, given the massive lag in the development of basic infrastructure and less-than-adequate access to resources and expertise that characterise the continent’s tech landscape.

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Andile Masuku

Ironically, it’s these very challenges, that along with a burgeoning youth population and Africa’s oft-cited internet and mobile penetration figures that make the continent’s markets a prospect not too many start-up founders and investors, locally and abroad, can afford to ignore.

Without a doubt, commercial success in African markets frequently goes to the well-informed, the patient, the flexible and the resilient.

Ozoigbo delivered one of the most quotable quotes to come out of Enterprise Africa when he said: “When you pray as an African start-up, don’t pray for prosperity. Pray for persistence.” He went on to say that hope is not a strategy, and that no amount of hope can deliver positive business outcomes - planning however, can. That statement beautifully encapsulates the spirit in which the efforts of tech start-up founders on the continent ought to be affirmed.

We all need to be humble to the fact that in order for Africa to produce a start-up success as big and globally impactful as Facebook, the continent would need to have a capital market that can successfully IPO a firm of that magnitude and keep it afloat, but we just aren’t there yet.

The reason I find chats with Ozoigbo so refreshing is because he appreciates the importance of celebrating the incremental gains being made in Africa without shying away from the serious systemic economic challenges that require bold, strategic interventions.

When asked to name a current trend within Africa’s tech and innovation scene that is tickling his fancy, Ozoigbo didn’t hesitate. He named entertainment content. His answer was exactly the same as when I put the question to him at Demo Africa 2016 nearly nine months ago.

The only difference, it seems, is that he’s become even more bullish on the trend. As it turns out, this is owing to the naira’s relative weakness against the dollar, which has turned international deals involving Nollywood content into an appetising prospect.

Ozoigbo acknowledged the global trend towards the consolidation of media and telecoms, citing Ericsson, Orange, MTN and Vodacom as examples of incumbents within the mobile telecoms industry which are making big media plays on the continent.

While on the Geeks on a Plane Tour with a high-powered investor delegation which included 500 Start-ups founder, entrepreneur and angel investor, Dave McClure, Ozoigbo claims to have spent a great deal of time engaged in serious conversations with various stakeholders about global content distribution, leasing arrangements for Hollywood equipment manufacturers, co-production opportunities, as well as developing global content distribution capacity.

He gave a respectful nod to his fellow countryman, Jason Njoku - the colourful founder and chief executive of the Iroko media group. Njoku’s exploits have done a lot to reshape our expectations of what a millennial African media empire ought to look like.

Iroko is a content producer, aggregator and distributor, as well as a channel owner, and even a VC with a fair amount of success to show for their investment efforts.

However, with Africa’s "high-end" VOD scene hotting up, the race is on for other home-grown heavies like DSTV’s ShowMax and Econet’s Kwesé to achieve critical mass and lock down sustainable business models in the face of international competition from the likes of Netflix, Amazon and iflix, as well as from large traditionally non-media incumbents who are also vying for a piece of the action.

Ozoigbo has admitted that he’s not only cognisant of how competitive the media landscape is getting, but he’s confessed to that turning him on. One thing is certain, though, gutsy African investors like Stephen Ozoigbo aren’t about to let any of that get in the way of plotting media exploits of their own. I reckon that Africa has room for at least one more media mogul.

Andile Masuku is a broadcaster and entrepreneur based in Johannesburg. He is the executive producer at AfricanTechRoundup.com. Follow him on Twitter @MasukuAndile and The African Tech Round-up @africanroundup.

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