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Africa needs ‘one tech product’ to win the global tech challenge

The continent and the surrounding countries still lack that unique product or service by which the region can be known. This points to a lack of unity of purpose in the African tech ecosystem, says the writer. The AfriCom trade show at the Cape Town Convention Centre. 12.11.19. FILE PHOTO: Armand Hough/African News Agency (ANA)

The continent and the surrounding countries still lack that unique product or service by which the region can be known. This points to a lack of unity of purpose in the African tech ecosystem, says the writer. The AfriCom trade show at the Cape Town Convention Centre. 12.11.19. FILE PHOTO: Armand Hough/African News Agency (ANA)

Published May 8, 2022

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OPINION: The continent and the surrounding countries still lack that unique product or service by which the region can be known. This points to a lack of unity of purpose in the African tech ecosystem, writes Wesley Diphoko.

Continents and countries that have dominated the technology landscape are known for producing one single product or service very well.

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Japan has been known for producing electronic devices for decades. Think cameras, most of them came from Japan and mainly from Asia.

Germany is well known for producing well engineered products. Think about some of their car brands. Switzerland has been known for producing quality watches. As Africa becomes more active in the technology sector, there’s a silent debate about products that are coming out of these tech ecosystems. The dominating debate, however, tends to focus on the nature of the technology ecosystems.

In South Africa, Cape Town is considered as an ecosystem that almost has all the ingredients for developing a thriving tech ecosystem. The region boasts some of the leading academic institutions not only in the country but across the continent.

Venture capitalists in Cape Town are more engaged with the broader industry. The region, particularly Stellenbosch has some of the richest individuals in the continent which is an important in enabling funding access for tech startups.

Tech culture is thriving in Cape Town with more startup companies being founded in the region.

Simply things like tech events, quality coffee and food are all part of a lifestyle that makes Cape Town one of the most exciting areas to start a tech business.

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Gauteng (Johannesburg and Pretoria) is also proving to be another region with a growing startup ecosystem.

Universities have become incubators of tech startups and spaces such as Maboneng are adding lifestyle features to an already thriving economic sector.

Fintech, edutech, agritech and healthtech are becoming leading verticals within the tech ecosystem.

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Across the continent there’s a similar pattern particularly in Nigeria and Kenya with fintech becoming the kingmaker.

While this activity is commendable, the continent and the surrounding countries still lack that unique product or service by which the region can be known.

This points to a lack of unity of purpose in the African tech ecosystem. Labels such as “African tech capital” as promoted by one African city are not helping the situation.

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The seeming competition between regions is not advancing the cause of the African tech agenda. Disjointed product and service offerings are not contributing towards communicating a clear message about Africa’s Unique Selling Proposition.

Is it not time that Africa creates a single tech product to dominate globally?

Africa needs to start thinking about 2050 and the continents standing in terms of an African tech product. What will be the tech product that will be found only in Africa?

To achieve this objective, African governments together with businesses and technology ecosystem will have to find a way of reaching a consensus on what the entire continent can contribute towards making a dominant African tech product.

Germany achieved its product excellence in engineering through a contribution of many roles players that included education system the tech sector and government. The same is true in Asia.

There’s a need of a pipeline of skills that will contribute to that single product and government intervention to deliberate support a locally produced tech in all spheres of of life. From high school level such skill has to be cultivated and further developed in higher education and supported in the entrepreneurship ecosystem.

In doing this the continent will have to avoid the practice of importing a product that is developed elsewhere. Support from elsewhere can be in the form of skills exchange where they are lacking. The bigger question that require deep thoughts and decision is, what kind of tech product will Africa produce?

It cannot be another car or anything that exists already. It has to be a product that moves society from 0 to 1, a truly innovative product that will be an Africa invention. That is the challenge for all Africans who care about the future of technology in the continent.

Every tech startup founder, investor and innovator should concern themselves with this challenge until an answer is found.

If African innovators cannot come with such a a product this continent will be left behind and continue to play the role of a follower in the global tech ecosystem. This will be one way of producing unique and advanced skills that will sought after in other parts of the world.

* Wesley Diphoko is the Editor-in-Chief of Fast Company (SA) magazine.

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