Article by Christelle Mekoh
How #Afrobytes is taking a stand, one byte at a time.
From the internet, to smart phones, to drones, technology is emerging in Africa and has the potential of completely transforming the continent.
But when was the last time you heard someone describing Africa using the words “growth”, “entrepreneurship”, “innovation”; and not only “corruption”, “disease”, and “migrants”?
I had the pleasure of getting to know Haweya Mohamed, Head of Communications & Managing Director at Afrobytes, the first digital hub dedicated to African tech in Europe. She created Afrobytes in November 2015 with her associate, Ammin Youssouf, the former CEO of Big Youth – a digital publicity agency based in Paris. Their ambition is to redefine and defend the image of the Continent, to show the Africa that she knows: young, optimistic, connected, urban, and inspiring, and not the images usually showed by the media. They want to create a brand for Africa, “a love brand”, because people invest in a brand they like.
Q 1: How can technology (digital) accelerate and impact social change in Africa?
Haweya Mohamed (HM): Technology, and especially mobile phones, have notably changed women’s lives. Mobile phones allow them to save time. Moreover, when they have access to a network, most of them take time to train themselves. Thanks to digital, they can arrange their daily lives, their businesses and have access to more opportunities.
Q 2: Do you think women feel intimidated in business?
HM: Why should they be? African women play a big role and participate extensively in the continent’s economy. They are the first in entrepreneurship (One example: 41% of women in Nigeria are entrepreneurs, versus 10% in the USA), the first in agriculture, they know more than any one about what is good for society as a whole. We should be proud of it and stop relaying that they are intimidated. On the contrary, they are leading the way. We need to show more successful profiles in the media to inspire young girls and your help is crucial.
Q 3: How do you think digital media is changing or impacting our lives? Especially in Africa?
HM: Generally speaking, digital media is changing and impacting our lives by giving us access to affordable content. Today you can download books, courses and have new types of learning experiences. In Africa this is even more relevant. A great example is a start-up in Kenya called Kytabu. The genius idea comes from Tonee Ndungu and gives primary and high school students in Kenya access to all the textbooks in the Kenyan Education Curriculum as digital learning material, without having to download them on a broadband network. It is a real tool of empowerment.
Q 4: Name three African start-ups that you admire?
HM: What I look up to at the moment are start-ups working on block chain opportunities and Fintech with, again, a mission to transform lives.
As you know 80 % of the world’s mobile money transactions happen in Africa, especially in East Africa. I had the opportunity to meet with representatives of Bitland recently, they secure real estate land titles in Ghana. The platform they’ve developed is impressive.
You also have Aeroshutter, a Ghanaian start-up testing commercial drone services. I deeply believe in drone technology. It will help the continent a lot, especially in agriculture and in the health sector.
There is another one that I tried to attract last June for our conference, Andela – an IT recruiting company that sources talent from Africa . They have just raised money from Mark Zuckerberg.
Q 5: What are some of the challenges you are facing today?
HM: The ignorance about the African continent. People know very little, if anything, about what is going on in Africa. How can that be possible? The African continent is just next door. That is why I do a lot work spreading fair, objective images of Africa and telling European journalists about success stories they don’t have access to.
Q 6: Can we implement the concept of Silicon Valley in Africa?
HM: It is already on the way. Have you heard about the Silicon Savannah? It’s a nickname for the tech ecosystem in Kenya. Kenya has invested in a place in Machakos County to support tech entrepreneurs, it is called Kozan Technocity. You also have initiatives such as Smart Alliance Africa and the ICT Park in Rwanda which are great examples supporting the nation’s rapid digital development.
Q 7: Tell us about your last conference held in June 2016
HM: It was the first conference dedicated to African tech in Europe. It has never been done before. The idea was to create links between African and European start-ups. They don’t really have opportunities to meet each other. The objective was to create a new type of gathering so that they can discover each other and, moreover, do business together. It was also an occasion for some of the African tech hubs to meet each other and to discuss, organizations like Ihub from Nairobi, CTIC from Dakar and Klab from Kigali had never met each other. We made it possible and today they have started thinking of how they can work together.
Usually, the Africa question is spread in international conferences. What Afrobytes wanted to do is to put African tech on the world tech map. The conference was held at the Medef, which is a very important business entity in France. It gathers all the biggest French industries. It was the perfect place to make people understand that the continent I know wants to be seen as a continent of enterprise, not donation.
Q 8: Agriculture is part of the living life in Africa, what link do you see between agriculture and technology?
HM: Africa is an agricultural land. The main challenge is the access to information. One of the advantages of technology is that it provides farmers with information to optimise their crops and sell their products at the right place and right price. No intermediaries and more control. In certain parts of the continent, drones are already used by some of them to increase their profitability.
We have to keep in mind that the green revolution, which happened in India in the 60’s, was done with a pick and a shovel. In Africa it will be done with a mobile phone. The result will be totally different, keep in mind that Africa has around 600 million hectares of uncultivated arable land, roughly 60 percent of the global total.
Q 9: What’s next for Afrobytes?
HM: A lot of fundraising. So far our company has been completely self-funded. I would love to see more African investors funding our efforts. In September we launched our innovation lab, offering an innovative open space for European companies and start-ups. We’ve also started to source our speakers for the next conference that will take place next June in Paris.
Can you think of other tech hubs that are doing big things in Africa, let us know by adding them below. How is technology impacting your life? I would love to hear your comments below.