Africa Has A Dynamic Startup Scene. But Is It Scalable?



Sub-Saharan Africa is a confusing place, at least to outside observers. You’ve got a dynamic startup scene alongsidewidespread 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 but 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.

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Author: Travis Esquivel

Travis Esquivel is an engineer, passionate soccer player and full-time dad. He enjoys writing about innovation and technology from time to time.

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