by Chi Ibe
Just as we conclude on our “Power List” of under 35 young Nigerian achievers in various sectors, CNN also recently highlighted 10 leading technology voices from different African countries.
Each one comments on the role technology plays in boosting entrepreneurship and empowering communities in Africa.
Here is a list of the top 10 as reported by CNN African Voices.
Ory Okolloh (@kenyanpundit)
Ory Okolloh is the policy manager and government relations manager for Google in Africa. She is a co-founder of Ushahidi and served as the organization’s executive director from inception until December 2010. Ory is also the co-founder of Mzalendo, a website that tracks the performance of Kenyan Members of Parliament.
She says: “Technology in Africa is one of the few spaces that is not dominated by the typically parasitic political elite, and therefore offers an opportunity to express themselves and harness their talents with much lower barriers to entry that they would find in other spaces. As a result, we are seeing tremendous growth in the space not just in terms of adoption but also in terms of entrepreneurship — however, in order for this growth to be sustainable and to create more revenue generating opportunities, we need other forms of infrastructure such as electricity to catch up and we need more governments to embrace the idea of open access policies.”
‘Gbenga Sesan (@gbengasesan)
‘Gbenga Sesan is the executive director of Paradigm Initiative Nigeria, a social enterprise that connects underserved people-groups with ICT-enabled opportunities. Originally trained as an electronic and electrical engineer, Sesan completed management training at various universities, including Oxford University and Harvard University. He has also consulted for companies including Microsoft, United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, the International Telecommunications Union and the British Council.
He says: “In Africa, a continent known to be on the undesired side of the digital divide, new technologies have liberalized access to information, which has led to many changes, including citizen-government relationships. When the Nigerian government, for example, announced that it could no longer afford subsidies on petrol on January 1, 2012, it was met with reaction from a citizenry that had more information on its finger tips than most African governments would have imagined. From the president’s daily meal budget to the expenses on security, citizens discussed the other cuts that government could employ towards reducing waste. This was made possible by new technologies — especially social media; the same tools that have proved extremely useful in the various citizen-led protests in many African countries.”
Erik Hersman (@WhiteAfrican)
Raised in Kenya and Sudan, Erik Hersman is a technologist and blogger who lives in Nairobi. He is a co-founder of Ushahidi, the founder of AfriGadget, a multi-author site that showcases stories of African inventions and ingenuity, and an African technology blogger at WhiteAfrican.com. He currently manages Ushahidi’s operations and strategy, and is in charge of the iHub, Nairobi’s Innovation Hub for the technology community, bringing together entrepreneurs, hackers, designers and the investment community.
He says: “Africa is on the edge — where innovation tends to come from. We hold onto technology longer, experiment on it — abuse it even. SMS and USSD are great examples of this, while much of the Western world is jumping on the next big technology bandwagon, there are really crazy things coming out in emerging markets, like USSD internet, payment systems, ticketing and more. Add to that the following two trends; first, that the middle class and consumer adoption is increasing in Africa, and second, that technology costs are decreasing rapidly — and Africa becomes an easy place to get excited about.”
Mariéme Jamme (@mjamme)
Mariéme Jamme is a CEO, blogger, technologist and social entrepreneur with a passionate commitment to helping empower her fellow Africans through education, leadership, social entrepreneurship and economic development. Marieme supported Appfrica International Inc. and the State Department in the USA to organise the Apps4Africa contest across West Africa Central and Southern Africa.
She says: “People across Africa are using technology to get access to information, there is intellectual hunger to have access to all the tools that will allow them to connect, share, learn and get education. In the recent years we have seen a rise of young Africans developing software solutions and mobile applications, decoding codes in Kampala, in Kinshasa and Nairobi. These applications are being used in the west something no one would think off 10 years ago. Technology is accessible in Africa and we need more access!”
Idris Bello (@idrisayobello)
Originally from Nigeria, Idris Ayodeji Bello likes to refer to himself as an “Afropreneur” (an entrepreneur focused on Africa). With advanced degrees in Computer Science and Engineering (Nigeria), MBA- Entrepreneurship (USA) and Global Health (Oxford), he is dedicated to the enhancement of African lives by developing and deploying attractive platforms for innovation-driven technology-enabled investments across the continent.
He says: “Much has been made of the role of technology in North Africa’s political revolution. But there is another kind of technological revolution going on in Africa. When one takes a look across the continent today, and observes the increased activities in technology incubators and entrepreneurship hubs, it is apparent that Africa is on to something. From Nairobi to Lagos, from Kigali to Accra, no weekend goes by without a new technology event or startup. Africans are coming together to develop new ideas through a new kind of collaboration. The result is not just innovation — which recognizes the primacy of the individual — but rather ‘wennovation,’ replacing ‘I’ with ‘we’ to emphasize the collaborative feature of afrocentric entrepreneurship. … These are the people I like to describe as ‘Afropreneurs.'”
Judith Owigar (@owigarj)
Judith Owigar is a co-founder and president of Akirachix, a revolution for African women and technology. She is a coder, a blogger and a tech enthusiast. Through Akirachix, women who are interested in technology come together through the activities of networking, mentorship and training. Akirachix works with women who are tech professionals, university and high school students. Akirachix also runs a training program that gives basic tech and entrepreneurship skills to girls from poor urban areas in Nairobi.
She says: “Technology will drive development in Africa through techpreneurship, giving people a platform to speak and even making African government more transparent and accountable to their citizens. As Akirachix we want women to be a part of this revolution. African women make up less than 15% of the work force in technology yet they are greatest contributors to the African economy. In order to exploit technology and find better and more diverse solutions we need to have more women driving the technology revolution in Africa.”
Will Mutua (@afrinnovator)
Will Mutua is the founder of Afrinnovator, a website that was launched in 2010 to “put Africa on the map.” According to Mutua, the website is showcasing African-made technology and start-ups and tell the stories of entrepreneurs and innovators from all across the continent.
He says: “I see technology creating a platform for the continent and particularly its youth to engage the world at a higher level than would have been possible before. Increasing Internet (access has) opened up the continent like never before, giving Africans a level platform to compete with others across the globe on the knowledge economy. The power of the mobile phone cannot be overstated — beyond urban centers of development, the mobile affords an arm reaching into rural Africa and empowering people across the continent. The future is superbly bright for the African continent. God bless Africa.”
Juliana Rotich (@afromusing)
Juliana Rotich has worked in the telecommunications and data warehousing industry for over 10 years and is co-founder and executive director of Ushahidi. A former social entrepreneur of the year, Rotich is originally from Kenya, with a Computer Science degree from the University of Missouri, Kansas City. She is a technologist, African futurist and TED Senior Fellow who co-founded Mobisoko, a mobile marketplace for language and location relevant apps in Africa.
She says: “The narrative about Africa is changing every single day, driven with the opportunity in a continent of more than 300 million middle class Africans. New technologies are already shaping lives on the continent, from the rural farmer with only a cellphone and able to find commodity prices to urban hipsters in the various cities who are indeed Digital/Mobile Natives. The promise here is that the entrepreneurial drive we see in young technologists will translate to more African solutions to African problems, and thereby African prosperity. Challenges abound ofcourse, but indications in innovation hubs like Kenya point to a lot of promise and a very different narrative in the coming years.”
Jon Gosier (@jongos)
Jon Gosier, 30, is a designer, software developer and writer who has spent the last several years supporting Africa’s emerging tech scene. He is the founder of metaLayer.com, a tech start-up that is making the world’s information easier to understand, visualize and share. In 2009, Gosier spoke at TED in Oxford, UK about his first company Appfrica and one of their projects which connected rural African villages with the internet through a call center and light infrastructure. Gosier is also the organizer of the annual Apps4Africa competition which encourages African software developers to develop solutions to local problems.
He says: “I’m excited by the sheer amount of innovation occurring across the continent right now, but disappointed by the lack of support available to them. Innovative solutions like the ones developed by Apps4Africa winners Victor Ogo Ekwueme (whose Hospital Manager uses predictive technology to help hospitals prepare for the aftermath of disaster) and Eric Mutta (whose Grainy Bunch apps manages the supply of grain in Tanzania) are examples of African ingenuity at work solving Africa’s big problems. Yet, in the NGO community, support help scale for such apps is virtually non-existent.”
Nmachi Jidenma (@nmachijidenma)
Nmachi Jidenma currently works at Google as program coordinator of a Google initiative aimed at increasing technology and Internet usage in universities across Africa. She is the founder of Celebrating Progress Africa, a popular African blog that celebrates Africa’s business and technology success stories. She was previously Africa Editor of The Next Web, an international technology news website based in the Netherlands.
She says: “As submarine cables land and as the cost of international bandwidth falls across board, new technologies are increasingly taking center stage across Africa from MPesa in Kenya to MXit in South Africa. Young Africans are quickly becoming voracious adopters of new technologies particularly across mobile and social. Just as companies such as Google, Apple and Microsoft have come to shape people’s lives across continents and create billion dollar companies, the hope is that Africa will witness the rise of its homegrown global technology success stories in the next decade. These will help create jobs and provide opportunities for expression and empowerment for the continent’s young populace.”