Platform technology: an economic growth model for Africa

IN the past three decades, computerised technology has contributed to the rise of economies of scale, notably in the developed world. Technological innovation has transitioned from a micro-setup on a confined desktop to macro connected settings available in real time, inclusive and holistic enough to benefit the widest reach in populace.
This shift to what is referred to as “platform” has been spurred by the advancements in software and hardware, packaged in smart phone and tablet innovations coupled by connectivity to the internet.
The world has been impacted at global socio-economic scale, by platforms such as Microsoft Windows, Apple iTunes and Google play store that offer widely inclusive value. As a result, internet-led innovation has accounted for 21 per cent of GDP growth over the last five years among the developed countries, with United States as a leading player, capturing more than 30 percent of global internet revenues and more than 40 percent of profits.
Key drivers underpinning the growth trajectory of present day successful technology players is the ability to identify universal problems and respectively building global solutions. Accepting that successful technologies have done so on the problem-solution equation, with the myriad of problems in Africa, it is certainly a market ripe for solutions. It would be folly to dismiss Africa, as the perfect space in which to replicate the next lead in disruptive trends.
Africa is the second fastest growing economy following Asia. It is also the earth’s second largest continent, with the world’s youngest population, and predicted to be the world’s leading consumer market by 2050. Although, Africa remains the world’s most untapped market in terms of development, it is prudent to acknowledge how quickly it is becoming linked to the rest of the world through internet connectivity. In light of this, it is time we decipher how Africa’s techpreneurs can contextualise from globally-sustainable technology value models to deliver the world’s next leading technology billionaires with the potential to outplay national GDP’s.
Part of Africa’s future economic growth will be driven by start-ups and incumbent technology firms as it has for the developed nations. Firms that move swiftly to define problems at hand, solve and build for them at local, regional and globally-inclusive levels are poised to build the next platform powerhouses of this emerging market.Advertisement

What is encouraging are the readily visible green shoots of this outlook on the continent. Value models such as Ubuntu, the world’s most popular “free” operating system developed by South Africa’s Mark Shuttleworth. Pomoja, a start-up founded by South Africa’s Stafford Massie, provides a low cost cloud-based hosting platform for SME’s and has ambitions to house all of Africa’s data in the near future.
In Kenya, Mpayer, a mobile payments aggregating platform, provides a gateway to facilitate any paying option, ranging from cash to e-money. In Nigeria, the agriculture sector has integrated a mobile payments value proposition (developed by Cellulant, a start-up founded by a Nigerian and Kenyan in 2004, with only $3,000 at hand and now in eight countries) to disburse subsidies for farmers, creating value chain efficiency and while at it, the government also has a new revenue stream from the convenience.
Healthcare standards innovation is another opportunity sector, through text messaging and APPs; mobile phones are being turned into diagnostic and prescriptive tools.
It is not surprising that some investors from developed countries have already started to set up shop in East Africa to catch a piece of the action. iHub, the most popular venture capital fund in Kenya, enlists top international investors to fuel what is now dubbed “Silicon Savannah”.
If you were still in doubt about the growth opportunity in Africa, take heed. Foreign investment firms are braving out the storms, of apparent poverty, underdeveloped infrastructure and socio-political dynamics on the horizon by simply focusing on the enormous continental needs, leveraging an opportunity yet again, to replicate effective value models with widespread success.
The international investor funds like iHub must nonetheless be commended for working with home-grown talent, to foster entrepreneurship, create jobs and address start up capital challenges, which are often the bane of setting up businesses on the onset. That said, we must also celebrate African tech hubs such as Ushahidi from Kenya, Umzinda-Umuzi from Zimbabwe that are investing in the regions’ upcoming young entrepreneurs as well as creating jobs in the process.
To even fathom that, the world’s most profitable e-commerce giant, developed its cloud hosting platform (EC2) by using a satellite team in South Africa is inspiring but also a challenge for Africa’s techprenuers. Amazon is not alone in outsourcing development work to talent in developing countries. Many of the world’s leading tech giants do the same, accessing cheap but wide range of talent pool, in order to achieve a lower cost of operating expenses.
For the people of Africa, you do not want to miss this gravy train; entrepreneurial individuals have a once off chance to seize the moment by forming budding start-ups. Sixteen-year-old Nadav Ossendryver from South Africa borrowed a Mac computer from a friend to develop a revenue generating  App ‘Latest Sightings’ – in two weeks of limited sleep. London-based Zimbabwean, Tinaye Munonyara, uses the Apple store to distribute for a fee, a self-developed essay correction APP – Study Kit Pro.
These digital ventures can only grow in number; eventually, exiting to larger players and making their cut for the day, just as Elon Musk, South African co-founder of PayPal did, when he later sold the company to eBay for US$1.2 billion in 2002. The cumulative effects of such activities can play a part in boosting Africa’s economy.
The private sector has got their work cut out for them in pursuing the diverse market sectors. In Zimbabwe, women alone contribute 53.6 percent of the informal sector economic activity valued at a staggering US$7.4 billion. Sixty percent of Africa’s youthful and unemployed demographic is a key segment on which to drive future economic growth.
The northern belt of Africa, synonymous with a lack of infrastructure, is a hotbed for development. As if the problems alone were not enough, mobile innovation offers a return 12 times higher than that of PC internet. Armed with an understanding of geographic dynamics, the opportunity for Africa’s techpreneur firms lies in the populace at hand, by developing inclusive platforms that address the treble economic problems of poverty, inequality and underemployment so common on the ground.
Quite simply, Africa is undergoing one of the fastest economic growth curves in the history of mankind, and technology is a key factor in this development. In a world where there is greater access to mobile phones than toothbrushes, conventional business is long dead. Mohammed no longer need to come to the mountain, instead the mountain must go to him.