Tuesday, 18 May 2010

The Cheetah Generation: Will Facilitators Grow Faster In Africa?

Recent problems in the Eurozone, coupled with the shock announcement of the UK's worsening trade deficit have heightened the need to find new markets. So perhaps it's a great time to recognise the step-change in technology adoption amongst sub-Saharan Africa's "cheetah generation".

Africa represents a vast array of people and socio-economics, as Hans Rosling brilliantly illustrated at TED, including a communications divide. As at 2006, "Egypt had 11 times the fixed line penetration of Nigeria. While sub-Saharan Africa (excluding South Africa), had an average teledensity of one percent, North Africa (Algeria, Egypt, Mauritania, Morocco, Tunisia) had a comparable average of eleven percent. Almost three quarters of the continent’s fixed lines were found in just 6 of the continent’s 55 countries."

Enter: the mobile phone:

"By the end of 2011, the entire continent of Africa will be connected to no fewer than nine undersea broadband cable initiatives. Africa will have access to over 17 terabytes of designed broadband capacity. If mainframes and punchcards served as the innovation catapult for Silicon Valley’s cheetah generation, then connectivity is poised to be Africa’s innovation catalyst. Since mobiles first went mainstream in Africa at the turn of the century, mobile penetration has exploded to approximately 450 million subscribers...

Africa’s growing list of technology hubs are the cheetah generation’s digital proving grounds Appfrica Labs opened its doors in Uganda in 2008. Since then, three additional tech hubs have opened around the continent. Limbe Labs Ventures Cameroon and Banta Labs in Senegal launched in 2009. Nairobi now has its very own centre of excellence in the iHub innovation center...

Keep a very close eye on Africa’s young population, that 450 million number growing up with a mobile phone in their back pocket."
Vodafone has clearly been doing just that, backing M-Pesa, the successful person-to-person payment system. The explosive growth of that business also suggests that Africans may be more willing to rapidly embrace disruptive finance models than Westerners. No doubt this is partly because they've been more poorly served by banking and telecommunications to date (though 'mobile banking' has also grown rapidly in South Africa). But is it also because African communities share a greater sense of personal trust than in the West?

At any rate, it seems the trend toward the growth of facilitators at the expense of institutions is set to grow fast in sub-Sahara Africa, at least on mobile networks.

Image from Run For Africa

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