Accelerating Africa’s Mobile economies

Convening African Mobile Ecosystem Stakeholders at Mobile World Congress Americas

Africa is the fastest-growing mobile market in the world. The positive impact of the mobile industry on African communities has been discussed and proven in numerous studies and international media publications. From payments and commerce, to healthcare and agriculture, mobile’s impact has been as wide as its been transformational. In 2016, researchers from MIT found that access to the mobile-money service M-Pesa increased daily per capita consumption levels of roughly 2 percent of Kenyan households (194,000), lifting them out of extreme poverty (living on less than $1.25 per day) between 2008 and 2014. Safaricom’s M-Pesa is just one example of how mobile technology has achieved rapid adoption all over Africa and become the platform of choice for the continent’s digital transformation.

The second act of the transformation is in progress, with infrastructure and data playing the main roles. Today the mobile ecosystem in Africa continues to drive further economic growth, opening doors to new opportunities for entrepreneurs and innovators. While challenges around infrastructure exist in many regions, such hurdles have led to the creation of unique infrastructure business models, such as tower management companies, and large investments in infrastructure projects, including extending the reach of fibre optic cable, increasing wi-fi hotspots and enabling 5G mobile technology. The Ericsson Mobility Report 2017 predicts that the Middle East and Africa regions will see the largest growth in mobile broadband subscriptions between 2016 and 2022, driven by relatively young populations and more affordable smartphones. The concurrent trajectories of the mobile market and population demographics in Africa make it the next big opportunity for global corporates, startups and entrepreneurs. However, with over 50 countries and multiple regional economic blocs, succeeding in Africa requires building better bridges to global ecosystems to foster strategic partnerships combining local nous with key resources and talent.

On September 13, 2017, the African Technology Foundation, in collaboration with private equity firm Convergence Partners and French business school INSEEC, convened a gathering of mobile technology ecosystem stakeholders in San Francisco to discuss the current and future state of African mobile ecosystems. This gathering intentionally coincided with two other relevant events. Firstly, the Mobile World Congress (MWC), hosted in North America for the first time, was taking place at the Moscone Center only few blocks away from the African convening at INSEEC’s San Francisco campus. MWC Americas brought together over 30,000 mobile operators, device manufacturers, vendors, content creators and individuals all over the globe. Secondly, the gathering served as a timely opportunity to announce the release of ATF’s 2017 Ecosystem Report: State of Play, which delves into the leading technology ecosystems, startups and investment opportunities on the continent of Africa.

The event was attended by MWC Americas participants, as well as Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, corporates, African diasporans in technology and business students from INSEEC.

After an hour of networking, ATF CEO Stephen Ozoigbo kicked off the event by giving an overview of the state of the African mobile ecosystem and introducing his guest for the fireside chat, Andile Ngcaba, the Chairman and Founder of Convergence Partners. Ngcaba, a leading voice in the ICT sector, was the former  Executive Chairman of Dimension Data Middle East & Africa and invested with Google in CSquared, a broadband infrastructure company in Nairobi, Kenya.

Ngcaba spoke first hand about opportunities in the mobile industry across Africa and used his global experience to specifically touch on the critical roles for both African diasporans and non-Africans. Ngcaba also stressed his belief that connecting Silicon Valley’s technology ecosystem to Africa is an essential part of accelerating mobile innovation in Africa. After taking many questions from the audience, Ngcaba ended with a memorable piece of advice. While admitting that business in Africa can seem overwhelming at first glance, he pointed out that the blank slates in many areas are massive opportunities for the brightest entrepreneurs and innovators. Being able to see these incredible market opportunities, instead of the hurdles, is key to leveraging mobile for radical socioeconomic progress in Africa.

Mobile technology has been adopted swiftly in Africa and led to sweeping changes in the lives of millions of Africans. Pioneers like Ngcaba have contributed immensely to the advancement of the mobile industry in Africa but the continent is still ripe for new innovations. With improvements to mobile infrastructure already underway, the time is now for the global mobile ecosystem to connect with local players on the ground and be a part of the biggest opportunity yet in mobile.