Nairobi continues its charge to become Africa’s technology innovation hub

English: Beautiful City of Nairobi

English: Beautiful City of Nairobi (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The future of computing and internet access is widely believed to be mobile. At the recent Mobile Engage in the UK, Facebook discussed ‘the next billion people’, citing the fact that 4.5 billion have yet to access the internet, and the majority of new internet users are likely to do so through a mobile device. Africa, experiencing explosive population growth, a burgeoning consumer class, and the exponential uptake of mobile devices, is likely to be where much of new mobile internet users come from. Indeed, the GSMA believe that mobile connections in sub- Saharan Africa, home to some 900m people, will hit half a billion this year.

Kenya is a relatively stable democracy, has a long history of technological investment, and is likely to be at the forefront of mobile innovation. There are countless examples of why Kenya, and in particular Nairobi, is leading the charge to become the region’s technological innovation centre.

Firstly, and potentially the project with the greatest regional impact, Kenya has recently begun building the much hyped ‘Silicon Savannah’ development in Konza, about 60km south of Nairobi. The project aims to turn Konza into the most modern city in Africa and is widely expected to be a game-changer for Kenya’s $36bn economy.. The initial phase will be completed in 2017, and when finally completed in 2030, Konza City is expected to create some 200,000 jobs as well as countless schools and universities. Konza – economically and politically a “new city” in Africa – may well act as a blueprint for further developments on the continent.

Kenya was the birthplace of M-PESA, the hugely successful mobile banking service, which has opened up financial services to millions of ‘unbanked’ people in Africa. Africa is now a hotbed of mobile money activity, and the continent counts 15 of the top 20 countries by mobile money usage.

This month, Nairobi became the third African city, after Johannesburg and Casablanca, to become home to an IBM innovation centre. The GSMA, the governing body and set of standards for the mobile operators, also recently choose Nairobi for its first African office.

A recent Microsoft initiative, Microsoft 4Afrika, is investing in a strategic cooperation with business incubator iHub and m:lab in East Africa to help start-ups build and grow their businesses using Microsoft technologies. The cooperation aims to increase access to software and improve technological innovation in Kenya and the surrounding area. Indeed, both Google and IBM have regional offices there.

There are huge numbers of benefits for companies operating in technology and mobile to set up operations in Africa. Firstly, there is a real lack of red tape preventing innovation, which can often be found in Europe and the US. This means that innovations such as M-PESA can get off the ground quickly and spread to Tanzania and India as it has done. In addition, international companies can learn from efforts in Africa and transfer projects to the West. How much can we learn from the M-PESA mobile banking system to encourage uptake in the west. Indeed, in areas such as NFC and mobile payments, Africa is way ahead of the UK which will need to do a huge amount to gain the trust of the consumer around areas such as data use and security. What can we learn from the recent project in Ivory Coast which saw Orange open up its mobility data to help redraw Abidjan’s bus routes? Although projects using mobile technology are likely to be vastly different across continents, surely there are lessons to be learnt.

So Nairobi may be a leader in Africa, but as the poor outnumber the rich online, particularly through mobile connections, it may become a global leader in mobile technology. Watch this space.

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