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Experts want governments, others to support African innovators

By Benjamin Alade   |   11 January 2017   |   2:53 am

innovations
To experts, the ability of young African entrepreneurs to use technology to solve their problems is pushing the continent to the forefront of innovation.

This was part of the submissions of experts at the Hogan Lovells Africa Forum, held recently in Johannesburg, South Africa, at the weekend.

It has been observed that African innovators have the potential to devise game-changing technologies, but there concerns that these could be stifled by timid regulators, or by opposition from those who fear that the future is threatening the jobs of the past.

An Innovator is one who introduces new methods, ideas, or products providing solutions or breakthroughs targeted at solving human problems.

The experts, in a statement made available to The Guardian, submitted that it is still a battle to convince some politicians, policymakers and workers to embrace Information Technology (IT), not stifle it for fear of change or to protect the lumbering corporations of the last generation.

An IT expert with Khonology, Michael Roberts, said in the industrial revolution people feared job losses, but what actually happened is that jobs changed. “The way we create jobs in the future will not be the jobs of today. Technology will drive demands for different skills. Bringing more efficiency doesn’t necessarily have to remove jobs, it can create different types of jobs – so we need to stop the fear.”

The growth of the IT cloud where people can buy software and hardware capacity on demand without heavy capital outlay is great for African innovators, Roberts added.

“The cost of building and delivering something has gone through the floor, so for youngsters who are technologically savvy there’s a future.”

Head of Policy, Analysis and Research, Multichoice South Africa, Aynon Doyle, noted that Luddites will always try to hold things back, saying this was clearly seen with taxi drivers attacking Uber drivers and retailers facing staff protests when they try to introduce self-service checkout lines.

Doyle said using IT to achieve more productivity with less resources would have a huge impact on Africa, if innovation was encouraged, saying  governments must face up to the IT revolution, allow innovation to flourish and deal with the disruption.

Despite the challenges and some opposition, Africa’s young IT entrepreneurs are certainly making the world pay attention.

An Associate of Kenyan law firm, DV Kapila & Co, Gaurav Bhandari, argued that Africans are capable of using IT to solve their own particular problems.

Bhandari said: “We want to be able to provide solutions for ourselves. Europe and the rest of the world are looking to Africa not only for investment purposes but also to learn, to look at where we are going and what we are doing.”

He explained that Kenyan entrepreneurs are also creating excellent maternal healthcare applications and an app to let villagers buy solar power via a mobile phone and resell it to others, giving them a new income stream.

He reiterated that in a continent desperately needing more jobs, regulators must not snuff out these innovations. “Technology, regulations and politics are all intertwined. If they regulate IT and make the life of the youth even harder, the politicians will have a problem come election time,” he warned.

However, Roberts stated that there is a new technology with potentially massive ramifications for Africa, which is Blockchain, where blocks recording batches of valid transactions are stored in globally distributed ledgers.

Blockchain provides proof that somebody owns something of a certain value and those records can’t be stolen or hacked.

“If an asset moves from one person to another it’s recorded in this highly transparent system, so the potential to apply blockchain technology across Africa and use it to fight corruption was enormous,” said Roberts.

He opined that the technology would have a major impact in the banking sector and other fields such as insurance, legal records and to verify contracts.




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