1. cmutambo:

    As Africa’s cheetah generation, we’ll succeed or fail on our own accord. We’ll be invited to events on our own accord, we’ll spark and contribute to ecosystems on our own accord. We’ll do all this and more on our own accord, why? Because WE as young Africans constitute 60% of this continent’s population and must solve our problems, no matter how tough it is. We can and are fighting to take back our continent. No one has ever succeeded by waiting for others to “save them”. 

  3. Silicon Valley, African tech hubs, and the opportunity of the internet

    Technology hubs are emerging in Africa. In Zimbabwe where I stay there have been at least 3 emerge in the last 6 months alone. I’m an advisor for one. By the way, hub so far here has meant an actual place and building, and there’s a lot of overlap in definitions of what a hub, accelerator, incubator  and other such terms, is. 

    Anyway, as a seemingly new thing in these parts, there’s a lot of confusion about what a hub should be and what it takes to have a successful hub or more broadly, a healthy tech ecosystem. Unfortunately there’s been a lot of talk about us needing to build some kind of Silicon Valley. The Kenyans are building Silicon Savannah, the South Africans, Silicon Cape, and in Zimbabwe I have heard suggestions of a Zilicon Savannah.

    My latest treat to Silicon Valley comparison drawing was this article here in which the writer explores why the valley succeeded and why the world is failing at replicating the valley’s successes.

    It’s as if Silicon Valley is the model & benchmark of success of in building tech companies. My response is always that this is a blinkered look at the opportunity that is the internet:

    So today, reading Vivek Whadwa article titled “Anyone, Anywhere Can Now Build The Next WhatsApp or Oculus" resonated. Especially this: 

    …an ocean of knowledge is now available on the Internet for free. In fact, more knowledge is available today on the Internet than was available to leading scientists and researchers as recently as 15 years ago, and now includes lectures by Stanford, Harvard and MIT faculty.

    Science and technology blogs provide more-timely and more-relevant information than scientific journals did because the journals were restricted to those who could afford subscriptions or who had access to libraries that did.

    A lack of mentorship and networking holds back entrepreneurs in distant parts of the world. But they can learn from the experiences of CEOs, venture capitalists and domain experts on hundreds of specialized discussion boards that are open to all—sites such as StackOverflow, Slashdot, Hacker News, PoetsandQuants and Quora. Additionally, anyone can follow global thought leaders on social media and learn from them. They can email or tweet to people they read about.

    This is why Strive Masiyiwa’s blogging about how he started and built his business empire is of such significance today.

  4. @mtn #MobileMoney booth in #Lusaka #Zambia.

#mobile payment platforms like this one (and #AirtelMoney @EcoCash #Mpesa have narrowed the financial I clusion 

    @mtn #MobileMoney booth in #Lusaka #Zambia.

    #mobile payment platforms like this one (and #AirtelMoney @EcoCash #Mpesa have narrowed the financial I clusion

  5. Nomatter how smart your regular phone is, in Africa you also need the otherphone. dumbphone but battery very faithful

    Nomatter how smart your regular phone is, in Africa you also need the otherphone. dumbphone but battery very faithful

  6. About a tech hub in Zimbabwe, Jumpstart, donor funding, entrepreneurship and… Paul Kagame

    In recent months, we (Jumpstart and the team behind it) have attracted a lot of attention from NGOs, embassies and donors that want to fund a tech hub in Zimbabwe and would like us to be part of the founding team.

    We have said no.

    Our problem with the proposed model is that it’s primarily intended for funding “technology-driven projects to bring about social change” in Zimbabwe. I do not agree with this ofcourse because I think business and commercially viable technology-driven projects are key.

    When I expressed disagreement with this, it was then proposed that we both compromise and accommodate both commercial and social projects in the proposed tech hub. “Social” partners where identified by the funders and a meeting arranged for us to meet them and agree on how we would work together. This of course didn’t work. I think mostly because we view the potential commercial impact of connectivity and tech differently. Radically so. We also view the role of external ‘social impact’ partners differently. I think they see them as a funding opportunity to finally do this tech Hub thing that’s all the craze in Africa. We see them more as an opportunity for business networking. The proposed funds can be raised locally easily and are not key to the hub. to any hub. Business networks, exchanges, mentorship, relationships, and investment (as opposed to feel good charity money) are more. They are priceless in comparison.

    Social impact is just a natural consequence of commercial success. Job creation for example. And as an extra csr -> MicrosoftGoogleIBMEconet and countless others are examples. The consequence of “Social first” on the other hand is aid-dependent individuals whose chief skill is squeezing dollars out of donors through elaborate funding proposal writing and aid-gaming. Plus it does terrible things to their self-worth as individuals.

    Our ‘no thanks’ response has mostly surprised our peers locally, some of who insist, “hey, just get the money”. It’s almost understandable why they suggest this; what, with the aid addiction. Just getting the money is something we would never even consider though. So, no. 

    The funders on the other hand have just insisted from multiple angles why being part of this initiative is progressive. They have cited examples of how they have successfully executed similar initiatives in other African countries with amazing results. By their definition, they indeed have. Still, no.

    We think they are just not listening

    They have it all figured out ready to deploy, and they are going to execute as they know best. They are going to empower women using ICTs, they’ll help homosexuals be accepted, help end corruption, poverty, and if they are lucky, maybe change the government and help us choose better leaders in a better way. And these priorities, we should have too.

    This has been going on for a few months and we’re actually past the back and forth and multiple angles stage. I decided to share this after reading this interview the HBR had with Rwandan president, Paul Kagame.

    Kagame explains that his approach as a leader has been business and investment. He says ordinary people quickly grasp how they need each other and they value each other when they focus on value they bring to each other. He says it’s creating an awareness in society like never before and that this is helping society to move forward. He’s then asked by the interviewer “And it’s your sense that business and economic activity do that?" His response:

    I encourage you to read the whole interview.


    image via HBR

  7. I attended a program in many ways similar to this one earlier this year. Can’t say enough how much it benefits you professionally whatever you are working on. Perspective improves significantly. Networks improve a lot. So yes, I recommend this to any woman out there in tech.

    The small limitation (if you let it be of course) is that you have to have a university degree. My principle is that life will always have exceptions for exceptional passion and effort, so I’d apply without one anyway :)

  8. One of the most immediate issues that bothers me is infrastructure. The lack of it. Adequate enough to have life and business flow better. It’s too there as a symptom it distracts from the causes and the solutions that we should focus on. The bad drinking water that pours out our taps every day. The power that goes out so often it’s really hard to not be constantly frustrated with ZESA. The bad roads, the uncollected refuse, the dysfunctional public health system, the bad mobile phone reception, the too expensive internet. It’s easy to curse out and focus on being mad about these and demand that they be fixed.
Being thrown in the midst of significantly better infrastructure earlier this year, reminded me how it’s not about infrastructure development or social amenities at all. It’s something a lot less complicated. Responsibility.
And not that we’re not responsible enough for ourselves. I think most of us. But I think the responsibility just has to stretch to those around us. Simple brother keeping. That’s the difference I could at lease notice. And it’s funny that I learnt this in the US.
Africa is supposed to be the place of Ubuntu. Of ‘being because the other is’. Where’s is it?

    One of the most immediate issues that bothers me is infrastructure. The lack of it. Adequate enough to have life and business flow better. It’s too there as a symptom it distracts from the causes and the solutions that we should focus on. The bad drinking water that pours out our taps every day. The power that goes out so often it’s really hard to not be constantly frustrated with ZESA. The bad roads, the uncollected refuse, the dysfunctional public health system, the bad mobile phone reception, the too expensive internet. It’s easy to curse out and focus on being mad about these and demand that they be fixed.

    Being thrown in the midst of significantly better infrastructure earlier this year, reminded me how it’s not about infrastructure development or social amenities at all. It’s something a lot less complicated. Responsibility.

    And not that we’re not responsible enough for ourselves. I think most of us. But I think the responsibility just has to stretch to those around us. Simple brother keeping. That’s the difference I could at lease notice. And it’s funny that I learnt this in the US.

    Africa is supposed to be the place of Ubuntu. Of ‘being because the other is’. Where’s is it?

  9. Is starting a tech startup just too costly for us?

    Article appeared first on Techzim earlier this week.

    I usually argue on the side of “lack of funding is just an excuse”. If you work hard enough, if you’re solving a real problem, if you’re passionate enough, if you think outside the box etc… But sometimes I wonder if the problem is lack of funding, or if it’s more an issue of young people having so much more to lose if they decide to take the startup route and its high risks. More to lose compared to their counterparts in, say, Europe, the US or Cape Town.

    Is it that most young people have come very far to get to the relatively good jobs they have and that there’s so much extended family responsibility and expectation it becomes a really dicey issue venturing into the unknown?

    For a lot of young people, not only are they trying to start a company, but they’re also the bread winners for the the extended family. To generalize a bit, this is unlike their counterparts in the west whose parents usually own a decent home and their children can use the family garage to start a startup, or validate their ideas at least.

    It’s a system in which, if one blunders chasing an idea that comes to naught, it’s not just them that pay dearly for the failure. It’s their young brother in primary school for whom they pay tuition fees. It’s their parents as well who depend on the $200 he sends them every month. And even for the entrepreneur himself, that one failure could result in the city spitting him out into the midnight train back to the small town where opportunity space is even tighter. Are these realities what keep people grounded to the 8 to 5?

    Faced with this, one way to approach it  is to get a very good education, get a very good job and save enough money to take you (and the family) through, say, one and half years or startup uncertainty. The risk here often times is that it’s easy to get addicted to the 8 to 5 rewards especially if the company coats them with that all important company car to make you one of the first members of your extended family to ever own one. It’s an achievement a lot of friends and family will call you crazy for even thinking of leaving.

    The other option is to work on the startup as hard as one can at night and dutifully report for the regular job at day and execute so good you still get promoted to get some additional ‘disposable’ income. Leave days and off days (or too-sick-to-come-to-work days) become the precious opportunity to do the day stuff for the startup like physical meetings with prospective customers etc…

    There’s another group that has a different problem. It’s the unemployed group. For them the issue is actually that, even armed with a good education there are just no jobs to absorb them in the economy. Companies are closing down so the job market is shrinking. Starting their own venture becomes a means to survive as opposed to having dreams of making it big one day.

    But for this group, starting their own venture is still as difficult if not more; Still relying on their parents even for the $1 bus far into town, their prospects of owning their own computer, let alone a broadband connection, are distant.

    They may not even yet have a startup idea to work on that’s going to make them money. But access to resources is still important and access and access doesn’t come cheap. It is important that they get basic exposure to the tools they could use; a proper PC, a broadband connection and knowledge of development platforms and the possibilities. Of course the power to keep all these things on has clearly become a component that’s not a given as well. It’s a dull picture right? But maybe this is the picture we need to see and find solutions to before we proclaim that lack of funding is just an excuse.

    I guess this is why co-working spaces (you can call it a hub, innovation centre, or whatever else you prefer) have been great enablers on the African continent. I imagine they’d have the same effect in Zimbabwe. Of course the resultant benefits won’t be apparent immediately, but slowly they enable more people to access tools, knowledge, a community of similarly venture minded folks and, hopefully, people with money that are prepared to back great ideas & teams.

    Is starting a tech startup just too costly for us? How can we lower these barriers?

  10. Casting your Silicon Valley ideas & methods aside to develop for your local market

    Article appeared first on Techzim earlier this week.


    Some several months ago a Zimbabwean friend invited me to check out website he was working on that’s modeled along the lines of American local business review site, Yelp. Our conversation, when we met and went through the website, quickly went into the relevance of his service to ordinary Zimbabweans. He seemed very much aware of the limited possible reach of his product, and he talked about how he so much wanted to have the product reach what he referred to as “the 80%”.

    Talking further, we admitted to ourselves that as much as the penetration of the internet and internet enabled mobile phones was increasing, the majority of Zimbabweans, the ordinary Zimbabweans, that 80%, either still don’t have access or have very limited access. In its state his product had no chance of being used by these people. In fact, whether a review platform is currently relevant to the 80% even if tools to make it accessible were developed is debatable.

    The problem is that if, as a founder, you’re not part of this 80%, it takes extra deliberate effort to know the 80% needs and build products that address those needs simply. Otherwise, you develop a product that Americans, Europeans and your fellow 20% locally would find very cool and usable, but a product that even they would really not use because they already use the American website you cloned.

    Yesterday, here at the office, a colleague introduced the subject and pointed to an article that discusses this in a China context. The article narrates the paths of two entrepreneurs in China – one entrepreneur has been very successful addressing the needs of low income earners with applications such as mobile games that run on basic mobile phones; the other is an affluent guy who has had little success creating American style web products that basically target the 20%.

    My colleague here noted examples of Asian web platforms, 51job.com and IndiaMart.com, which the typical affluent designer in emerging markets would write off as poorly designed websites. The 51job.com design is almost shocking actually. But the value of these properties tell a different story.

    Locally, one could argue that the G-Tide brand and the business behind it managed to connect to the 80%. When “in the know” techies and the affluent where busy laughing at the low cost Chinese iPhone and Nokia imitations, the bulk of middle to low income Zimbabweans just didn’t care and were buying in droves. Some would even proudly admit that they knew they were buying a fake iPhone but for them, that was the closest they could get to owning one. What’s more, the fake phones played music so loud they doubled as small radios in homes. While the 20% were laughing (and broke), the smart entrepreneur was connected to the real market, and smiling quietly to the bank.

    On the wider African continent, the most successful technology startup ideas have been products specifically designed to address specific emerging markets needs, and not just cool stuff or ideas copied as is from Silicon Valley. A few examples that come to mind are Prepaid mobile telephony, M-PESA, Mxit and iROKOtv.

    But as my colleague at the office reiterates “it’s that cloning in itself is wrong, it’s whether you can adapt the solution and make it relevant to your market.”

    Does your product real needs? Is your approach connected to the needs and cultures on the ground or are you trying to force an American or European approach to implementation?

  11. Young tech entrepreneurs at an event in Zimbabwe Today I read an article that noted something we discuss often with colleagues here. It’s also an issue that I find a lot of people strongly disagree with; the issue around donors awarding money to young entrepreneurs for the impact prospects of the startups’ businesses. Even with limited knowledge of the Kenya tech company ecosystem, I strongly agree with the writer and find the issues he discussed not surprising at all.

    Turning down (or just not being keen on) aid or grant money on a continent where funding is said to be scarce almost feels the proverbial looking a gift horse in the eye. But when you look deeper at most startup situations, you realise that funding itself is rarely the problem. Innovation, business models and hard work most often are. And indeed these are central to successful startups. The money follows them. When entrepreneurs get these right, usually the options for raising money are clearer. And raising money is not a move to just keep the business on its feet, but often to grow it faster.

    Incidentally, just yesterday an established Zimbabwean entrepreneur (Shingi Mutasa), asked why they appeared to not be investing in young people, responded: “Business is not just about social impact; it’s about making me money as an investor”.

    Aid donors are not about making anyone money. They are mostly about social impact, which, yes sometimes is presented as economic impact. So when an entrepreneur gets their attention, usually not enough concern is given to the viability of the business. But even if they did, they are not entrepreneurs themselves and chances are they’d probably be wrong about the prospects of an idea in the market.

    When startups raise money from experienced entrepreneurs, the more valuable asset the startup gets is the guidance, mentorship, and connectedness in the business circles that the investor brings. Some early customers can come from this new network, and sometimes even future acquirers. Investors also bring more than this; they come in for the money and someone who is after the money provides a much needed business model reality check that every entrepreneur needs. Social impact, while very important for society, is usually a byproduct.

    A demonstration of this for us here was when we wrote about an initiative called ipaidabribe.org, that uses the Ushahidi platform to crowd source information about people paying bribes. We received a lot of calls that week from donors and others like them, all asking for the “startup’s” contact details. Ipaidabribe is purely an impact initiative, and even the impact model itself leaves some questions unanswered. When we write about startups that are onto potentially viable models however, the calls we get, a lot less albeit, are from existing businesses and entrepreneurs who want to partner them.

    We run an annual startup competition ourselves and these are issues we ask ourselves often. That are we providing what the startups really need? This is why so far we have never approached any donors looking for money, and why, when they approach us themselves, we don’t get as excited as we’d be expected to be. And this is why in some cases we have had to politely turn down funding.

    In saying all this, I’m not against aid in general. Grants in research at local universities for example are much needed. Grants that send children to school who would otherwise not afford it are God sent. Relief aid during emergencies is of extreme importance. It’s when the target of aid becomes young entrepreneurs that it becomes worrying.

    To help young entrepreneurs my suggestion would be that those donors use their money to facilitate the funding and mentoring process but not be the funders themselves. Ways of facilitating this include having established/proven entrepreneurs manage the funds with a financial incentive for them. Donors and embassies can also play a huge part creating platforms that connect young entrepreneurs to mentors and established entrepreneurs. Exchange programs for young entrepreneurs also provide immense exposure that startups need. I participated in one myself and came out of it much wiser.

    This would create real economic growth.

  12. Making the most of the internet (we’re hungry enough)

    This past week I spoke at two events, one was at a Food For Thought  discussion at the US embassy Public Affairs Section and the other the TEDxHarare Change event.

    it was very extremely encouraging to feel the hunger for knowledge; there was so much enthusiasm to discuss more, learn, explore new ideas.

    There was of course the usual “there’s just no cash in this economy” complaint echoed for every “Yes we can”. Which to be fair, is very valid reason why most people don’t even try to venture out there. But i think we need to start building companies that address the money issue. Traditional source of money and what startups in other countries rely on is just available here.

    Will write more about my thoughts in a future post. Today I just wanted to point you to the presentation. Here’s a link to a PowerPoint file so you can modify it an use for other purposes if you need to (no need for credit btw)

  13. The one great experience I had today is an article titled “Africa Now” I read. Not only is this a great piece but it goes off the common grid so much it’s one of those few articles that make you think. You can find it here. I think the person that wrote it, Ryan Chokureva is Zimbabwean.

    Here’s an excerpt that stood out.

    While doing research for a clothing brand I am developing, a few questions constantly came up. What is Africa, what is the image of Africa? Where is its heritage?

    this one too

    Being a Designer and Art Director, one of the hardest things for me has been to design with Africa in mind, to constantly try and remember what that is, to be aware that I am creating and recording history. That from this people will form values, opinions, lifestyles and cultures. We are story tellers, whether we accept it or not. The sooner we harness the power we have, the better. People are always listening to stories, if not ours then someone else’s

    and this one:

    The tools may have advanced, the artist may have changed, but the conversation should remain simple, and continuous, should be engaging and self reflecting. The only way we can truly retain our identity or even remember what it is, is to contentiously share it

  14. Another insightful piece by Ken Mufuka exploring where we get it wrong as Africans

    The original article is here: http://www.financialgazette.co.zw/comment/11419-african-dreams.html. Just re-posting it here in case the Fingaz decides to take it down.

    I know one of the United States Republican candidate’s reasonable well. Former Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich was very generous with his time when I was writing my book on Africa.

    He contributed a chapter on the Congo, the subject of his doctoral dissertation.

    The connection with this letter is that Gingrich made a feisty summary of his dream which he calls: To Renew America. “Yes, I am grandiose, our country is made up of a great people, we must dream big dreams, we must go to the moon, and so forth.” Dreaming and enthusiasm are the hallmarks of Americans, and we commend them for that.

    I awoke from my own African dreams when I read in Zimnews (UK) the story of Zambian Brother Field Ruwe, a doctoral student in the US. “It is amazing how you all sit there and watch yourselves die, get up and do something about it.” A white man sitting next to him on a Boston flight scolded. “You and other so-called African intellectuals are damn lazy, each one of you. That is the reason Africa is in such a deplorable state. I saw women on Kafue Road crushing stones for resale and I wept. I said to myself, where are the African intellectuals?”

    "Are the Zambian engineers so imperceptive they cannot invent a simple stone crusher or a simple water filter to purify well water for those villagers? Are you telling me after 37 years of independence your university school of engineering has not produced a simple stone crusher or a simple water filter for those poor villagers?"

    Many years ago, I applied for the position of Vice-Chancellor in the University of Zimbabwe. When I surveyed the scene, the toilet in the senior common room (the professor’s pride) had not been working for five years, and one could smell the stench from outside the door. At the school of engineering, there was a marshy place surrounded by a thicket of bamboo growth. A pipe had been running there for years I am told, and I thought an alligator had taken possession of the marshy ground.

    My family has a real estate business in the US, and I am the practical guy who inspects the rentals. I have been able to put roofs with my nephews, have laid out pipes for sewage and connected them to city lines. Why was it that with five professors of engineering, nobody had the stamina to do their own engineering at U-Zee? There was also a shortage of water. They asked for a grant from the United Nations (or whatever) to dig wells for them. What do those engineers do?

    I of course wrote some suggestions for self help and my application was buried in the sand. “Monoziva kuti Kenny anopenga,” an insider told me. To rub salt to the wounds, the trustees were very proud when a 24-year old white boy from the United Nations told them how to lay water pipes. “We received a grant,” the insider told me. What a shame.

    Corrupt thoughts
    I was saddened to hear that the Zimbabwe government is still listening to the World Bank (WB) and the International Monetary Fund. The latest advice by the WB was that teachers and civil servants, who earn less than US$150 per month, should not be given a raise. The same bank then advises that Zimbabwe should pay its loans to that organisation. 

    The amount is more than US$700 million, first installment. I researched the salaries of World Bank officials in Zimbabwe. The chief operating officer receives more than US$100 000 per year and expenses paid, including room and board. As an international civil servant, he pays no taxes.

    This individual advises that Zimbabwean teachers are over paid. The problem has come before. Julius Nyerere was faced by a similar problem in 1973. He asked the official: “Should we let our children starve while we scrounge to pay what you say we owe you?” In our case, the loans owed were either borrowed by the colonial regime, or the money was indifferently used by our brothers. “We do not know where it went and how much it was,” replied honest Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia.

    Briefly, Zimbabwe is not going to be allowed back into the WB system soon until it has a pro-western government in place. By that time, all our resources will have been pledged to them.

    "As long as you are dependent on me, I shall feel superior and you my friend shall remain inferior," the American told Ruwe. The intellectuals are not entirely to blame. The politicians have not changed in thirty years of independence.  

    Zimbabwean parliamentarians have borrowed money to build a hotel for themselves. Is it difficult to see that Zimbabwean chefs do not pay their hotel bills and that that hotel will go broke in less than one year? Besides sisters of the night will be hanging out there, and Brother Commissioner Chihuri will be called to arrest them for indecent exposure.