How digital is Africa?

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”The secret of getting ahead is getting started”

In the past 20 years, digital economy businesses have erupted because of the rise of mobile Internet, creating global titans that have become household names. These include Google ($891.3bn, USA), Facebook ($554.2bn, USA), Amazon ($893.3bn, USA), Tencent ($405.4bn, China), Alibaba ($473.8bn, China), Baidu ($37.7bn, China), Uber ($46bn, USA), Grab (est $14bn, Singapore). These companies have a combined market capitalization of about $3.7tn, compared to the world’s 10 largest oil companies ($1.8tn) and the top 10 mining companies ($576bn).

Looked at in a different way, the market cap of the top 10 “digital economy” companies ($3.7tn) is more than the GDP’s of Africa ($2.3tn), India ($2.6tn), and Russia ($1.6tn).

These digital economy companies have created wealth for both their founders and their countries, and have a few things in common:

  1. They grew out of the Internet and they use mobile Smartphones.
  2. They are dominated by American and Chinese entrepreneurs.
  3. Their founders were all very young when they started.

How Digital is Africa?

Africa has not really participated in this revolution yet, except as consumers. We love YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, and WhatsApp but most of us have never developed our own platforms in Africa. We enjoy the services but others get the money.

How digital is Africa?
Digital Africa?

One of the favorite icons on my phone is actually the “App Store”. I go there almost every day to look at cool new Apps. But… not as a consumer, as an entrepreneur!

I never do anything strictly as a consumer. I re-wired myself years ago!

Tens of thousands of Apps are registered every year. Some of these Apps will just become fringe activities but others will explode and become a Spotify or Snapchat.

Venture capital investors are also watching these App Stores…

How is Africa doing so far?

Not enough!

If I were to ask you how many Apps have entrepreneurs registered from your country, would you even know?

They are there, and if you know how to look, you will see them pop up. But there are also African countries where my own search has produced nothing and some of these are really large countries. This is not a good sign, because it means they will produce only consumers of digital economy products now and in the near future.

Can we actually fix this problem in the hope that one day Africa can produce giant digital economy companies?

Why not?

You mean we cannot produce a Nigerian version of Netflix or Amazon Prime? Or an African Twitter? Why not? An African Uber? Why not?

But before anyone ever does anything he or she must first “believe” it is possible.

Those who once colonized and enslaved us never wanted us to “believe” in ourselves, but unfortunately, when they left, we often struggled to shake off this “unbelief” in our own capacity.

So even though we have young minds that can do it, there is a limiting #mindset sometimes that we have to work on. A poster I saw one day said (something like): “Millions of people can believe in you but none of it matters if you don’t believe in yourself”.

We must do everything possible to encourage our entrepreneurs into this space. And also to ensure our children have the digital skills they need to get started young.

The Digital Age has only just begun!