ITL #154 Africa is rising: and this time it’s different

4 years, 7 months ago


Open democracy and a growing middle class are fuelling an entrepreneurial boom in East Africa. By Janet Kabue-Kimani.

In East Africa, a technology hotspot, the communications landscape is changing at an unprecedented pace – with barely a nod to the West. Growth takes different forms in our complex and multifaceted continent. In some markets it is sluggish and donor-funded. In others it is rapid and being driven from within.

 According to EY’s Africa Attractiveness Survey 2015, ‘internally-motivated’ growth is being driven by technology advancements; a vibrant, youthful and entrepreneurial population; a rise of the middle class; and democratisation of our Governments.

 Kenya has leapfrogged in technology advancements. 83% of adult Kenyans have a mobile phone subscription and 53% of the population have access to the Internet.

 According to the latest media survey by IPSOS, most Kenyans cite their first source of information today as social media. With the ability to opt in and opt out of specific social media groups, it makes it challenging for the communication professional to keep track of conversationsand more importantly influence them.

 Almost unimaginable progress

Yet despite the challenges, these technology advancements have opened up the continent in ways that many would not have believed possible at the end of the last century. I recall conducting one of the pioneer audience media surveys in East Africa 15 years ago and the electronic and print stations would fit on one page of the questionnaire. Today, when doing the same study it is virtually impossible to have even half of all the media in East Africa listed in one questionnaire.

 These explosive home-grown developments are also mirrored in the financial services sector. East Africa is home to the world’s first mobile money transfer system, MPESA.

 According to a recent survey by EY on financial services in East Africa, for 75% of young Kenyans under 30 their first and only bank account is M-Shwari (a mobile savings account on MPESA.)

 East Africa’s largest bank by client base and possibly by assets also grew purely by providing banking services including credit to people in the informal sector, most of whom are self-employed with inconsistent income: a segment that all other traditional banks deemed highly risky and would not serve. The bank founder’s inspiration was drawn from years of watching his mother struggle to raise capital to support her business.

 A changing narrative

And it is in these changes where the opportunities in Africa lie. For many years, the stories about Africa have ignored the internal strengths. This narrative is changing and the best part is that the indigenous Africans themselves are largely driving this change.

 The entrepreneurial spirit is not new to Africa. This can be traced back in almost every African community narrative – where a man was respected in his society for his entrepreneurial prowess in providing for his family. And women were celebrated in their ‘entrepreneurship’ in nurturing their families and growing the wealth provided by the head of the homestead.

 With the improved education, healthcare and political stability, Africa is experiencing growth of an urban middle class.

 This group is demanding. They have fine tastes, are open to new brands and are not averse to consuming locally grown goods, providing much needed scale for the mushrooming local businesses. Art, fashion and music have already blazed the trail with serving local markets and professional services will soon reap from these opportunities.

 Enabling framework

These developments would not have been possible without the establishment of an enabling legal and regulatory framework. There is a strong link between open democracy and development of entrepreneurship. Kenya and Rwanda have been at the forefront of East Africa’s growth and it is no surprise that they are arguably the most politically progressive governments in the region.

 Democracy has brought about liberalisation of many industries, including media. With liberalisation has come intense competition – creating a need for skilled and locally based professional services.

 This development is not without challenges and irony. One cannot afford to be complacent. In 2008, Kenya, the pillar of stability and the financial hub of East and Central Africa plunged into post-election violence.

 The irony is that Juliana Rotich, an IT expert saw the opportunity and created a platform on the internet to send airtime to those who were locked in violence-hit areas to keep them in communication. Juliana’s platform, Ushahidi, has gone on to be the UN and International Red Cross disaster management platform used the world over, as witnessed in Haiti during the 2013 earthquake. Ethics and governance however still remain a big challenge with regulation and legal frameworks running behind the industries and developments.

 But just lift the lid off the pot and you will see that we in Africa are stewing and ready to savour the richness of our continent. We are no longer waiting with open arms for alms from ‘overseas’. We’re dealing with our inadequacies, creatively finding solutions to our challenges and relishing in our own achievements.


About the author

Janet Kabue-Kimani, director and founding partner, Levanter Africa.

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The Author

Janet Kabue-Kimani

Janet Kabue-Kimani, director and founding partner, Levanter Africa.

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