By Alex Roberts
Look, everyone gets that Nairobi is the new frontier of investment.
Businesses are popping up hand over fist at a rate that was simply unfathomable, even as recent as five years ago. Yet, there are many who sit back on the sidelines, deathly afraid of risking it all and getting in the game. Not long ago there have been many voices calling out their dissent, their innate dissatisfaction with all of the young up and comers, the millennial generation, who are trying to take their turn leaping into the newest phase of the digital revolution.
Now is Kenya’s time as this is ground zero for the Silicon Savannah. Yes, there are other rivals to digital supremacy within the African sphere (notably Nigeria and South Africa) but none have gone as far, as fast and as effectively.
This is the age of the new and Kenya’s own rapidly growing slice of tech through the massive start up space that is invading Nairobi is the way to leap frog into the 21st century. This can spring the country ahead in development to such an extent that it may truly be the way that the country reaches levels of economic development only felt south of the Sahara in start up accelerators in Johannesburg.
Frankly put this situation of intense growth wasn’t around even a decade ago, let alone that prehistoric period known as the 90’s. Any tiny inkling of an idea has the potential to become ubiquitous in Nairobi, something that the general masses simply can’t imagine living without.
How is this possible?
Angel investors are flocking in, a sudden light bulb moment seeming to burst forth from the entire business world. Africa is the new market and tech is how to get there, Kenya has the best IT workforce and most welcoming trends for foreign investment in the entire region. Click goes the light bulb.
Now once marginal tech spaces and accelerators like I-Hub and Nairobi Garage (formerly the accelerator known as 88 MPH) are drawing in not only the best and brightest minds from all spheres of Nairobi but connecting them with the biggest and most influential tech players in the entire world. Even Microsoft used Nairobi Garage as an office for some of their employees for a while.
This is going against the grain and doing so in an active and positive way that is largely bringing in Kenyans in their 20s to make their mark.
Tradition and even some theory points to Kenya and other African states being behind, having to play catch up to world superpowers that are miles ahead in terms of digital impact.
This is for lack of a better word, utterly and entirely false.
The old school hypotheses of the world system theory are shifting and have been for quite a while.
Sure, in a lot of realms Kenya is still considered to be a third world country, one that sits and struggles on the periphery of development while others flourish. Digital advances are the great equalizer. Anyone from any country can create something without relying on anyone else, immediately jumping from periphery to core with a singular clever innovation.
That isn’t to say that there won’t be many people who are going to try to hold back whoever comes up with a spectacular once-in-a-lifetime idea, even if it could have an impact far beyond the reaches of the Silicon Savannah and into a global scope.
“Sit back and wait,” They’ll cry, “I struggled for decades before eventually cracking through that ceiling and making it with my own creative vision.” A bigger misconception has never been uttered from the lips of someone masquerading as wise.
The length of the hustle doesn’t negate how hard things were or how much you pushed for your digital dream to become a reality and this is almost more true in the business world of the 21st century. Opportunities these days are made at the end of a finger, the touch of a button and can end almost as quickly
This ‘earning it’ for Kenyan start ups trying to find their corner in the Silicon Savannah is not only ridiculous, it’s a serious detriment to the young and brilliant who might actually find themselves holding the spark of something incredible in their hands.
Here’s a free hint: everyone else is trying to spark that same fire.
Especially when comparing tech capabilities of Kenya against those of say, the US, the first world companies often have more experience, more funding, more marketing reach and better contacts padding their brand new iPhone’s memory banks.
It’s survive or die time in the digital space and the Silicon Savannah has to keep up with the trend of staying at the crest of the wave. One study indicates that the number of enterprise apps will increase by 100% in many major businesses worldwide. The biggest in business are diving in with both feet into digital and so should Kenya.
Just because Kenya is at the forefront doesn’t mean the nation should sit back on its laurels. One 2014 report indicates from the Communications Authority of Kenya indicates that digital penetration among the population stood at around 52%. Anyone who thinks that figure will reduce in the coming years is dreaming.
One invention could change simply everything for the periphery as far as digital exposure is concerned. Li-Fi internet connection (gaining connection through solar panels and LED lights) could suddenly push billions online. The same is true in Kenya. Those in Turkana, those far from the bright lights of Nairobi’s Silicon Savannah could suddenly become an integral part of the nation’s tech boom.
Check out this explanation on Li-Fi to see some of the future for yourself.
The message to all of you dreamers stuck treading water in this digital explosion rings fairly simple: forget about all the naysayers holding you back, you’re much better off on your own.
All those older detractors, pushing heavily down on the dreams that you yourself are in charge of may have already been through their age of golden opportunity and squandered it to the same fears that they’re now projecting onto your Start Up idea for creating an app that can have your phone make cotton candy (we’re sure that’ll be a thing by the year 2018).
This is the Silicon Savannah, a label that Kenya should not only wear proudly but carry forth as the nation’s business banner with a battle cry into the 21st century.
Everyone has their own reasons for doubts. Can Kenya really make it in the space? Will the important tech players be interested in anything that you have to say? Is there a market for innovations coming out of Kenya? Will tech entrepreneurs lose everything and be forced to retreat to live the rest of their lives life in obscurity?
Everything is a risk in this life, but tech is one area that you don’t have certain ‘necessary’ costs that can weigh down and destroy other businesses. It’s just you and your laptop and a multitude of business opportunities: wherever you can find connection others can connect to you.
Why wait? Ever hear that term the ‘golden-age’ of something? Well, you’re living in one right now, the golden age of digital and the Silicon Savannah could be the Midas touch for Kenya. It’s a time in history that is incredibly exciting or the tech-minded, the gifted, those with a laptop and a dream.
— Innovation (@InnovaCJ) March 24, 2016
The investors aren’t at the gates; they’re in office spaces down the road in Nairobi. This is the Silicon Savannah, you might as well jump into the deep end of the digital revolution right now and embrace it, if not you could find your world-changing idea with a lot of vultures circling around it. Whether or not to click is up to you.
See for yourself the potential for digital tech in Kenya.