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On Tuesday The Economist came to Nairobi to host an event on innovation in Africa. I went along (as part of the sponsorship deal for the podcast) and wanted to share some of the key things covered.
Unlike other conferences I’ve been to, there was a refreshing level of debate between panellists which facilitated getting to the crux of a number of issues.
Here are some key aspects:
1. Will Africa take a different development sequence?
Europe/ US/ Asia developed through ‘industrialisation’ i.e. building factories. Africa is developing in the time of mass connectivity and so will digitalisation side step this pattern?
Yes: many more opportunities to cheaply connect globally, especially regarding the gig economy
No: some things require “old fashioned” value creation i.e. you can’t smelt minerals with solar power alone
2. What is AI’s role in Africa’s development?
More than just an internet connection, Artificial Intelligence and robotics are developments that take jobs ordinarily fulfilled by humans.
The paradox: “AI may take jobs, but there are no jobs to take in Africa”
3. Kenya is an innovative tech hub?
Internationally recognised as a leader in FinTech through M-Pesa. However the founder of Bitpesa (interviewed here) argued:
“M-Pesa was 10 years’ ago. What’s happened since then? What’s next?!”
Her answer: Kenya needs to embrace blockchain technology
4. China’s role in Africa
On the whole China felt underrepresented from the conference. The country has a deep presence on the continent which may seem strange given the infancy of domestic markets.
Crux of the relationship: China is de-localising manufacturing of low value processes as they focus on AI
On the whole it was a thought-provoking day with considerate people discussing the development of the region. If you’re interested in other events, take a look here.
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