The lessons South Africa can learn from the Kenyan ICT sector
There're many ills which, despite almost two decades of democracy, post-apartheid South Africa still faces. Perhaps not as apparent as issues surrounding education, healthcare, social welfare, and the such, the psychological shackles of South Africa not fully recognising itself as part of the African continent, is yet another of apartheid's myriad legacies.
However, whereas these other "more apparent" legacies all South Africans are attempting to overcome; this particular legacy, as a result of the natural and expected pride we as South Africans feel for our nation, is further exacerbated rather than diminished. The only time South Africans look to our northern borders is to identify what went wrong and how we should steer clear of those same errors.
This afropessimism is only to our own detriment.
2010 saw many being made very aware that astounding developments were taking place in the tech industry, in the rest of the continent. This was after Kenyan innovator, John Waibochi's Virtual City Ltd took the million dollar prize at the international Nokia World and Developer Summit in London in 2010.
Not only that, Kenya, was being touted to be the ICT and Business Process Outsourcing hub of choice for Africa by 2030, which ITNewsAfrica.com asked is something, South Africa should consider a threat. In my opinion, it's not a matter of threats, but rather an opportunity to learn.
In the previous decade, the necessary developments in infrastructure and regulations have been undertaken by the Kenyan government to create the one necessary environment for a positive space for the development of a thriving tech industry: the reduction in cost and increased proliferation of mobile technology. Whilst this is something South Africa's government has lagged behind in, they're doing their bit to make up for it.
However, there is more than the correct form of government intervention to Kenya's success.
As former President Thabo Mbeki famously "South Africa is a country of two nations"; one being "relatively prosperous..." and "poor... [living] under conditions of a grossly underdeveloped economic, physical, educational, communication and other infrastructure." One of the biggest issues for South Africa's tech industry so far, has been that too often - in direct contrast to Kenya -- it has catered to the former, rather than the latter.
Essentially, instead of focusing on creating services for high-end devices such as, iPhones, iPads and BlackBerries, the Kenyan tech sector chose to focus on what the majority of users could access, realising that even in the lower ends of the market, there were economic opportunities.
One of the most successful, if not the most successful, iteration of this is M-Pesa,
Created in Kenya, M-Pesa is simply a money transfer tool using the most basic of mobile phones, with no bank accounts being involved. This product, launched in 2007, now has 14 million users in Kenya, 9 million in Tanzania, and has been exported to Afghanistan, and ironically South Africa too.
There's a third component to Kenya's success, and unlike the first two it's not as tangible but just as key to the success of Kenya's tech sector.
Kenyan consumers and enterprises are far more open to adopting new ideas. Experts in the Kenyan market continually point to this willingness to try, then adopt or reject new tools and ideas, as key to the Kenyan tech sector's success amongst the wider economy.
South Africans though are coming to recognise there are key opportunities across our borders when it comes to the tech sector.
This was the thinking behind our - Primedia Online's 365 Digital - recent decision to enter into what we truly believe to be a key partnership with multi-African-nation publisher, Umuntu Media. Umuntu Media, a fairly new player to the space recently received a vote of confidence worth US$1-million in the form of investment from European venture capitalists eVentures Africa.
For us, we see this partnership as being an expansion of our African footprint.
Speaking with TheMediaOnline.co.za which featured the partnership in its "Big Moves" weekly feature, our sales Director Alistair Albers, described it as follows.
"Umuntu Media's great potential is that it opens up premium wired inventory across the continent. Although there is extensive search and mobile inventory in Africa, most of the premium wired inventory is limited to offshore channels, implying that the scope for a domestically relevant custom published channel is massive! In many respects our vision for the partnership is an opportunity to control access to what may develop into one of the largest reservoirs of continent published premium wired inventory."
This thought though can be more succinctly put as follows. We can use Umuntu Media's reach and influence across Africa to tap into the vast market beyond South Africa's borders.
With South Africa facing so many more glaringly fundamental issues, it may seem strange to focus this much attention on the tech industry. However, to me it seems strange not to.
The tech industry must surely be a tool South Africa uses to find its way out of this current vicious cycle of stagnant growth leading to stagnant growth, but having said that, the only way in which this is possible, is this kind of thinking found in Kenya. This kind of thinking which realises, that the Apple's and Google's of this world, became the Apple's and Google's of this world through providing what consumers in those markets wanted.
This partnership between Umuntu Media and ourselves, we see as a step in following the Kenyan model. A lesson that beyond our border lies an entire continent, with not only cautionary tales, but lessons of hope and success.
Now all that's needed is for all in our nation to learn this lesson.
About the author
Tanja Lategan is CEO of Primedia Online.
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