Wednesday, November 16, 2011

"Want to become an internet billionaire? Move to Africa"

A recent published post was titled "Want to become an Internet billionaire? Move to Africa". This article was also referenced in another article published by Forbes: "Africa Could Make You An Internet Billionaire".

The authors are speaking about the ICT opportunity in Africa which I described in a paper published last year: "The New Nomads and Cloud Computing in Africa". One of the author was invited by UK Prime Minister David Cameron who took a high-level delegation of corporate CEOs to Nigeria and South Africa to highlight "one of the greatest economic opportunities on the planet".

So can Africa make you a billionaire?

First Africa's environment is not even close to where California was when Silicon Valley started in the early eighties at the beginning of the IT opportunity that made many billionaires in the US. So it may take much longer for the opportunity to develop and millionaires are more likely than billionaires in the near future. But I understand the need to attract readers with flashy titles.

Second and more importantly the question is who is "you"? Clearly in the mind of David Cameron, it should be British people and most VCs investing in the market are investing in startups managed by people from the developed world. Most of the startups operating in Africa indicated in the article are actually managed by British people. Other nations like India are also lining up to size the opportunity.

I personally have nothing against that, I think that the opportunity is for grab by anyone. But my wish is that African young entrepreneurs will grab it first and that we will see ICT solutions developed by Africans for Africans. Africans have a major advantage over people from the developed world: their knowledge of their region and their innovative spirit that has nothing to envy to that of their colleagues in developed nations.

Recently I attended a major IT innovation conference in Johannesburg. Ninety five percent of the people attending where white South Africans or expatriates! One sponsoring vendor organized a contest for the best innovative application. The winner was a solution developed to use twitter to share comments about wine that you are drinking! I'm not sure that this is the type of "innovation" that Africa needs right now!

More than ever before, now is the time and the opportunity for Africans to control their future in this IT industry before someone else does it. There are many "someone else" vying for the same market but Africans should not fear that competition because this time they have the home field advantage!

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