African countries have the potential to set trends rather than follow them in a world dominated by hurtling changes in information technology (IT), delegates attending the Thomson Reuters Africa Summit have heard.
Digital and technology transfer expert Lee Naik said over 300-million customers used Kenyan-created mobile payment company mPesa, and there was no reason why this could not be spread more widely in future.
He said Kenya was widely recognised as a major hub for mobile payments. The East African country was also particularly resourceful and faster than South Africa in bringing big ideas to market.
“The difference between Kenya and South Africa is that, in South Africa, we are obsessed with protection rather than deploying our intellectual property.”
He said South Africans were so intent on protecting their big ideas that they wasted time. “By that time, our Kenyan colleagues have already taken their ideas to market.”
Future Agenda founder and CEO Tim Jones told an engaged room of business leaders and entrepreneurs in Cape Town that Nairobi could well become one of the world’s most innovative cities, alongside the likes of Boston, in the US, and Stockholm, in Sweden.
Africa is showing great promise, with the number of incubators rising sharply over the past two years and venture capital pouring in from Europe and elsewhere, said Naik.
Rwanda was another African country making strides in its own way. Rwanda has been delivering vaccines via drone. “This is being seen as a major change in public health,” said Jones.
He said five different drones could be deployed at the same time to an accident scene to provide blood that may be needed.
Mauritius was also leading the African pack in embracing digital policy.
Jones suggested that people needed to be far more open to a connected digital world.
“We need to get away from binary partnerships and joint ventures and be more multiple.”
Jones said the “myopic” focus on China had shifted in recent years to India, as well as to Africa.
But countries in Africa had to be prepared for change in which the Internet of Things, artificial intelligence, machine learning and autonomous vehicles all operated within an increasingly connected world.
The future poses both opportunities and threats. By 2030, more than 20% of jobs are expected to be automated, pushing many people out of traditional jobs.
More than 50-billion devices are forecast to be connected by 2020, while cash could be gradually replaced by encrypted currencies.
Jones and Naik said companies would need to find ways to become more efficient, and “leaner and meaner”.
Thomson Reuters board member Ken Olisa said IT was disrupting every business, from transport to lodging and retail.
“Walmart was the ‘god of retailing’ and is now undermined by a bookseller that decided not to be constrained by books . . . Amazon,” he told the summit.
Young people, in particular, were also seeing fresh opportunities.
“You don’t need to raise millions of dollars to be successful. You can be in the back bedroom of your mother’s house developing an app which can be sold on the Internet.”
Olisa said entrepreneurs and corporates generally had very different management styles – the corporate “calm” and the entrepreneur a “mission addicted disruptor”.
He described them as akin to fighter pilots and aircraft carrier jobs – “two very different cultures”.