In twenty years or so, Africa is expected to have the world’s largest working-age population of 1.1billion, yet only 3 to 4 million jobs are created annually. That means there is an urgent need to create opportunities for the millions of people on the continent who are creative, smart and driven to succeed. In addition, only 9.8% of the world’s internet users are in Africa-even though the continent is home to about 15% of the world’s total population. In sub-Saharan Africa alone, 600 million people cannot access the internet. There lies the opportunity. Little wonder Zuckerberg said, “The future will be built in Africa.”
It is clear that recent visits by IT gurus and tech entrepreneurs is not merely a coincidence, rather, it is a recognition of Africa’s centrality in the growth of markets around the world. Indeed Africa is on the brink of a new dawn. In the last one year, the world’s most successful entrepreneurs have flown into the continent with the intention to cut multibillion-dollar deals with governments and local businessmen in a bid to consolidate their wealth.
In 2016, Founder of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg paid a surprise visit to Nigeria. A Nigerian tech blog, Techpoint reports that more than fifteen managers and executives of Nigerian background work with and around Zuckerberg at the world’s largest social networking site, occupying a range of high-profile roles. However, more cogent reasons account for his visit to Nigeria. Primarily, the Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative invested $24million in Andela. Andela is an unusual model to democratize access to coding skills by paying some of Africa’s smartest people to learn to code. Then, Facebook launched Free basics in the country and Zuckerberg showed his support for Jobberman, Nigeria’s first online job search platform. Zuckerberg explained that ‘the most striking thing about Nigeria is the entrepreneurial energy.’
Travelling from Nigeria’s buzzing commercial hub, Lagos, to the city that never sleeps, Nairobi. Zuckerberg via a facebook post explained that his visit to Nairobi “is to meet with entrepreneurs and developers and to learn about mobile-money-where Kenya is the world leader.”
Jack Ma’s visit is a part of his role as Special adviser on Youth Entrepreneurship to the United Nations. The Chinese billionaire said: “We are not here to sell Alibaba or Chinese product, the value we want to bring in is; we want to sell African products and services. We want to sell Africa’s young people innovation to all the world through the internet.” Further, he explained, “The future of e-commerce in Africa is greater than Europe, China and U.S.” However, more valuable than Ma’s money are the nuggets for success he dropped at the University of Nairobi, Kenya and the Youth Connekt Summit Kigali, Rwanda. Jack Ma’s visit comes at a key-time in Kenya whose usage of the internet to do business is raising the bar on the continent. In fact, the several mobile money platforms M-Pesa, M-Shwai and M-Kopa are evidence that Kenya is the world’s leader in mobile money technology.
Recently, Google CEO, Sundar Pichai visited Nigeria for the #GoogleForNigeria event. Google used the event to showcase its various products and services. It revealed that it is making the internet work better for everyone in Africa. It announced initiatives focused on digital skills training, education and economic opportunity and support for African startups and developers. Sundar Pichai explained that in order to bridge the digital skills gap in Africa, Google pledged to train one million young people in the region and has exceeded this target. “Now we’re expanding this program, and committing to prepare another 10million people for jobs of the future in the next five years. We’ll also be providing mobile developer training to 100,000 Africans to develop world-class apps with an initial focus on Nigeria, Kenya and South Africa.”
Africa faces a colossal population dilemma. In a society like China this has been harnessed and put to use. However, in Africa, manpower is often left unattended. Thus, we have millions of idle people on the streets that depend on fate and the government for their survival. The unemployment rate is abysmal. The Africa Center for Economic Transformation (ACET) reports that ‘about 50% of graduates are regularly unemployed because of the lack of availability of jobs.’ Unemployment and underemployment pose the greatest threats to Africa’s development today. With idle youths parading, there is an inevitable increase in crime rate which indirectly provides a platform for terrorism as an avenue to vent grievances.
The real question is not Africa’s preparedness for their investments in terms of capacity and infrastructure, rather, it is the threat that their investments pose to the continent’s real growth and sustainable development. Nearly all of the people being trained are tailored to work for big tech companies whose headquarters are tucked away in Silicon Valley. With the once in a life-time opportunity to be on the pay-roll of these tech giants, many of Africa’s intelligent young people will be absorbed into different countries leaving Africa drained of her finest minds. In reality Africa is in dire need of the infrastructure and investments to solve her social issues like unemployment and the adverse effects of a vibrant unengaged youth population.
The harm in the visits of these tech giant companies is a renewed scramble for Africa. A scramble that has the potential to cause more damage on the continent than political subjugation-colonialism. Perhaps, the greatest lessons for Africans is if Africans don’t rise to the challenge, there will be foreigners who will rise to do what Jack Ma or Zuckerberg did in their country in Africa.
It is true that entrepreneurship has the potential to save Africa but there is a higher calling; Africa’s youths need a sustainable vision for our continent beyond quelling the grating hunger in their belly and showing off their wealth to those who are less privileged, less hard-working, less smart or at the end of the day, less lucky. Herein lies the opportunity for great wealth; vast wealth that will get into the hands of a whole lot more people than is presently the case and that will assure a safer, stronger society for us all.
Seyi Tiamiyu is the Founder Initiative for the Development and Enlightenment of Africa, filmmaker and an Afro-centric blogger at ideafricans.com