The Role of Government in Promoting Tech Innovation in Africa

emerging-market-startups-imentorsIn talking about the efforts to promote technology and innovation in Africa, we tend to focus a lot of attention on private initiatives such as innovation hubs and the like. It is clear, however, that without a supportive, forward thinking government, it would be very difficult to move things forward.

Ultimately a generally stable government creating the right environment for business and investment is critical for tech, innovation and startups to take off. More specifically though, it is imperative that governments also understand the specific opportunities that are there in the area of ICT, and not just the opportunities but also the challenges that exist because at times governments are best placed to provide the best solutions to some challenges such as by enacting enabling legislation.

Thankfully, governments in places such as Kenya, South Africa, Nigeria, and other countries on the continent have not been ignorant of this. This is evidenced in some initiatives such as setting up organisations specific to the growth of the local ICT sector e.g. the ICT Board of Kenya, government investment in local tech startups, investment in infrastructure and bringing up tech parks that aim at drawing in investment from outside.

Nigeria’s ICT minister, Omobola Johnson, recently had a chat with ABN Digital about the Nigerian ICT sector and what the ICT ministry is doing to promote the sector. What’s interesting is that, while she was speaking about the local, Nigerian, situation, many of her observations – challenges, opportunities… – are very similar to other areas on the continent. Let’s take a look at some of these:

Challenges:

1. Local Consumption

Ms. Johnson identifies the fact that many companies in Nigeria will opt for foreign built enterprise software whearas the country has skilled IT people who have created solutions that work.  This is a common problem on the continent. Somehow, enterprises generally do not trust locally built solutions vs. foreign built software which tends to be more expensive and at times even requires importing relevantly skilled personnel to handle the software.

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