Global Perspective: The Growth of IT in Africa
Editor's Note: Though based in the United States, GoCertify works with writers from around the globe and occasionally publishes articles from different corners of the global IT realm.
What are key Information Technology (IT) trends that are shaping Africa? The continent is rapidly evolving, especially on the international scene, mainly because of huge investments in technology. The World Bank reports that 11 of the world's 20 fastest-growing economies are in Africa.
This is no surprise as modern industries have emerged, tracing an evolution away from the more manual way of doing things to an increasingly digitally-driven business environment. This change is particularly recognizable in the banking, retail and telecommunications sectors.
It is also worth noting that, while not all the countries on the continent have experienced strong growth rates, the slow growth in some sectors takes nothing away from the fact that there is huge potential for investment in technology. One notable trend is that of tech savvy Africans starting their own businesses. Many top executives have resigned from lucrative job positions to venture into this growth terrain.
The consensus is that in the next five years there will continue to be rapid growth and development throughout the African economy. Factors driving such development are the low cost of high-speed Internet, innovations in banking and payment technology, the spread of smartphone usage across the continent, and the increasing availability of early-stage investment funding.
According to sources, the biggest tech trend in Africa making headlines is the rise of smartphones and feature phones — projections are that by 2021 mobile subscribers in Africa will number 500 million. This is feasible because Africa has seen the fastest uptake of mobile phones in the world.
For example, the Chinese multinational networking and telecommunications company HUAWEI occupies the largest market share for smartphones in Africa because of their high-performance phones that are relatively inexpensive.
Since the majority of Africans do not have bank accounts, mobile phones come in handy for banking and making payments. There is an emergence of startups focused primarily on exploiting this market space and meeting the demands of the average customer looking for safety and dependability.
Mobile money transfer services are the key players in this sector. These firms include Kenyan based M-PESA, which currently has more than 18 million active users, the increasingly popular Paga, based in Nigeria, and Kaymu, based in Cameroon. The rise of mobile payments not only provides smaller businesses with stable platforms to conduct financial deals but is also leading to the growth of mobile commerce across the continent.
Another significant driver to the utilization of IT is the continent-wide growth of the middle class. One well-known example is Nigeria, where the middle class currently stands at 23 million — a six-fold increase in just 14 years. This middle class group of consumers is crucial for Africa's economic sustainability in the coming decades.
Africa is also a youthful continent with a median age of 19.7 years. In countries like Kenya and Nigeria, youth constitute the greater percentage of consumers of new mobile products and services. Added to that, young people offer a potentially huge talent pool.
Operating in a continent with such a young population, however, isn't without challenges. Tech startups consistently face the hurdles of finding, training and mobilizing talent. The lack of skills and abilities is still an impediment to growth, and will continue to be for at least the next five years. This is an issue that needs to be addressed.
For the countless African startups benefiting from new technological developments, growth isn't hinged alone on a burgeoning smartphone-carrying middle class. Numerous small startups and businesses piloting the continent's technological revolution rely heavily on capital investment, especially from angel investors.
Early-stage funds, headed by plucky investors, are growing rapidly. A typical example is found in Nigeria where, over the last few years, the number of early stage funds in operation jumped from zero to seven.
Countries such as Nigeria, Kenya, South Africa, Uganda, Ghana, Senegal and Cameroon have all developed various tech communities. Some nations even serve as subsidiaries for major tech companies abroad such as the Google Developer Group, Mozilla Firefox Group, Docker, and so forth. Nairobi and Lagos, with their respective locations in East and West Africa are natural hubs for business and are already well on their way to becoming global tech hotspots.
In Cameroon, we currently have Buea as a powerful tech hub around which to organize our annual Silicon Mountain conferences (Africa's version of Silicon Valley), where techies showcase developments, pitch their ideas and concepts to potential investors, sell to corporate bodies and generally work to make Africa a better place to do business. I predict that during the next five years more African cities will begin to stand out as hubs of IT startups and businesses.
IT is also supporting the widespread effort to reduce and eliminate life threatening diseases in Africa. Frost & Sullivan's, 2016 Africa healthcare Industry Outlook makes it clear that IT is helping to improve healthcare. According to industry analyst, Aditi Bhalla, "Key enablers for this drive will include eHealth technologies, like mHealth and point-of-care testing (POCT).
MHealth and video telemedicine solutions are already being used to streamline patients' data, while innovative, easy-to-use POC and home diagnostic solutions assist with accelerating access to care."
Due to the sheer scale and diversity of Africa it is difficult to make sweeping statements concerning the future. However, one thing we can be sure of is that growth in areas such banking, retail and telecommunications will continue to stem from an increasingly healthy ecosystem of tech startups and early stage investors.
Our IT industry is growing and in need of skilled and knowledgeable professionals to take it to the next level. In order to stand a chance of getting a job in the IT industry, the perfect blend of skills and experience is required. Certifications are valuable as a way to showcase and validate one's training and abilities. Some of the more valuable and sought after certifications in Africa today include Cisco's CCNA, CCNP, and CCIE, the Microsoft Certified Professional Developer (MCPD), Oracle's Certified Professional Java Programmer, the Linux Professional Institute Certification (LPIC), and any of the project management certifications offered by the Project Management Institute (PMI).
Of course as more networks are created and more Africans go online the need for certified security professionals will continue to be acute. For individuals looking to enter the field of IT security two excellent entry-level security certifications are CompTIA's Security+ and GIAC Security Essentials (GSEC). More experienced security pros should consider in demand credentials like (ISC)2's Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP) and ISACA's Certified Information Security Manager (CISM).
As with any region of the world adopting new technologies there are going to be challenges. Fortunately, with a young population, eager professionals and the backing of investors, Africa is poised to become an influential IT player on the world stage.