How the African tech generation is changing the continent

by MMC
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In many ways, the impulses that drive Peris Bosire and Rita Kimani exemplify the best of Kenya’s digital scene: they are driven by a desire to improve their communities. Although they now travel the world to speak at business summits and explore other market opportunities, they remain rooted in Kenya. Although they came from poor villages, they benefited in a broad sense from a heightened spirit of innovation that, for a multitude of historical and cultural reasons, seems endemic to Kenya. One distinction is that after Britain’s colonial rule ended, Kenya avoided the missteps made by other African countries. As Ndemo points out, “Kenya has been a free market economy since its independence, in which many other countries turned to the Soviet Union and experimented with socialism. Uganda had a bad experience with Idi Amin. Rwanda obviously had a very bad experience. Meanwhile, Kenyans have enjoyed more than 50 years of freedom.”

But while it is true that Kenya’s relative stability contributed to Bosire and Kimani’s success, it is also true – and typical of the Kenyan entrepreneurial experience – that FarmDrive succeeded with little encouragement from the national government . In sub-Saharan Africa, Kenya and Nigeria have achieved technological pre-eminence more through the influx of venture capital into these large countries than through government action.

“Currently, there is no link in Kenya between policy making, academic research and the private sector, and only the government can make that link,” says Ndemo, who was one of the first champions of a 5,000-acre technology hub under construction in Konza. , about 40 miles from Nairobi, the capital. It was billed as Africa’s first “smart city” when it was inaugurated in 2013, but its construction was paralyzed by political wrangling and profiteering. As Ndemo discreetly says: “The speed is not there”.

For now, Kenya’s version of Silicon Valley is Nairobi’s Kilimani neighborhood, specifically a rundown, busy thoroughfare known as Ngong Road. One of the catalysts was the influential Technology Innovation Center iHubfrom which a number of local software start-ups were born, including Totohealth, which helps parents track their babies’ health from pregnancy through early childhood. The Kenya Science Campus of the University of Nairobi is located in Ngong. Across the street is 88 mph, a leading company that invests in technology start-ups. And not far from the iHub location is the FarmDrive office, quietly located in the epicenter of the city’s programming community.

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