When I initially onboarded with StartupBoat I was focusing mostly on the online incubator/accelerator in Tanzania and Uganda. I spent most of my time in shared-spaces and tech hubs searching for entrepreneurs, but talking with them to see how the African market compared to others. Dar es Salaam, Tanzania is one of the fastest growing cities in the world, and is projected to be a mega-city by 2030. Tanzania, as do most countries in Eastern Africa, offer extreme potential as developing nations. The tech-hubs afford innovation and investors that are related to software in cost comparison and global-scalability, yet I never came across an innovator or pitch focused at science and hardware.
Every app and VR presentation focused on a global aspect, never recognizing the untapped potential of “Made in Africa for Africans.” One example brought up at Sahara Sparks 2018 was why there was no car production in Africa, yet resources from Africa are exported for automobiles. There were a couple of groups that had identified that challenge, and had developed an electric car designed for the road-systems of developing nations. While they were able to identify the challenge, they lost their market to global scaling. The tech gap alongside income and generational gaps in Tanzania and Uganda must be accounted for, with a heavy focus on the African market.
China plays a crucial role in the development of the eastern African countries, offering necessary infrastructure support that translate into land control and/or acquisition. In 2017 the new East African Railway opened from Mombasa to Nairobi, Kenya and cut travel time from 9-12 hours to 4.5 hours. China provided 80% of the $3.2bn, allowing Kenya 10 years to take ownership
and payments or forfeiture of the railway. Italy has focused on highway and urban roadway development especially in Tanzania. A small factor to keep in mind, is that most of these development projects are built and developed by trained expats, instead of training nationals.
I did not seem to recognize the brain-drain effect in Tanzania as much as Uganda, but once again, Dar es Salaam is one of the fastest growing cities. Dar es Salaam plays host to several tech-hubs; Sahara Ventures is a tech-hub accelerator/incubator that is partnered with the Tanzanian Ministry of Education. Most of the innovation coming out of Sahara Ventures were strictly phone apps for ordering services that could be scaled globally. One app that stuck out was SomaApp; this app took a college scholarship application format and changed it from PC to Android/Mac. His goal, to provide access to unclaimed scholarships for Africans, and for Africans to return with diverse ideas and innovation.
To wrap up how one should approach Tanzania, Uganda, and consider other developing nations, here is a scenario that is a norm in Tanzania:
A woman wakes up to start her day. She’s never attended school, a crippling economy made families decide that a menial job would help survival far more than an education. She must wake her husband to ask for money to pay for the day’s provisions, it’s a heavy patriarchal system. To her dismay, one of her children is sick, and must be seen by the doctor. After walking her two children to school, she returns home and calls a taxi to take her to the hospital with her child. There’s a sitting room, and a nurse hands her a tablet to fill in her information. The most she’s done with a smartphone is to place a call; she is much more comfortable with the flip-phone her husband uses. So she must sit in another room and wait until someone can come and help her add her information. On the way home, she must walk, because what money she has must pay for medicine and food. She had no idea that there was a pharmacy along the way back to her house, she has no idea of apps like Google Maps that can show her pharmacies on her way home. She takes her sick child home, then walks another few kilometers to the only pharmacy she knew of. While the access to technology was afforded her, there were no systems in place to show her how to use them. To conclude, East Africa has untapped potential and a relatively forgotten market of 1.2 billion people. Innovation designed in Tanzania and Uganda needs to be scaled, but not necessarily at such a global approach. The education gap alongside the tech gap will only disenfranchise more Africans from a globalization view without proper structure and support.