nb: This is UP here because I wrote as the Nigerian lady, no Nigerian tech bloggers got back to me when i messaged them to participate
A few months ago UP Magazine was interviewing one of Nairobi’s tech superstars Mark Kaigwa, when he let spill an interesting fact: in his opinion since Kenya was given the label of “Silicon Savannah”, its tech entrepreneurs had sat on their laurels and nothing particularly innovative has come out of the country since. So when we decided to do a tech issue, this was the first question on our minds. It proved, however, more difficult to find someone to argue that Nigeria was now the leading tech country in Africa but eventually someone called Oluwademilade Adeniyi decided to step up. To be honest we don’t know if this is a real person or not, but because she was frank and persuasive in her views, we decided to let her run. The NO was of course easier and Sam Wakoba, the founder of the blog Tech Moran, was happy to go all out and argue that Kenya will stay king of the Silicon Jungle (if it’s ok to mix reductive metaphors) for the foreseeable future.
NO- Sam Wakoba
After a few deals went sour, a number of tech investors in Kenya said the tech ecosystem was full of fluff and entrepreneurs weren’t as ready for business or to tackle risks like their Nigerian counterparts. I disagree. After M-PESA broke records of quick money remittance and financial inclusion, the international media became dead-focused on that, while local bloggers were only writing about apps and app competitions. Apart from M-PESA, the international media had only tourism and terrorism and corruption as their story leads. M-PESA aside, the international media could have reported companies like Craft Silicon, a multibillion software firm, BuyRentKenya, an online real estate classifieds vertical and PropertyLeo.com, another real estate classifieds portal.
Another would have been One Africa Media’s Cheki, an online car classifieds vertical which is both operational in Kenya, Uganda and Nigeria and revenue positive. MoDe, a recent IBM smart cities winner, has been powering mobile micro credit for years before another Kenyan startup called Movas Group joined the flock doing the same. Both Movas and Mode work with telcos across Africa to help them offer credit airtime packaged differently from market to market and from telco to telco. Another Kenyan firm, PesaPal, has expanded in major markets across the continent to power both online and mobile payments. And don’t forget firms such as ShopSoko, an etsy of Kenya, Angani, a local cloud services firm, EatOut, a restaurant search and booking engine and SleepOut, an AirBnB for emerging markets.
Kenya is still huge in tech. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
YES(sort of)- Oluwademilade Adeniyi
Nigeria has by no means overtaken Kenya as the continent’s Silicon Savannah. It would be presumptuous of me to say so, however it’s only a matter of time before we do. If Kenya has one problem with its tech scene it’s that it’s saturated. It’s becoming near impossible to check online zines and not see some new tech startup funded out of Nairobi’s seemingly bottomless coffers. Nigeria is poised to explode into a viable tech destination that can also translate into steady revenue streams for potential investors.
Nigeria has one major advantage over Kenya when it comes to tech and that is the sheer size of our nation’s population. Additionally the seemingly endless litany of problems is fertile ground for investors looking to fund a startup that won’t fizzle out because of a lack of market. One only needs to look at the portfolios of seed firms such as L5 labs and 440.ng to see the growth potential. Beneficiary startups such as JayOsbie and Ella.ng are looking to muscle out Jumia in the online fashion retail market, no small feat if you ask me.
These may seem like small potatoes however consider the story of Obiwezy, two chaps who did phone reviews and are now running a game-changing phone swap and re-commerce website. Buying used phones online with the benefit of a warranty is a godsend in country where not everyone can afford an out-of-the-box smartphone. With rumours that telco giant MTN is looking to partner with them, one can only assume that more investors with deep pockets will get into the tech game in Nigeria.
Kenyans can have the title Silicon Savannah for now but in less than 2 years we’ll be past you before you can say “Wetin dey happen?”