Africa is filled with fast-growing new technology companies, with top professional services firm Deloitte naming Nigerian payment and transaction processing business Interswitch Limited as leading the way in terms of growth for the continent- the company grew a massive 1226% in 2014, twice the growth rate of its nearest rival. IT and technology seem increasinly to be leading the way for the emergent Africa, with Kenyan company Techno Brain recording the second-highest growth rate last year, becoming 621% bigger. Deloitte next lists South African software company Everlytic for its rapid expansion, followed by Egypt’s T.A. Telecom, with South Africa’s Adapt IT bringing up the rear of the top five fastest growing technology companies.
Interswitch have much to be proud of, as the company were largely responsible for building Nigeria’s transaction switching infrastructure, connecting all of the banks in the vast country and enabling thousands of e-commerce transactions each day; bringing mobile payment platforms; providing a pan-African chip and pin card service and other modern amenities not just to Nigerians, but to Africa as a whole- the company now spans over nine countries, and continues to extend its reach each year.
Marx may have opined that war is the midwife of progress, and to an extent this is proving true in Africa with the technological wars against diseases such as malaria, Ebola, and the ever-present HIV/AIDS. The expanding African technology sector has offered new options in terms of treating and preventing disease, as well as innovative solutions for medical equipment: researchers at Makerere University in Uganda have invented software which turns mobiles into microscopes, thereby harnessing the technology trend which means that fully 75% of Africans now own mobile phones.
Increasing access to computers and the internet has meant greater access to reliable medical information, while the large monetary boosts to the economy provided by technology companies has meant a richer Africa which is more able to stand on its own two feet.
These successes are tempered however by a general paucity of education in the villages, a fear of outsiders, and, crucially, by a lack of doctors. Sierra Leone has just 136 doctors for its population of 6 million people, and Liberia has just fifty. With statistics like these, the continent will clearly need great sums of further investment in education and training in order to create functioning health services.
Clearly, Africa has a long way to go in terms of self-sufficiency, especially when it comes to widespread medical emergencies, as the Ebola epidemic in West Africa has shown (around 20,000 people were infected by Ebola last year, and 8,000 died). But in terms of improvement, technology is leading the way- mobile payment systems and access to text messaging services have opened up the African economy in the past few years, making things such as the simple purchase of an airline ticket much more streamlined. With economic advances, social advances should follow.
So what does the future look like for Africa? With Nigeria, South Africa and Egypt heading up the continent’s biggest economies, and with rapid growth in infrastructure and technological advancement, it looks as if Africa’s future is gradually becoming brighter, with a greater independence and home-grown innovation and technological expansion, as opposed to the traditional reliance on Western aid- even if complete self-sustainability is still some time away.
Dr Álvaro Sobrinho is an African investor, businessman and philanthropist. His investments cover the fields of telecommunications, banking, green energies, retail, infrastructure and education. Find out more on http://www.alvaro-sobrinho.com or follow him on @Alvaro_Sobrinho