The problem with lists and awards in the African tech space

I could not stop laughing after I read this post by Loy Okezie on his personal blog

This was in response to the recent CNN post on 10 African voices to follow on Twitter

This vindicates my position on spurious lists and awards in the African tech space. Because CNN, Forbes etc said it, does it mean that it must be true? Why encourage and propagate it?? It is poetic justice that they are now also doing this to the King of lists himself Techloy!! :)

Ndubuisi Ekekwe highlighted a dangerous trend in African technology in his post on Harvard Business Review which I totally agreed with

Joe Karimi in his reply to my comment on the same post stated the now obvious in Kenya

"Many of these apps do not have mass appeal beyond the tech conferences and forums that have become a staple for the Nairobi IT crowd. Therefore their success in the 'real world' is quite hard to determine"

It seems a lot of startups or personalities in the tech space now exist to be on lists or to simply to make enough noise so that they get an award then disappear into oblivion. 

The real questions we should ask are: What are these lists really meant to achieve?? What metrics are these lists based on? Are they subjective or really objective?? Do they actually help those featured to gain recognition and respect?? Do they help African startups to raise money?? Why are they not talking about those that have gained serious financial support for their ideas???

Granted that we need our African voices heard and we need visibility but there are things foreign journalists get away with in Africa that they could not try elsewhere. We are all too happy when they praise a few of us for taking baby steps when there are far more serious innovators quietly solving problems.

I had this exact conversation last week with an incubator in Kenya who were concerned that because of the awards one of their porfolio companies won, they are no longer focussing on solving problems but basking in the limelight.

I think Erik Hersman (@whiteafrican) is more African than anyone who ever doubts his "Africanness". He is one person I truly admire and for the first time I think CNN or any other have a list I somewhat believe in

Guys, lets have a moratorium on tech schoolyard contests and tech beauty pageants because they distract us from the serious work of building a credible African tech ecosystem.

Let us forget the lists and those who are serious should fold up their sleeves and get back to work. Tech in Africa is serious business because we are making lives better one startup at a time

The future of the enterprise, global innovation and brands?

"Not even a perfect selection process could bring together the best talent in the world within a single company"

I read this first sentence from an inflight magazine on the plane from Orly to Barcelona today:

......I added,....not all the money in the world also. 

Collective knowledge is always greater and it is best aggregated through free-will and removal of barriers. That has been the story of the open-source movement and gives insight to the future of global innovation.

Future institutions must realize that the employee/employer model of building institutions is fast becoming as extinct as the carrot and stick model of motivation in management.

Community, social dynamics and experience are far more important factors in motivating people to lend effort to a cause than money or job security. The individual is a repository of "knowledge capital" in which the enterprise is an investor. Each individual can be likened to an enterprise and each person can also create a new enterprise aggregating several other repositories. 

Enabling knowledge to spread virally throughout the enterprise allows this kind of exponential growth to occur the same way we have seen with the open source movement.

As we move rapidly towards service and experience based business models of ensuring customer patronage and loyalty, charity must start from home. The institutions of the future must also live what they sell.

Models like HCL's "Employee First Customers Second"  will become the norm rather than the exception. Disruption must start from within the enterprise before it can as a an entity become an agent of disruption in the marketplace.

A friend +Seyi Taylor wrote a blog post musing about sustainability recently and after thinking it through, I remembered the basis of Nassim Nicholas Talebs book "Black Swan". I realized that the only way to create sustainable institutions is to continuously become the disruptor rather than the disrupted. Disruption can only be woven into the fabric of the organization by fostering a culture of disruption through free flow of knowledge. Black Swan events will occur less often if we "build robustness against negative ones that occur and be able to exploit positive ones"

Silos should disappear and each person should become not only an entrepreneur but an enterprise. The name we call ourselves as a company should become a means to identify with a community rather than a brand which the owner of livestock uses to identify their property.

I think I now realize where the word "brand" comes from now. The future enterprise will not be based on protecting the "brand" but on sustainable innovation

Why Ghana is the best location for an African Startup Accelerator

Someone close to me always uses this term to describe Ghana, "the closest country to the heart of the earth" She describes her country this way because it is the closest country to intersection of the Greenwich Meridian and the Equator.

Leaving the nationalistic sentiments aside, the facts all show that Ghana is not only one of the world's fastest growing economies, it is one of the very best in Africa.

Ghana's growth rate has been spectacular. Ghana's economy has grown from 7% in 2010 to 13% in 2011. The country is stable politically and probably has the best Internet and power infrastructure in Sub-Saharan Africa. You can compare more statistics between Ghana and others in Africa here,,men...

All of the above points to one thing, it is a great place to start a business and an even better place in Africa for startups to thrive. In spite of the glaring facts stated above, it still surprises me that after Sarah Lacy featured me in her TechCrunch article last year: 

I still keep getting asked the question why Ghana instead of Nigeria? The decision to have a startup based in Ghana instead of Nigeria to me is quite obvious. 

 Startups are like babies and they need a nurturing environment to survive and move to the next stage. Nigeria and most other African countries do not have the right environment to make this happen easily.

It is very easy to blame 419 and other cosmetic factors... especially as was alluded to in another recent post by Sarah Lacy on Jason Njoku the founder of Iroko a Nigerian Internet Startup.

In the post she (Sarah Lacy) mentioned that he (Jason) could “do what many Nigerian entrepreneurs do, and hide his digital location, saying he was headquartered in Ghana”...but didn't.  

That statement made my jaw drop in astonishment as it shows that there is not yet proper understanding of the importance of Ghana to the African Startup Ecosystem.

Saying that "Hiding digital location" is the main reason why African Internet entrepreneurs specifically Nigerian move to Ghana is not actually providing accurate reasons why Nigerian entrepreneurs move to another country just 45 minutes away.

Ghana has the same IP issues as Nigeria and is also frequently blacklisted because there are fraudsters there as well. The real reasons why African internet entrepreneurs move to Ghana is because it is cheaper and simpler to do serious business there period.

For example, we pay $120 monthly for 20Mb Bandwidth in Ghana while in Nigeria for lower bandwidth a similar startup funded from South Africa pays $4500 for 8Mb. That startup also has to build a huge mast that cost them another $6,000 to get line of sight to their ISP.

There is constant power in Ghana while the same startup in Nigeria has to buy their own power generator and fuel which is now very expensive and led to riots earlier this year because of subsidies that were removed.

When you innovate and create new markets, nobody wants to know how you overcame your constraints, they only see results.

I never even knew all of these issues Jason was having with Youtube etc until you mentioned it. Moving to Ghana is our own way of overcoming those constraints as the market is really Africa and not just Nigeria. I keep saying it proudly that Africa has provided me more opportunities than any single country and that is why I see myself first as an African before I belong to any country Nigeria or Ghana.

For us we have realized that the advantages we have discovered in Ghana can be used to the benefit of more than a few entrepreneurs and that is why we decided to start our own 100% African Startup Accelerator – Afrinnova ( in Accra. We will be using Ghana’s central location and favorable conditions to act as a hub for the entire continent.

Afrinnova will be helping African startups with innovative ideas to develop Africa. Those ideas also have to be scalable beyond one country. For now we are starting with startups focused on payments and transactions systems and the goal is to provide depth to the ecosystem, which will subsequently act as a catalyst for other startups.

Even Jason’s company will not grow in Africa without payments even if the infrastructure problems are solved. We have built up an impressive portfolio of startups and mentors from all over Africa.

Our invitation to Sarah Lacy is still open to actually visit Ghana.