“Why Africa May Never Produce a Facebook” – A Valid Argument?
I came up on this article by Mfonobong Nsehe who also wrote the article that inspired my previous blog post< and it created a good Facebook conversation with a couple of friends of mine. From the comment section, you can also see that this has stirred up some passions. Nsehe’s question that serves as the premise for the article is:
Why hasn’t a globally-renown, groundbreaking software, social network or mobile application ever emerged from the continent?
You’ll notice the bold in “globally renown” as Africa has it shares of all the mentioned application but they are very localized by country. Why hasn’t Africa produced a global time-sink like Facebook? Notice we could replace Africa in that sentence with Latin America, Europe, Russia, or Asia, and the answers would obviously differ but yes, in my opinion, it would still be a valid question. So let’s look at Nsehe’s take on the matter. He identified more than competent (which means excellent for my Shakespearan challenged readers, you know yourselves!) African developers and technologists, you can check them out here(Mark Shuttleworth of Thawte), over there (Ory Okollo), and bam! in your face (John Waibochi of Virtual City). Great accomplishments indeed, but giving last the example of a young lady that’s developed an amazing voice-based mobile app designed to help track the oestrus stages of their cows and is having a hard time raising seed capital, Nsehe argues that “there are no venture capital firms in Africa to fund these ventures”. Boom bada bing! And from the comments on the article that is where most people disagreed. Personally, I have an outsider’s perspective on VCs in Africa (I am registered at Vc4Africa, follow some African VC groups on LinkedIn, Twitter etc and that is as close as I’ve gotten to VC activity in Africa so far) but the sector seemed to be quite dynamic but it might be my uninformed outsider view.
Nsehe identifies investor accessibility and lack of investors-taking-technology-seriously as the two main factors holding back African developers from writing their chapter in the pages of World Technology history. A commentator (mbwana) points out that:
[...]many entrepreneurs need some handholding for them to be bankable- even if they have rock solid business plans and technology- traction is also needed[...]
Another one, Koliobi, rightly argued, to Nsehe’s agreement that:
It does not take “African” investors to fund “African” startups. It takes “any” investor to fund an “African” startup
Nsehe recognizes that there are quite a few VC firms in Africa, but as he denotes “there are no firms there that provide seed capital to Tech firms”. Correct if wrong, but even then, I am sure the corrected numbers will still make this a totally valid point. I am sure Nsehe knew that this was going to be controversial argument to make and come to think of it, if we focus on the seed capital aspect of the equation, I agree that:
Africa needs several Y Combinator-type firms who will believe in and support the dreams of entrepreneurs and get those big ideas out of the boxes and into the pages of history
Where do you stand on the issue?