During the closing keynote address at Microsoft’s bi-annual Tech Ed conference in Durban, South Africa, Louis Otieno, the former General Manager for Microsoft Corporation for East and Southern Africa and current head of legal and corporate affairs, highlighted the many aspects that go into technology development in Africa.
ITNewsAfrica spoke to Otieno about Microsoft’s 4Afrika strategy, its importance in helping to sustain growth in Africa and the unique challenges the continent faces.
1. What is Microsoft’s 4Afrika strategy for Africa, other than in South Africa?
Our strategy is Pan-African. The general approach is to assess the outcome of reflection of the last 20 years that Microsoft has been on the continent. The fundamental change going forward is looking at initiatives to meet a local need, solved by local people. We started to look at two concepts: Scale and Sustainability. In scalability, we started to look for partner and relevance to the African market. Sustainability is about proving a concept that is sustainable in pushing the business model. Everything that people have seen so far, such as the AppFactory, is to prove the concept and scale across Africa. We will start on a small scale and then roll it out across the entire continent.
2. How big of a role does Africa play, globally, in terms of Microsoft?
The 4Afrika initiative is endorsed by Microsoft in the US, so we have their full support. There are a lot of people at Microsoft who are driving this thing. Microsoft HQ has pretty much said “here is some money and a piece of paper – see what you can do with it”. But it is also about employability and innovation – 4Africa is a clear vision. It is ICT for businesses and we are really looking at sustainability in the long term.
3. What is the most important factor for the growth of Microsoft in Africa?
In Africa, 44% of the youth are younger than 15-years-old. Small and Medium Enterprises are at a level of growth and innovation is all about how we do things, do business and how we deal with our challenges. Skills development is something that we need to develop and provide access to. If we address skills development, it will address all the factors that will make Africa even better. In the world, 16 out of the 30 fastest growing economies are in Africa, and technology and the growth thereof has a large part to play in it.
4. What unique challenges does Microsoft face in Africa?
To give one of my favourite quotes, “Africa is blessed with challenges.” The first challenge that we have is that Africa is a huge continent. It is great that we have broadband now, but where have they all landed? We have broadband, but it is limited to urban areas and it is a huge continent. We need to look at other affordable technology to compliment the technology from the West, such as White Space which is currently on trial in Kenya. It requires less power and can even be powered by solar energy. Our issues are unique and we need the ability and capability to address them. Our problems are so fundamental that they can often solve the world’s problems.
5. Tell us a little about the strategic development in East and Southern Africa?
After everything that I have done, I would not have known that I would end up here. In the past, different needs and challenges have emerged. We need to build more partners, developers, support ecosystems and the get to the unique challenges that Africa has. As far as strategic development is concerned, we have done a number of things, such as building sales, tech support, distribution lines and competence. We have also done a lot of work with African governments where we helped them to develop their ICT policies and intellectual properties. We have also launched a number of language packs such as Swahili for various Microsoft products. For the Swahili packs, we realised it was a language problem and not a technology problem. As mentioned, we helped to develop ICT policies in countries that did not even have a ministry of ICT. After that, all these organisations such as NITA and CITA started emerging.
6. What is Nigeria, Egypt and Kenya doing in terms of the 4Afrika initiative?
In Kenya, they are busy with the White Spaces trial and have other projects such as the iHub and incubation hubs. Just like South Africa, Egypt has also started with a AppFactory initiative where they train and employ students in app development. The 4Afrika program has only been going for eight months, so we rely heavily on experience from elsewhere. The initiative has no end date, although we expect new needs to emerge and be addressed. The whole initiative guides us to what we should be looking at and how we can solve Africa’s problems.
Charlie Fripp – Consumer Tech editor