Africa’s technology landscape is vast and growing. It is ripe for expansion and is increasingly becoming an attractive environment for companies (local and international) to set up shop and invest.
The people on this list have taken advantage of this growth and have established themselves as pioneers in the industry. Some of them are investors, others are entrepreneurs and bloggers, but a common thread is that they are all African and are behind some of the most inspiring and innovative companies in tech.
1. Elon Musk – SpaceX
South African born founder of Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX), Elon Musk has proven what can be achieved when innovation and creativity are expertly blended. The company’s SpaceX Dragon recently successfully completed its first commercial cargo mission to the International Space Station. In May 2012 the company’s SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon capsule grabbed international headlines by successfully launching from Cape Canaveral in the US and becoming the first space launch by a private company in the history of space flight.
2. Dr. Hamadoun Touré – ITU
The Secretary-General of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) was re-elected for a second four-year term in October 2010. He is widely acknowledged for placing emphasis on ICT as a driver of social and economic development and has previously served as Director of ITU’s Telecommunication Development Bureau (BDT) from 1998 – 2006. Born in Mali, Dr Touré is also known for his contribution to telecommunications throughout Africa, having championed the implementation of outcomes of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) and launching projects based on partnerships with key global stakeholders.
3. Mike Adenuga – Globacom
Mike Adenuga is the founder of Nigerian multinational telecommunications company Globacom Limited (Glo), based in Lagos. The telecommunications company was established in 2003 and is owned by the Mike Adenuga Group. Initially launched in Nigeria, the company has extended its reach to the Republic of Benin, Ghana and the Ivory Coast. In 2012 Adenuga featured on Forbes’ Africa’s 40 Richest list – his net worth of $4.6 billion earning him the rank of second wealthiest Nigerian.
4. Strive Masiyiwa – Econet Wireless
Born in Zimbabwe, Masiyiwa is the founder of telecommunications services Group, Econet Wireless. Masiyiwa successfully fought a landmark 5 year legal battle in Zimbabwe beginning in 1998, which effectively ended the state’s monopoly in the country’s telecommunications sector. The company provides services related to mobile cellular telephony, fixed networks, enterprise networks, fibre optic cables and satellite services. Masiyiwa’s achievements and list of personal accolades include ’10 Most Outstanding Young Persons of the World’, ’15 Global Influentials of the Year’, Builders of Modern Africa and ’20 Most Powerful Business People in African Business’.
5. Naguib Sawiris, Founder, Orascom Telecom Holding SAE
Born June 15, 1954, Egyptian businessman and politician Naguib Sawiris is reported to have a net worth of $2.5 billion. He was executive chairman of the telecommunications companies Wind Telecom and Orascom Telecom Holding (OTH) before turning to politics in May 2011. Orascom Telecom Holdings has 20,000 employees and manages 11 GSM operators around the world. He is considered a nationalist and supporter of liberalism. He favored a gradual transition during the 2011 Egyptian revolution and played a mediating role between the protesters and Hosni Mubarak’s people. Although he expressed concerns about the military caretaker government he favored changes that increased democracy and stability.
6. Ronen Apteker, Founder of Internet Solutions
South African entrepreneur Ronen Apteker co-founded the country’s first commercial Internet Service Provider (ISP), Internet Solutions. Established in 1993, the company provides connectivity, communications, cloud and carrier services to organisations in the public and private sector, as well as to the consumer market via its wholesale offerings. Apteker is a noted author and respected entrepreneur, with titles like Trading Spaces and Funny Business…the secrets of an accidental entrepreneur under his belt. He remains a regular contributor to South Africa’s business and financial press.
7. Mark Shuttleworth – Ubuntu
South African entrepreneur and philanthropist Mark Shuttleworth funded the development of Ubuntu, a free operating system for desktops, servers and mobile phones. He also founded Thawte in 1995 and sold the digital certificate and Internet security company to VeriSign in 1999 for R3,9 billion. In 2000 he formed HBD Venture Capital and later also established Canonical Ltd. in support of software projects. In 2002 he achieved international acclaim as the second self-funded space tourist and the first South African in space. Shuttleworth has also elevated the profile of local business leadership through the establishment of the Shuttleworth Foundation. This is a non-profit organisation that provides funding for social innovators and entrepreneurs.
8. Leo-Stan Ekeh – Zinox Technologies
Nigerian entrepreneur Leo-Stan Ekeh is the Chairman of Zinox Technologies. He is credited with supplying the core technology infrastructure for the country’s 2011 voter’s registration. This feat earned Ekeh national awards, including Officer of the Order of the Federal Republic and Life Membership of the Institute of International Affairs. He is also on record as having pioneered the first Nigerian internationally certified computer brand, Zinox Computers and has contributed extensively to desktop publishing, computer graphics and the distribution of ICT products across West Africa.
9. Hakeem Belo-Osagie – Etisalat
Hakeem Belo-Osagie’s reported net worth of $400 million earned him the 40th position on Forbes’Africa’s 40 Richest list. As Chairman of the Board of Directors of Emerging Markets Telecommunication Services Ltd., trading under the Etisalat brand, Belo-Osagie has contributed towards the growth of an established, global telecommunication company. A dedicated philanthropist, he is said to be one of the largest donors to the African Leadership Academy, a Johannesburg-based institution that focuses on leadership development.
10. Stafford Masie – Thumbzup
Former Google South Africa country manager, 38-year-old Stafford Masie has been in the technology industry for many years and recently made headlines for establishing Thumbzup, a South African payment innovations company. A noted speaker and renowned entrepreneur, Masie is passionate about the development of local technology for local needs. His business grabbed the attention of the domestic market when it struck a deal with one of South Africa’s largest banks, ABSA, for the integration and distribution of the Payment Pebble, a world-first, plug-in mobile payment device. Under the agreement, ABSA will provide the Payment Pebble as a value added service to small business owners and merchants from 2013.
11. Jason Njoku – iROKO Partners
Jason Njoku is widely acknowledged for bringing Nigerian entertainment to the world, via the Net. Through iROKO Partners, Njoku has helped to raise the profile of ‘Nollywood’ and Afrobeats within the international film and performing arts industry. The company is marketed as the world’s largest online distributor of African movies and music. iROKO Partners was launched in December 2010 and according to its website, the company has built a global audience of over 6 million unique users from 178 countries.
12. Herman Chinery-Hesse – SOFTtribe
Herman is a software engineer by profession. 19 years ago he co-founded SOFTtribe limited, one of the leading software houses in West Africa. He holds a number of directorships and is an Assessor of the Commercial Court, Ghana. He has won a number of personal awards including Outstanding Ghanaian Professional from the GPA Awards (UK), as well as the Distinguished Alumnus Award from the Texas State Alumni Association and Texas State University-San Marcos (USA)—the first and currently only African recipient of the award. Herman has also been a resource person and visiting speaker at the Wharton Business School, Harvard Business School, Cambridge University, the University of Ghana, and the TED Global Conference in Arusha, Tanzania, amongst others. The BBC describes Mr Chinery-Hesse as Africa’s Bill Gates. Today SOFTtribe’s clients include Unilever, Guinness Breweries Ghana Limited, Pricewaterhouse-Ghana, the British High Commission, Ghana’s Millennium Development Authority, Ghana National Petroleum Company, Zenith Bank, Cargill and a host of other government, multinational and private sector blue-chip clients. SOFTtribe’s reach includes Kenya, Nigeria, Senegal, Togo, Burkina Faso, Gambia, Guinea, Liberia and Côte d’Ivoire.
13. Ory Okolloh – Activist, Lawyer and blogger, founder of Ushahidi
Ory Okolloh started out as an impassioned blogger who wanted to democratize information and increase transparency through her website, Mzalendo (Swahili for patriot). When disputed presidential election results led to violent unrest in her native Kenya, Okolloh helped create Ushahidi (Swahili for “Witness”), a tool that collected and mapped eyewitness reports of violence using text messages and Google Maps. A few years on, this activist has emerged as one of the most powerful tech figures in Africa, currently serving as Google’s policy manager for the continent. It is a tremendous accomplishment for a woman who started out just blowing off steam.
14. Seun Osewa – creator of Nairaland
The creator of the online community Nairaland, Nigerian researcher, programmer and webmaster Seun Osewa has made a definite impact on political and social discourse in his country of birth. Recent stats reveal that Nairaland has attracted over a million members and is amongst the top ten most visited sites in Nigeria according to Alexa.com.
15. Robert Sussman – co-founder and joint CEO, the Integr8 Group
The origins of the Integr8 Group can be traced back to the year 2000, when co-founder and joint CEO Rob Sussman saw a gap in the market for an operator who could offer unrivalled, proactive IT service and support. Since inception, the company has grown from a modest IT services operation to emerge as South Africa’s largest privately owned Managed IT Services provider. Recently it made headlines when Integr8 IT, the IT management specialist firm within the Group, was acquired by systems integrator Business Connexion for an estimated R126 million. Sussman helped establish, drive and direct what has now emerged as Africa’s largest publicly traded IT Company.
16. Emeka Okoye – Next2Us
Emeka Okoye is the CEO of Vikantti Software and CTO & co-founder of Next.2.us. The latter is a website that focuses on geosocial connectivity using various applications, including SMS and mobile phones. Okoye has over 17 years’ experience in Web, Enterprise & Mobile Software and Project Management. He graduated as a Geologist in 1990 but being passionate about software engineering, he built Nigeria’s first banking website (IBTC, 1996) and Internet Banking app (IBTC, 1997), co-founded one of Nigeria’s earliest start-ups and built the biggest Nigerian Portal (NgEx.com, 1997) and was the Project Manager/Lead Architect of Nigeria’s first major E-commerce Project in 2000 (FSB Bank, Valucard, UPS & Xerox, 2000).
17. Gbenga Sesan – Executive Director, Paradigm Initiative Nigeria
Gbenga Sesan is a member of the Committee of eLeaders for Youth and ICT at the United Nations Department of Economic & Social Affairs. Sesan has completed executive education programs at a number of globally recognised institutions including Harvard University, Oxford University and Stanford University. According to his online profile, CNN listed him as one of the Top 10 African Tech Voices. Gbenga was Nigeria’s first IT Youth Ambassador and also held the position of Vice Chair of the UN Economic Commission for Africa’s African Technical Advisory Committee.
18. Stuart Forrest – owner and CEO of Triggerfish Animation Studios
Forrest is the owner of Triggerfish Animation Studios, an established operator within the marketing and advertising industry in South Africa. Media reports have described the venture as “Africa’s answer to Dreamworks, Disney and Pixar” and the company has produced several projects including the animated features “Zambezia” and “Khumba”. The offerings have catapulted the Studio to international acclaim, with Zambezia attracting the interest of Sony as a distributor to English-speaking territories – reportedly the first time a South African feature has secured US distribution of this level.
19. Wael Ghonim – Nabadat/ Google
Egyptian Google executive Wael Ghonim, is the head of marketing in the MEA region. He is also the Chairman of Nabadat, an NGO. Ghonim is credited with using Facebook as a tool to inspire the ousting of the Hosni Mubarak regime. He was also featured on Time Magazine’s list of ‘100 most in_ uential people of 2011’
20. Loy Okezie – Techloy.com
Few have made an impact on the online landscape in Nigeria as Loy Okezie has. Currently living in Lagos, Okezie started the technology news and research website Techloy.com to highlight the importance and development of Nigeria’s technology ecosystem. Since its creation, Techloy has grown to be one of Nigeria’s biggest technology websites. Started more than four years ago, Okezie now serves as Chief Editor, where he is responsible for the website’s editorial direction. His blog was voted ‘Best Technology Blog’ in Nigeria at the recently concluded Nigerian Blog Awards 2012.
Chris Tredger, Online Editor