If you follow these disruptive technology experts and influencers on Twitter, most of who are from outside Africa you will be amazed at the content and videos they share, showcasing great technological inventions and improvements ranging from Artificial Intelligence to Blockchain and fintech. Then you realize that Africa is lacking in the scene. Not absolutely, but we are missing in action in a big way.
Africa is the second largest consumer of technology after Asia, yet we produce a minute percentage of the technology we use. Most of it is imported. Take for instance smartphones. The African market is dominated by Chinese companies like Transsion and others like Samsung and Apple, none of which is African.
Go to the motor industry. We import almost 100% of our vehicles. I’ve never spotted any of these African brands in Kenyan roads for instance. Go to household appliances: microwaves, televisions, sound systems, fridges and even utensils. We import all of them, and worse is that most of them come from one place: China. What special thing does China have so that we even import earbuds from them?
We lose a lot of money in the importation process, transport costs and the hiked prices of those items we refuse to manufacture here. Simply, we lose wealth and consequently gain poverty.
We lose jobs, many many jobs. Try to estimate the number of employees in all those manufacturing and service companies that sell to Africa. It’s millions. Again, we lose wealth and gain poverty.
We lose our image as we become overly dependent on others for our survival. It’s practically hard to come by an African made item (tech related) in Africa, leave alone in China or Europe. And what do you expect people to think of you if you get all your tools and equipment from them, including toothpicks? This is perhaps the biggest loss of all.
That’s why there’s an urgent need to turn the tables, to rebrand Africa. And we can do it using technology.
Here’s a number of ways we can use to boost the technology in Africa and fortunately, every African can and should participate.
1. Seek knowledge about technology.
Buy books about machines, vehicles, ships, aircraft, and whatever else you can think of. Subscribe to technology magazines and journals, read tech blogs, listen to podcasts, watch documentaries and also movies that revolve around technology.
There’s a lot of free material on the web in form of PDFs that you can download and educate yourself with. Learn how machines are made and repaired, how programs are made and how they are applied; learn artificial intelligence, virtual reality, blockchain and others.
If you have kids, it is best to involve them in this. Introduce them to technological terms early in their lives. Buy them children books that will spark an interest in technology in them.
In the evening, engage in question and answer sessions where you ask each other questions and give the kids a chance to brainstorm and present ideas of how they can help the society using technology.
People do have hidden passions, that is, you can pick up some random information about something and end up developing a great passion about it.
2. Study available equipment.
Involve your kids in this too, vigorously. Look for some old machinery that is out of use, like a photocopier, printer or television set. Carefully open it, study its contents and how they work. Try repairing the broken ones and see if you can bring them back to life. Better still, if you can afford it, study the appliances that are working. In the process, try to think of how their utilities can be improved or even removed if they are no longer useful. This is how ideas are actually born.
Visit museums with old items and study them too. Look at what they were built with and their purpose. Ask why they were outperformed by the ones in use currently and also try to predict the future of what we are using currently.
Visit local factories and assembly joints to see how it’s done. Witness the processes, ask questions and if they can give some operational training, the better.
3. Go and come
Since technology and manufacturing companies are scanty and less advanced in Africa, if you can, go abroad and study what they have there. Go to China and see how they make smartphones, speakers, bicycles and everything else. Go to Japan and Germany and visit their car manufacturers. Go to India and see how they manufacture their medical equipment. Go back to Germany then see how they make pencils and fly to USA and visit their hangars and heavy vehicle industries.
4. Create samples and prototypes
Make a prototype of a car, a plane physically or you can also use software to create them where possible. If the software is not there, you can also create it. It will, in fact, help many others.
Study your community and neighbourhoods and see what challenges exist that can be solved using technology, then proceed to design a custom product. The need might be an all-terrain car, farming machine, internet connection, network booster, or cheap means of lighting and energy. Test your prototypes, redesign them until they suit the needs and they are close to perfect.
5. Alliance with others
In matters technology, it is best to have partners and advisors since it is a matter of ideas and improving the ideas to solve problems as efficiently as possible. Also, chances are that you are not alone trying to create this product, so look for company. Go to social media, your neighbourhood, attend tech events and conventions together with exhibitions that might be accessible to you.
Expose yourself to others on the same mission as you. On top of getting a good team or business partner, you may also be lucky to get funding for your project.
6. Buy African
Once we create our products and set up our companies, we will also need to create market for them.
Buy Africa made cars, smartphones and also the services that may be available for sale.
Buying from within will not only boost wealth but it will also boost our image as Africans. We will need to trust our products more if we want others to try them too. Hopefully, the products we make will be competitive enough in our internal markets and even internationally.
If we can start taking these small steps now, odds are that in ten years, we will have made much progress, to the extent of producing most of our own goods and even exporting others.
Everyone pull the rope from your end.
Contributed by Gachewa Ra Kwame, a blogger at theafrodite.com