SEATTLE — In 2016, the internet was declared a basic human right by the United Nations. However, access to technology in some African countries still remains at alarmingly low rates. Some people are addressing this issue with nationwide initiatives designed to increase access. Revolutionary apps, innovative problem solving and job creation are byproducts of increased access to technology. In this article, five of the brightest tech entrepreneurs in Africa who are addressing the digital gap and inventing revolutionary devices and businesses are presented.
Girls Coding Academy
Access to technology for African women is constrained by socially and culturally constructed gender roles limiting the women participation in equal terms. Tech entrepreneur Maneo Mapharisa, the founder of Girls Coding Academy (GCA), aims to challenge these archaic constructs by encouraging and supporting more girls as they pursue a career in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Maths (STEM) fields. In South Africa, young girls who desire a career in technology rarely have support from their families or schools, and without encouragement, they run the risk of losing interest in this field. Through club and campus programs and summer immersion GCA is dedicated to equipping young girls with technological skills. Women’s increased participation in these fields could, potentially, play a part in rural poverty reduction as the skills and knowledge that are acquired allows them to increase their earnings increasing wealth and economic development.
Innovative Malaria Testing
Brian Gitta (24), from Uganda, is one of the brightest and youngest tech entrepreneurs in Africa and he wants to eradicate malaria in Uganda. Malaria is endemic in approximately 95 percent of the country, affecting 90 percent of the population of 3 million people. Just ask Gitta who contracted the disease three times, traditional blood test failing to properly diagnose him on each occasion. From this experience, Gitta set out to invent a device that was more efficient and did not require collecting blood.
From his personal pain and entrepreneurial spirit was birthed “Matibabu,” which means “treatment” in Swahili. Matibabu is a bloodless malaria test that can detect changes in color, shape and concentration of red blood cells- all of which are affected by malaria. Gitta was awarded the prestigious Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation. He and his team hope the device can one day be used as a better and more efficient way of detecting malaria across the continent.
Inventing Inventors in Ghana
On the outskirts of Accra, Ghana’s capital, students were taught electronics and sciences with blackboard, chalk and books. Now, a small black box comprised of manual, electronic components, iron fillings for electromagnetism, a lightbox, mirrors and batteries sits in front of them, as their eyes glow with excitement. Charles Ofori Antipem (25), one of the youngest tech entrepreneurs in Africa is behind all this. Dext Technology, founded by Mr. Antipem, is providing students with electrical kits to increase experimentation opportunities. Charles and his team aim to develop more young inventors throughout Ghana and neighboring countries by providing more students with an electrical kit.
Trash to Tech Treasure in Togo
In Amadanhome, just on the outskirts of Togo’s capital, Lome young tech entrepreneurs are turning e-waste into spider robots and 3D printers. Ousia Foli-Bebe (29), the founder of Ecotec Lab, is a key figure in the digital revolution that is brewing in Togo. Mr. Ousia takes his robots and 3D printers into schools hoping to interest the students in science and recycling.
Annually, an estimated 500,000 tons of e-waste is imported into Togo. Locals, like Ousia, are using this “goldmine” to address societal problems and create jobs along the way. Discarded electronics coupled with the rising demand for technology has created a market for people who want to buy second-hand electronics at bargain prices.
Apps Fight Food Shortage in Zimbabwe
Once known as Africa’s “breadbasket,” Zimbabwe has seen its once revered agriculture sector dwindle into an abyss of food shortages. Tatenda Ndambakuwa, after experiencing the food shortage of 2008, set out to on a mission to curb the menace of food shortages in her country. Ms. Ndambakuwa, the founder of Shiri, is also one of the brightest tech entrepreneurs in Africa. Her company, Shiri, is a content developer and web applications startup that creates agricultural information and resources for African farmers. This app makes it possible for farmers to better manage their food production system minimizing the likelihood of food shortages and inefficiencies. Connect to Share, a feature of Shiri, allows smallholder farmers to share resources and increase dependable productivity since not all farmers have the means and opportunity to purchase important farm equipment such as tractors and livestock. Ms. Ndambakuwa and her team intend to grow the farming community and build a network of prosperous farmers becoming one of the largest agricultural resource hubs in Africa.
As the countries of Africa continue to grow and develop into self-sustaining nations it is important that all citizens be allowed equal access to technology. We have seen the possibilities for the future when someone is given an opportunity to sync their interest and talent. Revolutionary apps, innovative problem solving and job creation are essential elements in the progression towards a more prosperous Africa. This evolution will continue to empower Africans to develop from within designing innovative products and businesses that address issues such as poverty, hunger, access to education and employment.
– Leroy Adams