TAS: Young innovators, start-ups take centre stage

Delegates at the Economic Forum of the Transform Africa Summit yesterday. Nadege Imbabazi.

The Economic Forum of the annual Transform Africa Summit was held on Tuesday in Kigali attracting entrepreneurs, investors, and government leaders.

Youth, innovations, and investments in African start-ups were some of the major topics at the forum.

The forum was opened by Prime Minister Edouard Ngirente who spoke about the enormous potential presented by the youth across the continent.

It was observed that Africa has the fastest growing youth population, with the continent now home to 140 million more young people than a decade ago.

By 2028, the African continent will be home to almost one billion people under the age of 25, experts say.

These young people run most startups, driving the innovation ecosystem across the continent.

ICT and Innovation minister Paula Ingabire said the continent has many opportunities at its disposal and a growing youthful population that necessitates innovative ways to create jobs to truly sustain economic growth.

Designing innovative financing instruments and developing human capital are all going to be priorities as the continent charts its path, she said.

“We are seeing more and more hubs across the continent, from Smart Village Cairo, Technopark Stellenbosch in South Africa, Technopole de Dakar, to Konza Technopolis and our very own Kigali Innovation City,” she said.

These hubs, she added, all host entrepreneurial initiatives aimed at addressing poverty reduction, wealth and job creation and community development through innovation and technology.

As of last year, the continent had about 442 tech hubs, according to GSM Association.  

Fatoumata Ba, a 30-year-old Senegalese entrepreneur, pointed out that Africa has a population and mobile penetration similar to that of India, yet India gets 17 times the venture capital investment that Africa does.

“We are here to drive change. This is a call to action for Heads of State and Government, business leaders, the private sector and all the stakeholders,” she noted.

Hisham Ezz Al-Arab, the Chairman of the Commercial International Bank of Egypt, said that there is no question whether it is the right time to invest in Africa.

“I believe the continent is the next engine for global growth. There, however, needs to be frameworks for this to happen,” he said.

Lack of integration was cited among the key barriers to investing in Africa.

However, Ali Parsa, the Founder of Babylon, had a different view. “Instead of waiting for all countries to come together, as entrepreneurs, we should instead work with those countries whose governments are already open to working with entrepreneurs with ideas. Rwanda is a great example of that, and we can see it,” he noted.

Despite these challenges, however, the continent continues to attract more investors willing to inject finance into African tech startups.   

Last year alone, investments into African tech startups surpassed the billion-dollar mark, two years ahead of projected timeline.

Venture capital on the continent has more than doubled since 2015.

This, according to Minister Ingabire, opens doors for foreign direct investments, which will create more jobs and grow the tax base.



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