The Assises of Digital Transformation in Africa, that’s him. The Digital African Tour, that’s him again. Cio Mag, the reference African magazine on IT, it’s still him. Mohamadou Diallo, serial entrepreneur at heart, journalist by profession and passionate about computers, holds a degree in Information and Communication Sciences (University Paris VII Denis Diderot), a diploma from the European Institute of Management of Paris and a university degree in technology Paris-Sud. Interview with a ”Technopreneur”, a specialist in this plural Africa of technological innovations and startups.
- For many specialists, technological innovations in Africa, would be mainly focused on FinTech and e-Commerce, and that other areas such as Health, Agriculture, Agro-industry, Education, would not be equally penetrated by technological innovations. Do you agree and why?
Indeed, the trend and energies have been more focused on mobile finance and e-Commerce. In my opinion, there are several reasons for this. First of all, there is the obvious lack of physical infrastructure for commerce (an average of one point of sale per 19,000 people in Africa while in Europe, this figure is one point of sale per 400 inhabitants) and the low rate of bancarisation (less than 20%) of the population. There is also the fact that both mobile finance and e-Commerce are sectors that are more driven by private actors and less regulated by States. This has led to Africa having its first unicorns with Jumia for e-Commerce. This does not in any way detract from the criticality of other sectors such as agriculture, education and health. These are sectors under the sovereign power of the state. It is more difficult for start-ups to carry out projects in these areas without the public will to support this type of initiative. But with the arrival of the Covid-19 pandemic, we are seeing a speed of adaptation in the field of health innovations. There is an unprecedented movement to mobilize intelligence and resources to hack the coronavirus. Moreover, CIO Mag is mapping these different initiatives taken on the continent, based on an iterative African geographical map (https://cio-mag.com/covid19/) called ”African solutions to the crisis”, to promote the sharing of best practices in order to bring out the best practices. This dynamic is to be encouraged and could be done in other sectors such as agriculture, education, energy, etc… to assist in overcoming the crisis. As all countries have declared war to deal with the pandemic, intelligent post-crisis management is needed.
- What do you think could explain the fact that the financing of African IT start-ups and SMEs on the continent is largely done by venture capitalists rather than by public authorities and commercial banks?
There is a lot of work to be done at this level to adapt the financing instruments. Traditional banks must change their paradigm because of the nature of the financing needs of start-ups. It is easier to convince a conventional bank to lend a state to finance hydropower dams for astronomical amounts than it is to finance kits to enable thousands of people to access solar energy or remote soil irrigation systems via mobile phones. It is not a question of digital infrastructure versus physical infrastructure. But things are starting to change. Funding models must also follow. The emergence of African venture capital firms must be encouraged. Ideally, African funds should be available to finance the development of start-ups on the continent. This also reflects a desire for sovereignty and necessarily involves the development of an African financing culture to assist the African ecosystem. It is clear that this dynamic cannot be developed solely with contributions from Western countries. It is essential that Africans take their destiny into their own hands by creating African funds for Africans. It is pleasing to note that in recent years, of the 51 funds investing in African startups, 22 are based on the continent and led by Africans.
- In a comparative approach between Morocco, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana and Kenya, which would be for many specialists in digital start-ups, “African capitals”, what is your analysis in terms of SWOT analysis, their ecosystems, their actors, and their respective issues?
It is like pitting the English-speaking system against the French-speaking system. Culturally, the English-speaking countries of Africa have this entrepreneurial and financial culture that is not found in the French-speaking countries. As proof, in 2018, African companies raised almost a billion dollars thanks in part to Fintech. Geographically, 67% of investments are concentrated in only three English-speaking countries: South Africa, Nigeria and Kenya. But things are starting to move. We have young people who believe in it.
- You are the founder of CIO Mag, which over the years has become the reference support for information and technology watch for CIOs and IT managers in Africa. What are the major African trends today in the field of digital start-ups?
There are the Fintech and e-commerce sectors. As explained earlier, the two sectors where Africa is the most famous and there are unicorns is in these two sectors. This corresponds to the real basic and frugal needs of the population. Imagine countries like Togo or Mali, there is a gap for 320,000 inhabitants, providing access to finance by mobile phone represents an unparalleled opportunity. When we see the convenience offered by the combination of mobile, financial and digital in terms of facilitating access to make secure transfers, it is normal that success is there. It is up to Africa to invent its own trajectory to accelerate the achievement of the MDGs through digital technology. To do so, the training system must be adapted and reformatted to bring this entrepreneurial culture to the youth and find solutions to the needs of the population.
- You are also a serial entrepreneur and promoter of the African Digital Tour. What is the African Digital Tour, its philosophy, its approach, its ambition, on the one hand and on the other hand, what is the content of the African Digital Tour 2020 of each stage/country and what justifies it?
The Digital African Tour is a roadshow on a dozen African capitals in order to promote exchanges concerning digital. The Cio Mag Group has been a pioneer in this field. Since 2008, Cio Mag was the first media group to focus on the digital transformation in Africa. At the beginning, it was within the framework of thematic meetings with CIOs, a rather mature target but one that needed to be evangelized. On one hand the objective was to support them, in enhancing the function as well as anticipating the role and place of these actors in the transformation of African businesses and administrations. On the other hand, the aim was to help them take control of the digital destiny of their country. For the past five years, we have been forging partnerships with the ministries in charge of digital technology, the government agencies in charge of digital strategy and the implementation of e-Gov policies. The Digital African Tour ends with the Assises de la Transformation Digitale in Africa that we have been organizing in Paris for nearly a decade. The objective is to strengthen cooperation between Africa and Europe on innovative topics such as the challenges of the Smart City, the Wise City, digital identity and e-Government.
Interview by Siré Sy
See also :
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African startups fundraising in 2019: 234 deals for 1.010,010 billion FCFA (1,5 million €)
African KINGS of Innovation: African startups fundraising in 2019: 234 deals for 1.010,010 billion FCFA (1,5 million €)
African KINGS of Innovation: Kenya- Ivory Coast- Nigeria- Ghana- South Africa
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