Looking Ahead to the Next Transform Africa Summit

On the Friday of the second week of May, the long awaited Transform Africa Summit concluded and, according to Dr. Hamadoun Touré, the Executive Director of the Smart Africa alliance, the event was a total success. I could not agree more.

During the three days, activities included all sorts of dialogue, revolving around the creation of “smart cities” and the digitisation in countries across the continent, and how technology could speed up development and getting to create the Africa we want as fast as possible. All essential conversations.

There were also various exhibitors who had come from different corners of the globe: local innovators, and giant tech companies from Korea and India.

For some, it was more than that: a battlefield. The Ms. Geek competition was tough this year, becoming Ms. Geek Africa, with the top five finalists that had come from seventeen teams were competing for the final rounds. These girls weren’t joking around and they have proven to the participants that girls were now more than ever ready to face this new era of digital revolution. Ruth Njeri Waiganjo, a twenty-three-year-old student from Kenya, whose idea consisted of a road safety mobile application, emerged winner.

Speaking of battlefield, it wasn’t easy for young innovators who were pitching to investors and convincing them to invest in their projects and startups, in what was called “Face the Gorillas.” The startups had to present their ideas, and state their financial plan to a group of investors that were on the stage, demanding for a certain amount of money to keep their startups running. If the investors found it juicy enough, they decided to invest right at that moment. The public were allowed to place investment offers too.

Part of the innovators we saw at the summit was a new company called Yego Moto, a startup that puts a tracker on a motorcycle to record its travelled distance and help a client pay accordingly. For those who have heard of SafeMotos, they would understand that this is a serious competitor. Yego Moto’s work is interesting and I plan to write more about it in the upcoming weeks; the company is set to launch officially by the end of the month.

During the summit, numerous MoUs were signed, a “smart city” blueprint was revealed, and a contract of fifty million U.S. dollars to start implementing the initiative. But I won’t go into much details about the official outcomes.

As an individual participant, however, my experience at the summit was little bit different from what I was expecting.  Talking with colleagues, we realised that dialogues were more political and less technical.  But one thing is for sure, Transform Africa 2017 brought some of the most influential people of Africa under the same roof. The kind of people that it would take you a lifetime to meet and they were very approachable that everyone who wanted to learn from them had that opportunity. And as President Paul Kagame pointed out, at some point, political will is key to achieving the goals of Smart Africa.

One of those people was Strive Masiyiwa, the C.E.O. of ECONET. I am sure everyone who attended his talk was mesmerised by the simplicity and real definition of work ethic. He also talked about the importance of education and made an explicit comparison of the African demographic condition, compared to countries like India and Russia, then showed that we have way more advantages than most, if only we approached things with a united front. When a participant asked the billionaire leader about opportunities, he said that each generation has its own opportunities and that the latest trend is the internet. “Internet is today’s real estate,” he stressed.

Aside from meeting billionaires – which is way cooler than you think –  the summit had an interesting exhibition, but personally I found it to miss a few aspects. Technology is now beyond simple desktop or mobile applications, the world is now moving towards enhanced artificial intelligence, machine learning, Robotics, quantum computing, driverless cars. There was none of those. But this is where I hope conversations at the next summit will head.

Part of his speech at the closing segment, minister Jean-Philbert Nsengimana revealed dates for next Transform Africa Summit: 9 to 11 May 2018. I sincerely look forward to a summit full of more innovation in leading technology. I also look forward to meeting more young innovators from different top African Universities, or those studying in Europe and the Americas, to share what they have been working on. It would be a source of inspiration to many.

Transform Africa Summit is a light, a catalyst, and I look forward to more great events in the future.

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