The Technology Aristocracy Is The Problem

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There is one issue beyond all else that defenestrates the technology ecosystem of Rwanda and Sub Saharan Africa. It is something that every tech entrepreneur in the region worth their salt sees time and time again yet we too often lack the vocabulary to communicate effectively.
This issue is the pedantry of global tech elites and companies that assume the solutions to Africa’s challenges will be solved in Silicon Valley boardrooms with views of driverless cars instead of by those who live on the continent, with its views of matatus and boda bodas.
To the technology aristocracy, the concept of Africa rising is too often nothing more than a good photoshoot, a place to parachute a lean startup ‘expert’ for a weekend hackathon, instead of an ecosystem that can produce a unicorn.
This expectation creates a vicious feedback loop. How can a vibrant tech ecosystem appear in Africa when:

  • Twitter has no offices,
  • Uber’s Kenya team is just three people.
  • Facebook employs less than fifty people
  • Google barely employs one hundred.

Worse, the odd free lunch under a Google banner does not make up for the fact that Google subcontracts its sales teams for services like their Maps API, and those subcontractors are the only meaningful contact most African startups ever receive from the company.
How are the techies of this region supposed to benefit from the natural osmosis that permeates places like Silicon Valley, Cambridge, and London when the closest thing they meet to a real engineer is text chat from a support team? How are the entrepreneurs supposed to get that little bit of seed money to launch the next world changing idea when the closest good job is an ocean away?
The seeds of tech optimism receive no water, no sunshine from those who claim to be its biggest proponents.
It is the people of Africa who suffer.
We will see more balloons and flashy articles, than actual new products that change the lives of the world’s poorest.  Too many Africans will continue to think that technology is synonymous with using WhatsApp and Facebook – captive consumers without knowing that the technology in their pocket is infinitely more powerful than the supercomputers that were used to put man on the moon.
By Peter Kariuki and Barrett Nash, the co-founders of Rwandan motorcycle taxi app SafeMotos. This post was originally published as Africa Falling.