Women Leadership: What Future Tech Cities in Africa can Learn from Kigali, Rwanda

By Shaan Khan (18/05/21)

Photo captured in Kigali, Rwanda.

It’s no mistake that Africa is later than most continents in developing its technological infrastructure. But being fashionably late has its quirks.

Having reliable electricity is pivotal to regional health. While electricity powers our machines & lights; under the surface, it’s powering our ability to work, be productive and even survive.

Blackouts can disrupt business flow, medical operations, even leaving you without access to the internet. Getting stranded in the dark takes a toll on socio-economic development—why invest in a computer if you can’t power one when you need to?

Weak power grids lead electricity to be rationed nationwide. A study conducted by LSE shows that in Ghana, poor people receive 7 hours of electricity a day, opposed to the 18 – 23 hours wealthy neighbourhoods would receive.

The instability of Africa’s electricity would only increase as power demands rise from the growing populous. The harsh reality has shed light on a need for change, starting with Africa’s primary source for electrical power—coal & oil.

These fossil fuels bleed the continent dry from any chance of socio-economic fulfilment in the future. The truth to coal & oil is that it powers the increase of global warming—projected to devastate Africa with its upcoming catastrophes set in motion.

But with governments on board for eco-friendly initiatives to sourcing power and reforming electric distribution to becoming more decentralised; tech-centric entrepreneurs now see Africa as a clean slate for technological revolution.

The Wild West of Tech

From the humble beginnings of computers & consoles in the 60s, we’ve now entered the age of robot machines, smartphones and drones. With stable electric grids & internet access—technology works in tandem to operate society smoothly.

All industries demand tech, from machines to app, so tech companies rise to the calling. The United States were quick to recognise the economic benefits; having been pioneers in new-age technology after all. The US was brewing with innovative tech companies that would become centralised in a region called ‘Silicon Valley’, a zone covering many cities throughout California, such as San Jose & Sunnyvale.

Silicon Valley plays a pivotal role in the economic growth of the cities within the area, they became the beacon of global tech. But stagnation is on the rise, which is happening worldwide, from The Americas to Europe and Asia.

While Silicon Valley is the main hub for tech start-ups, the increasing oversaturation of the market and monopolisation of Big Tech has reduced consumer interests in start-ups. Another issue start-up’s face in the Western World is the lack of need for innovation.

However, Africa needs just that. Innovation. Since the continent sets to make a drastic change to the infrastructure on an unprecedented scale compared to most parts of the world that already have an established tech industry & infrastructure.

Many Africans are pleading for work & tech; now entrepreneurs are ready to grant them just that with the aid of governments in support of tech & electricity reform.

To give an idea of the level of buzz around Tech in Africa, a Venture Capital Report conducted by Partech Partners in 2020 found that 347 tech start-ups in Africa raised a total of $1.43 Billion USD in 356 equity rounds—representing a rise of +44% YoY from 2015.

The dramatic acceleration of funding going into project developments all over the continent despite the pandemic shows the promise investors have in the African innovators & government goals. The continent is now sprawling with over 600 tech hubs, with some set to be the future Silicon Valley’s that pave the way to tech cities. To mention a few that hold promise:

  • Lagos, Nigeria

With its tech hub ‘CCHub’, it aims to be a centre of start-ups that tackle deep-rooted issues of Africa such as power corruption & socio-economic disparity. The co-creator is an African woman called Femi Longe who wants people of all classes & sectors to come together through the power of tech development. A start-up doing just that in CCHub is the award-winning BudgIT, a non-governmental group that offers the citizens-service of tracking Nigeria’s budget and politician spending.

  • Cape Town, South Africa

Tech hubs in South Africa predominately focus on urban & rural developments as they innovate in sustainable, eco-friendly technology to counteract the nation’s housing unaffordability, water loss, climate change and disparity of gender, race & class. Cape town’s tech hub takes the lead with start-ups like Aerobotics that offer solutions in smart IoD farming, with such success that raised them $10.3m in six years.

Also, inclusivity is a staple point to development in the city, with UK-South Africa Tech Hub partnering with Future Females in 2019 to equip local female entrepreneurs in Cape Town with the skills & support to grow a tech start-up. With a success rate of 70%, the cohort started with 50 female entrepreneurs to now 270 on their second cohort that has the opportunity to join the ever-expanding tech hubs of Cape Town.

  • Konza Technology City, Kenya

A future tech city in the making that has started out as a large 5,000 acres technology hub south of Nairobi. Nicknamed ‘African Silicon Savannah’, the goal is to be the epicentre of tech, with innovations sourced & spent on urban development such as schools and hospitals, as well as centres of global business such as fintech software development, data management, call centres and light assembly manufacturing.

Investors are made up of big tech companies from mainly China and the US. Outside of investing in start-up’s, they too have increased telecommunications throughout Africa. Huawei themselves have constructed 70% of Africa’s 4G networks. In comparison, Google and Facebook provide fibre internet for countries such as Kenya, Uganda and Ghana.

Now the stage is set for investors, entrepreneurs and innovators to board the future of tech-centric Africa, taking what they’ve learnt about pre-2020s tech & economic models to aid them in building a better and more sustainable future for Africans and the rest of the world.

At the forefront of this mission is African women, ready to provide us with a more promising future than the old ways shrouded in imperialism and its paradigms of misogyny, racism & classism. To highlight how women can dramatically impact a nation and its capital for the better is Kigali in Rwanda—a role model to the future tech cities of Africa.

Kigali, Rwanda

Courtesy of travelafrique.

The capital of Rwanda, known as the cleanest city in the continent, in a country a little over two decades ago, was a place of horrendous turmoil & genocide. The sheer devastation of the 1994 conflict left survivors scraping for supplies in energy & resources. Businesses and institutions were destroyed, and the population was decimated, with up to a million deaths in only 100 days.

Most killed in the conflict had been men, leaving post-genocide Rwanda with a population comprised of 70% women. The dramatic shift in Rwandan gender representation meant women would take up male roles and play a significant part in repairing the country and transforming it into one of the most progressive countries in Africa today.

Taking the lead in the reconstruction of a broken Rwanda was the iconic woman leader, Aloisea Inyumba, who introduced the five-tiered system of women’s councils throughout the country, addressing issues on education, health and security.

The success of the five-tiered system gave credence to female leadership. With gained popularity, women now hold onto 64% parliamentary seats in the nation—having more women in power proportionally compared to any other country in the world.

Kigali city has become a concentrated hub of the ideals and developments of women leaders throughout recent history.The Executive Committee have sworn responsibility to cater towards strategies and programmes relating to social welfare and economic development.

A vital program this includes is Vision 2020, which shapes to transform the city & nation into a knowledge-based, middle-income economy by implementing green growth strategies such as:

  • utilising sustainable energy, resources & cultivation
  • establish infrastructure, law & policies to protect the nation’s ecosystem
  • Revitalising the nation’s biomes such as forests & lakes

Many of these strategies have already been implemented & continue to develop, such as carefully managing the distribution of resources as its key to solving low food & water supplies that are attributed mainly to deforestation & water contamination in the country.

What the future tech cities of Africa can learn from Kigali, Rwanda’s green movement, is how to effectively allow for longevity in the social & economic health of the cities after their initial boom of success thanks to technology.

Kigali has taught the world that fuelling economic success purely into greed leads to the destruction of our habitats & the working class as the successful one’s horde onto the wealth made from their ventures, making it an unhealthy addiction where they lose critical long-term scope to the detriment to their selfish actions, potentially building up to calamities such as the Rwandan 1994 genocide.

Rwandan women know this all too well. With their open-mindedness to new ideas, they currently seek technological innovation that adheres to their already established green movement that secures its citizens with cost-effective & sustainable means of living that won’t lead to civil unrest where people fight for dwindling resources & energy inhibited by climate change & selfish elites.

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Tech hubs now have a choice to repeat the mistakes of Silicon Valley that is synonymous with spreading plumes of pollution to working-class neighbourhoods and being one of the highest concentrations of toxic waste sites in the US.

OR

Opt for eco-friendly innovations like Rwanda that have banned non-biodegradable plastic bags, as they protect & restore their environment such as lakes, that has recovered water levels, boosted the fishing sector and increased hydropower production in various regions.

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Sector Development: “Don’t Keep All Your Eggs in One Basket”

The tech sector might be a high contributor to the future economies of these many African cities, but like the tech hubs in the West, their future of economic fruitfulness is questionable from a sustainable sense.

As history dictates, success can peak then stagnate if issues like market oversaturation and monopolisation occur. Businesses then move out of these African cities and go somewhere else that is ripe for innovation. Governments of African nations & city administration divisions must devise solutions to counteract this projected future or face a heavy loss that will set their people back from development.

Kigali capitalised on its initial economic & environmentalist success by promoting the tourist sector. The benefit of being known as the cleanest and safest places in Africa conveniently markets the city itself to people worldwide. This also includes the captivating Rwandan history that foreigners want to learn about & explore, so cities like Kigali establish maintenance & protection for its Culture & Heritage sites and proudly market their existence on the internet for users worldwide.

As all the elements fall into place for Kigali becoming a universally approved place of visit; business in food, accommodation & hospitality flood the city and further add to the appeal of visiting Kigali thanks to this symbiotic relationship.

While Kigali becomes a tech hub that is open to international business such as Volkswagen, that has created up to 1000 jobs with its new plant; the tourist sector & progressive policies have brought in restaurants of foreign cuisines, including top-of-the-line hotels from renowned worldwide companies that too bring in a plethora of jobs.

Experience world class service at The Marriot Hotel in Kigali.

Diversification further fulfils the appeal to foreign visitors as their access to culture & luxury only expands. It’s not only foreign business promoting jobs in Kigali, but also entrepreneurial Rwandans with start-ups, soon-to-be world-class, just like we see in the tech stratosphere.

Some wildly successful business ventures from Rwandans are the tour services outside of Kigali for foreigners to get out of the city and experience Rwanda’s well looked after nature & wildlife. Rwandans who are fortunate with computer literacy & access, thanks to progressive government policy, has allowed them to utilise the internet to promote & sell their services on websites such as Trip Advisor.

So, whether it’s a city tour bus or a jungle tour to visit the countries majestic gorillas—Rwanda has you covered.

In conclusion, Kigali carefully gifts recognition, mindfulness & funds to many sectors. The execution tells the tale of success, generating $498 million in tourism revenue back in 2019 before the coronavirus lockdown.

Once again, despite the pandemic, Kigali is governed smart enough where a hit on tourism will not have a dramatic impact on stability due to other sector growth & progressive socio-economic developments such as Vision 2020.

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