The Future of Cell Phones in Africa

This week due to popular demand, we are returning to our discussion on Cell Phones in Africa. Or more specifically, the future of them.

Okay, Africans do use cell phones for phone calls- we’ve established that. But they use them way less then Canadians.  Why? Because calls cost a lot money.  Remember, there are very are few unlimited phone and text packages here,  and they are generally too expensive for the average Burkinabe.  So they text alot!

But what I found fascinating here – and blame it on the fact that I left Canada about five and a half years ago and I am totally disconnected – is the other use for cell phones.

Many locals use the phone as payment system.

Banking in Burkina

The penetration of the banking system in Burkina Faso is marginal compared Canada . The average Burkinabe does not have a bank account as the average Burkinabe does not work in the formal economic sector. Instead of banks, the cell phone is used to transfer money..  Burkinabe send money to their loves one while in the country – or while working abroad by using their cell phone.

Airtel is the most common used telephone company for transferring money.  Each small village I have been to, and I mean small, has an Airtel kiosk where the person who receives the money can go and get it.  All they need is the verification code and their National Identity card if they have one… but in villages, like small towns, everyone knows everyone so there is not a big problem with stolen identity!

The impact of this service on the population is, you can imagine, tremendous.  There is no longer a need to go to a Western Union, which are usually not found in the small villages and which requires identification documents that many people in these villages don’t have.

Another important benefit to paying with the cell phone is the ability to pay bills at distance, including school fees.  In Côte d’Ivoire, and in Burkina, parents are now able to pay their kids’ school fees by phone.  This means that the mother (normally…) does not have to walk to the school, wait in line for hours and then be subject to the administration for bribery… because of course, parents have to pay the administrator who register their children a little something to make sure that the kids gets registered to the school.


So there are many little ways in which the cell phones have changed the lives and culture of their users here.

Burkina Uprising

Like other places in the world, cell phones have also had geopolitical ramifications here as well.

On October 30 and 31st, 2014 the Burkina uprising happened.

Cell phones were instrumental in keeping the population abreast of what was going on and for the opposition to communicate with its members to tell them where the march was going and what to do – or not. The cell phones allowed people to post to social media –   and in spite of the government’s efforts to block internet, thanks for the use of cell phones, we all were apprised of what was going on.

In the end the internet, such as it is, was restored quickly!

Internet in Africa

 When I talked to a friend of mine about writing a short piece on the internet in Burkina, she told me make sure to tell everyone that there is only one word to describe it… moan… And she works at the European Union offices… so I can only conclude that they are not, unlike the Canadian embassy here, connected to the satellite via a Canadian communication system.

I suppose I should find myself lucky we have internet at all, given how poor this country is and given how little technical infrastructure there exists… but ‘moan’ just the same!

According to OOKLA Net Index, Burkina consistently rates 196th on the household download index.

This comes from data analyzed between November 13th, 2014 and Feb 25th, 2015, using 5728 unique IP addresses for a total of 12,699 total tests.  It is fair to say that 196th place squarely places the country at the very bottom… well, I hear that Eritrea still has a dial up internet (I am dead serious), so maybe we are not quite the last… but pretty well down there.  These results made the front page of the local papers, no need to say.

There is ONE optic cable coming from Togo.  There is a new one that will be coming from Côte d’Ivoire… but for the time being, it is still in the planning… So ADSL is only available in ‘large’ cities like Ouaga and Bobo Dioulasso and only since 2011. And internet at home is mostly offered by ONATEL, the state telephone company.

Internet keys are available from Airtel (who else) and I hear Telmob.  They are rare to find and when available, they are snapped quickly by users… so, of course, they are always in short supply.  When we moved December 2013, I tried to find one until such time as I would be connected at home with ONATEL… to no avail.

Internet connections are, of course, not dedicated.

A dedicated connection for 128 kpbs without satellite connection is only offered by one provider from what I can understand – and it is 157$. If you dedicated that with satellite connection that cost jumps to 223$.

Yes there is G3+… if you can get it. My cell phone does not, and many of my friends express frustration because it is often down.

Given that many Burkinabé live in the country side or in areas without electricity, it will be no surprise to you to hear that the penetration of internet in this country in rather limited.  There are lots of internet café,s but few shops and restaurants that offer wi-fi.  Although to be fair, it is becoming increasingly available.   Internet literacy is also, evidently, very low.   Very.

The use of email address are dismal! Employees in private enterprise will still use their own personal email address to deal with clients on line (which is not frequent).

For government officers, , let’s just say that unless you get a younger officer with a smart phone and a personal computer he takes at work (and yes, I have seen that a lot!), you usually get no internet communication.

When I worked a few years ago (and it has not changed since) the older government officials I dealt with often had a computer on their desk, but it was not connected.  All it did was collect dust – and trust me, in this country, that expression takes a whole new dimension as dust is everywhere all the time. Burkina Faso is  located in the Sahel desert.

 These older officers all insisted that I contact them by phone.  But as their phone and/or the line was and is pretty bad, making conversation at times is nearly impossible.

Regular texting became part of my doing business.  But more often than not, I would simply go visit them at their office.  Reports, by the way, are often typed on a typewriter somewhere.

Internet connection regularly goes off … and I mean a few times a day.  I am reading the news and then, bang, I am offline and cannot get to the next article.  These outages are usually short.  They are frustrating but no big deal – unless you are downloading a program, then it means starting all over again.

But the internet connection regularly goes off for longer period of time.  The reason? It’s usually because some poor soul, not knowing what their  doing, is digging and hits that one cable, damages it, and then the whole town goes ‘MOAN’.

Sometimes these cuts are put back together with silver tape and you have a bit of a connection … but it is painfully slllloooooowwwww.

Some areas of town have an internet connection that work better than others.  Zone du Bois (center) works better when it works – but Ouaga 2000 (at the limit of the city) has a more consistent internet because it is closer to the location when the cable ends.

Of course, downloading a movie or an episode of your favourite show will take anywhere from 3 hours (194kb) to days.  I avoid HD files because it is almost impossible, and before you ask – Netflix is not available here.

For  this ‘high speed’ service (I am supposedly getting 512K, up from the 216 when I arrived in 2011) I pay 50,000 CFA, or $105.00.  So next time you complain about your internet service and/or cost, remember that it is way worse elsewhere in the world!

BUT… giving the low penetration of computers in private homes, I love to see the kids playing in the streets with the animals or with whatever they make toys of instead of being glued to their computer. I love to go to restaurant and see people talking to each other as opposed to texting and being glued to their cell phone, and yes, I do appreciate having the poor internet I have simply because I have internet and I can connect to my family and friends back in Canada,  even if my Skype connection is nearly impossible.

Living abroad has taught me so many things – but the one that is the most important is to appreciate and enjoy every little thing we have.  I know it sounds corny but, it is the truth.

Cell Phones in Africa Part 3

The conclusion to our series.

Talking about cost, here are some interesting stats about cell phones here.

A SMS, known as texto here, is cheaper than a call. That in turn has a different rate depending if I call a Telmob number, or that of another company.

Telmob charges me 10 FCFA for each SMS I sent to a Telmob number, 20 FCFA for a call to another company and 50 FCFA for international calls.

50 FCFA is 10 cents, I wonder if Bell can beat that?  A phone call will set me back 1.5 FCFA per second.  So 90 FCFA per minute for local calls is about 18 cents.  International calls are 150 FCFA per minute.  So I can call Canada for 10 minutes and it will cost me about 2.00$.  I get call display and voice mail for free.

Of course, all companies offer roaming at an astronomical cost.  To be honest, I used my sim card in Paris and nada, rien, zilch.  Could not get in touch with friends to tell them I had finally landed.  So had to buy a local sim card.  I am getting an interesting collection of them.  But there is one company that does it better than all of the cell companies I dealt with in my life – and that is quite a few.

Airtel. It’s the company we love to hate.

Well, their service may not always be the most reliable but they are the only one who has the infrastructure to support BlackBerry, the tablets, Android and others.  Their big advantage is that you can use your sim card no matter where you are in Africa as long as that country is served by Airtel.  No roaming charges.

For instance, this chap who helps me with these articles, Adama, calls his family in Burkina Faso while in business in South Africa using his local Airtel number with no need to add even the country code, 226.  And likewise, his wife in Burkina calls him in South Africa only dialling the 8 digits of his cell number, again, without the country code.  I tested this using my Congo Airtel number… and yes, it does work.  I can call any number in Burkina with my Congo number.  And, by the way, I have not put credits on my Airtel number in about a year, and my number still worked.

Lady, Talking, Phone, clip


In Canada, my number is suspended after six months if my phone is not recharged.  Given that I am in Canada one month out of every 12, it cost me a new sim card every time.  At the modest cost of $40.00.  Here, a sim card is $3.00.  The only drawback is that you have to queue to give the cell phone company tons of info on your little person.

Dollar Clip Art

Oh, I know, I hear you, it is a poor country and you cannot really expect people to pay Canadian fees.  OK, maybe.  But a cell phone is a cell phone, no?  It works on the same technology and apparently, the same infrastructure and thus similar cost of development.  I am sure I will get the eternal and predictable arguments about costs upfront to develop the infrastructure and what not.  I am still not convinced.  Companies here had and still have to develop the infrastructure and yet, the cost to the clients is way more reasonable, even when considering the local wages.


Let’s end on a funny note.  The recharge.  There are two ways to recharge your phone with credits.

Either you buy a recharge card for whatever amount you want from the kids who sell them at every street corner.  There are hundreds of them.  These cards work like an instant winning lottery ticket back home.  You scratch the thin cover and you get the private recharge code.  Enter it in your phone by calling a special number with special signs (#,*) and bingo, you won your recharge!

Or you can recharge using your local credit card.  Which I don’t have, so I rely on the charge cards.  But there is another way that I find absolutely hilarious.  The telephone guy.

So there are these guys (and yes, they are always always always guys!) who walk around with their phones and will transfer credit to your phone, using theirs and obviously, a special connection with your provider to do so.

You pay once you have received your credit, notice of which comes in the form of a texto!  You can also get anyone phone credits.  This is how many people in Ouaga recharge their family members’ phone back in the country side.  Because obviously, not everyone can afford the phone nor the recharge. Family members working in town often provide for their extended family back in the country side.

Instead of a wandering salesman, it’s a wandering phoneman!

Credit and Cell Phone calls in Africa

The third in our series of Technology in Africa by our talented Anonymous blogger!


So now you have all the stats and many facts about cell phone companies in Burkina. Hopefully you’re not bored stiff, but just in case –  let’s move to a more ‘fun‘ aspect of cell phone (yes, I’m saying that sarcastically), the cost structure for the users.

Dollar Clip Art

I always say that I wish I had the same package in Canada as I have here.  In Canada, I need to either pay for a package with a contract, or pay a monthly fee without a contract.  Either way, I pay.  Regardless of my usage.

Frankly, a cheap monthly plan with a limited number of minutes per month between 9 and 5 is about as useful as a hole in the head to me.  It does not take many phone calls to go over the limit and bang, I have a lovely  bill at the end of the month.  On the other hand, having unlimited call and text is not perfect for my needs, which includes getting in touch with a child in another country.  And I am not constantly on my phone!

But here in Africa, I pay as I go.  I buy a recharge card for 5,000 FCFA, which is about 12$ Canadian, and it lasts me a month or a week, depending on my use.

But, all companies offer free credit bonuses! That means fairly regularly, all three main companies available here will offer a 100% free credit with any recharge.

Now, pay attention.  It does not mean that you have 10,000 FCFA worth of credit in your phone  to call whomever you want for 5000 FCFA.  Nope.  That would be paradise and too good to be true.  It means that you have the initial 5,000 FCFA credit to call whomever you want, and then another 5,000F CFA credit to call any, in my case, Telmob user. (Telmob is the company I use. Want a recap – check out my last post HERE)

So my credit last longer because every time I call another Telmob number, it is debited from my Telmob bonus.  Confused yet? It’s similar to the ‘MyFive’ plans in Canada

Lady, Talking, Phone, clip

For example,  right now, after having recharged my phone three weeks ago for 7,000 FCFA, I still have close to 3,000 FCFA of credit and over 5,400 FCFA of bonus credit (the bonuses can carry over between promotions.)  The bonus will expire on Sept 14, so it’s time to call my friends on Telmob to use it, or I will lose it.

Well, except that there is a slight problem.  I never know who is with Telmob.  You see, the beauty of having your friends saved in your contact list means that when you call, you don’t really check if the number is a Telmob or belongs to one of the other companies.  Once upon a time, when there were fewer numbers and cell phones in Africa, you could tell by the phone number’s first two digits.  But now, with the proliferation of numbers, you can no longer do so with certainty. Using the bonus credit can be hit or miss at times.

Bonuses and Two Phones

Last week, my Masseur was home (I have a very bad back these days and he works miracles!) and I asked him, as he emptied his pockets and prepared to work, why he had two phones. One wasyour basic phone, nothing fancy and the other one wasa smart phone, also known as the intelligent phone, a French translation for the English word ‘smart’.

In any event, in the last article I mentioned that many Burkinabè have two phones.  Well, my masseur explained that it is to take advantage of the bonuses offered by the companies.  This has been confirmed by friends since then.   I have seen this over and over, here and in Senegal where I lived before.  You go for lunch with friends and they have two phones on the table… weird!

Alternatively, people may own a phone with two sim cards, allowing you to have two numbers with different providers to take advantage of their bonuses.  Sometimes, one is the professional phone, and the other the personal one.

Not only do most Africans have cellphones – many of them have two!

How do you put more credit on your phone?

So, since pretty much every phone I have seen (and that is a great many) is essentially a ‘pay as you go,’  the issue becomes, how to make sure you don’t run out of credit?  Technically, you shouldn’t run out of credit if you’re proactive. It’s easy to check the state of your credit,  you just have to dial *101#. Which I admit I often forget to do.

If you run out of credit, the call will drop right then and there.   And I get a message on my screen, something about my credit not being sufficient for the call, or the sms I am trying to send.  Frustrating, but it is my own fault.  I would have just had the prescience to call *101# and bingo, I would know if it were time or not to recharge.

The company also is kind enough to let me know how much that phone call has just cost me after each call.  So, I can either work out the debit as I go… or call *101# to get my balance. Easier.  But credit no credit, I still can get calls because I don’t pay for receiving calls.  Just when I make them.  That was a welcome novelty for me!


Stay tuned for the conclusion of technology in Africa next week.

Cell Phones in Africa

The second in our series of Technology in Africa by our Anonymous blogger!

My favourite subject so far.  At least one I can understand.  Somewhat.

I am everyday absolutely AMAZED at the cell phone use in this country, and in West Africa in general.  OK, I derived my comment about West Africa from my two years in Senegal and my three years in Burkina but frankly, I have no information to believe that it is different in the other countries in West Africa.  Quite the contrary.

Let’s start with basic information.  In Burkina, there are three main cell phone providers: Telmob, which is the cell phone leg of the only land line telephone company, Onatel.

Once a government owned shop, it was privatised about five years ago and bought by Maroc Telecom.  They bought the company and the infrastructure.  We’ll get back to that point at a later date.  Disclosure: I am a Telmob client.  It works just fine.  Nothing exotic, but very fine.  Some dropped calls, some SMS don’t reach their destination and I don`t receive some, but overall, decent enough. Telmob has the largest market share with 41.3%.

Then comes Airtel, the company everyone loves to hate.

Well, OK, the company I love to hate… and my many friends here who use it.  It was founded by Sunil Bharti Mittal, an Indian businessman.  It has 39.64% of the market share in Burkina.  Outside India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, Airtel is present in 17 West and Central African countries and in the Seychelles (not sure where to put them… Southern Africa? East Africa? South-East Africa? It’s there in the Pacific Ocean, barely an African country).

Finally the last and only Burkinabè company is Telecel.

It is privately owned.  Internal wars resulted in a steadily decreasing market share over the past few years, and it now stands at 19.05% of the market share.  I really cannot comment on the quality of their service as I don’t know anyone who uses it.  But from all accounts, it ain’t the greatest.

A fourth license is being negotiated by Orange, the French multinational telecommunication company.  To be fair, Orange is already present in many African countries.  It was one of the most important companies in Senegal when I lived there.  The interesting element here is that Orange is also negotiating the use of the fiber optic wiring.

Now, some fascinating, at least from my perspective, statistics.  As of December 2013, cell phone penetration was at 65% for the country as a whole.  Obviously, it is higher in the cities than in the country side.  But more fascinating yet is that between 2008 and 2013 what is referred to here as the cell phone density increased from 21.57% to 64,89%.  Not bad for a country that is dirt poor.

This means that there are over 11 million phone numbers in action in a country of 17 million people.  I jokingly said to this chap who is helping me find my way through information to write these articles that only those below 5 years of age don’t have a cell phone.  He looked at me seriously and said, yes, just about.  He was also joking.

In fact, the truth is that many Burkinabès have two cell phones.  Or one cell that takes two cards.  We’ll get back to that.

Airtel is the company that sees its part of the market increasing the fastest.  Indeed, in 2012 the Airtel card was the most sought after.  The other interesting fact is that the government requires that all cell phone companies operating on its territory increase cell phone density every year.  And they do follow with each company to ensure that this requirement is respected.

In a country as poor as Burkina where the installation of a land line can take up to 6 months, unless you are willing to do what is needed to speed up the process (read bribe), it is no wonder that cell phones are selling like hot cakes.  Cell phones are not expensive either.

Cell phone kiosks, or shacks, are a dime a dozen.  Add to this a large number of street vendors that will assault you when you walk out of a store or restaurant to sell you a cell phone.  And honestly, these cell phones, aside from the ‘chinoiserie’, a French play on word referring to products made in China but that have little quality, are decent and solid.  A bona fide Nokia cell phone, really basic (call and text) will cost you about 15,000FCFA or about $31.50 Canadian dollars.  On the other hand, you can get a BlackBerry for less than 50$.

But it is a ‘chinoiserie’ and as my grand-mother used to say, you get what you pay for.  My poor friend Lydia saw her ‘BlackBerry’ die on her less than 24 hours after she bought it.  Evidently, there is no use going back to the kiosk where she bought it to exchange it.  Guarantees do not exist here for most goods bought in stores or in the streets, or are not respected.  Unless you buy at the brand name store.  Then you are covered. Sometimes.  Not always.

From Africa’s Perspective: Burkina Faso

Could Africa be the next hub of technological innovation? After exploring the concept in our article Silicon Savannah, we decided to investigate further.

With that in mind, we are beginning a series today written by an anonymous guest blogger. Although she was born in Canada, she lives in Africa in a position of importance now, and has for several years.

Her blogs will all have ‘From Africa’s Perspective’ in the title.

Enjoy her unique and informative viewpoint!


 Burkina Faso

I hear you from here… Burkina what?

Burkina Faso.  Capital Ouagadougou.  Come on, it is not that difficult to pronounce.  OUA-GA-DOU-GOU.  There, you got it.

Burkina Faso, the country of the honest man in Mossi, the local language.

A small country in West Africa.  Totally landlocked.  Surrounded by Côte d’Ivoire, Mali, Niger, Bénin, Togo and Ghana.  Among the poorest countries on the planet.  Ranked 181 out of 187 countries on the 2014 United Nations Human Development Index.  Population 17 million.  Maybe.  In a country where traditionally mothers did not count their children until they reached the age of 5 given the high mortality rate, that number is at best an approximation.  What is known is that the birth rate is only second to Niger, with 6 children per woman.  Nearly 65% of the population is under the age of 24 years old.

The state of the infrastructure is sad.  Water purification plants are obsolete and almost non-existent outside the two largest cities, Ouaga and Bobo Diolasso.  Mind you, even in town, their state of order does not inspire confidence.  You would never, unless you have a Montezuma’s revenge wish, use that water to brush your teeth.

Ditto for the electrical grid, which is experiencing increasing stress thanks to the urban migration.  Power shortages are so common, be it during the rainy season or the hot season that nearly household has an generator.  If only not too loose the meat in the freezer, or getting the bedroom aircon working so that you have a restful night.  I am still amazed to see people at work, relatively productive, when the night temperature does not go below 30 degrees Celsius,  and you know that they do not have an aircon or fan because they cannot afford it.

Outside the main cities, the roads are not paved.  Mind you, they are not grated either.  There is no road equipment for that sort of work.  During and after the rainy season, which was quite generous this year, the state of the roads are impressive.  Not by their smoothness.  By the holes created by the traffic and the rain… well, ok, it is more like small pools, you are right.  Those who can afford it have 4×4.  Not for status, but for necessity.

Small cars get quickly damaged by the state of the road.  Even our 4×4 got damaged by these bumps and holes.  Believe me or not, we hit the bottom of the car and damaged something, not sure what.  Will finally be repaired this week, thank you very much.  That was quite a nasty bump. And no, we were not speeding.  Well, I don’t think that 20 km an hour is speeding.  Could be wrong -happened once before.

For 8 months on the year, the temperature varies between the low and high 30, even at 3 in the morning.  For two months, it varies between the low and high 40’s, hitting 50 in May.  Seriously.  The Mossi say that it is during the month of May that Burkinabè understand that they have a common border with Hell.

The cold season lasts two months or so, December to February.  Temperature can go down to 17 at 3 in the morning.  This is when people wear their winter coat, their toques and mittens.  Oh yes, it is cold on that motorcycle in the morning.  Because motorcycles and bicycles are the most common mode of transportation for the majority of the population.  There are enough cars to make driving a hell raising experience.  Fighting for your place on the road with decrepit taxis and trucks and a large number of 4×4, with motos and bikes zigzagging among the traffic…yes, you do live the African experience.

I still have not determined if I prefer the hot season, without sand, or the cold season with its Harmattan winds, coming from the Sahel and bringing with it heaps of dirty sand and dust.    In a part of the world where toilets are not common, the desert and the countryside are often the public latrine.  The Harmattan brings its lots of disease.  The most deadly is the meningitis, the second killer in young children, after malaria.

There is literally no garbage management of any sort.  Yes, garbage is being picked up … and dumped somewhere.  Mind you, recycling is heavy.  There is someone going through your garbage to recuperate what can be of use.  Plastic bags are everywhere.   I keep joking about the plastic bags trees as the plastic bags often get caught in tree branches.  Not funny, I know.

Life expectancy at birth is 56.34 years.  Literacy rate is 28%; much lower in women.   School attendance at high school is 26%, mostly boys as girls need to help in the house.  The quality of education is poor.  The average class size is 48.  Larger in the country side.  81.1% of the population life below 2$ a day; 44.6% below 1.24$.

Burkina has been my country of temporary residence for the past three years.  And is spite of these statistics and these facts, and many others, what impresses is the resilience of its people.  Système D as we say in French, Système Débrouille.  Vaguely translated as System Make it Work.  And their use of technology.

I was asked if I would be willing to write a few articles on the state of technology in Burkina Faso.  I thought it could be interesting.  These will be based on my observations, my discussions with friends and people who know the area and are generous enough of their time to help me.  It is by no means a serious analysis on the state of technology in the country and the region.

I don’t understand technology like those of you who will be reading these articles.  But I will do my best to make them interesting and relevant… and they will be even more so if you help me identify subjects of interest…

The first couple of articles will focus on internet and telephone, both land lines and cell phones.  Miracles are being worked here every day with the use of cell phones…

See you soon…

Silicon Savannah

Africa is on the verge of a great revolution.

Not political or social, but there is little doubt that the repercussions from what is changing will shake the foundations of the very continent.

Welcome to the rise of Silicon Savannah


The nickname of ‘Silicon’ originally referred to the region’s large number of silicon chip innovators and manufacturers, but is now generally used as a reference for the American high-technology sector.

Today, the term refers to the heart of innovation on the West coast of America.

Thousands of high technology companies are found and head quartered in Silicon Valley. Many of those are part of the Fortune 1000:

  • Adobe Systems
  • Apple Inc
  • eBay
  • Facebook
  • Google
  • Pixar
  • Netflix
  • Yahoo!

It is a hotbed of innovation.

Want Google Glass? It was developed in Silicon Valley. The latest iPhone? Silicon Valley. The unlikely hit app YO? You got it; it came from Silicon Valley.

So what does this have to with the Silicon Savannah?

Silicon Valley Losing its Lustre?

Before we go to Africa, let’s look at some of the hidden numbers that make up Silicon Valley.

  1. Between 1995 and 2005, more than a half of all Silicon Valley tech companies were founded by Immigrants. But in 2012, that had dropped by a sixth. According to the 2012 Open For Business study, immigrants are twice as likely to start a business as native born Americans – so why is that number declining in Silicon Valley instead of increasing?
  2. American Federal funding for advanced computer science and electrical engineering research has dropped sharply since the late 1990s
  3. Many advances in computing are starting to come from outside of the US. In 2007, only seven American firms ranked among the top 25 US patent recipients.
  4. China and India each now graduate more engineers and scientists per year than the US.
  5. The US share of patents issued has fallen below 50%
  6. Net Neutrality may be coming to an end in America. Which means that Start-Up companies may not be able to afford starting up. Investors will be less willing to fund a startup,  since they don’t know how expensive it’s going to be to have to pay off the big broadband provider

The ongoing connectivity of the world has allowed for the greatest minds of the world to find outlets for their innovations in areas that are not Silicon Valley USA.  This means it is no longer a must  to immigrate to the USA or Canada if you want to see your innovation come to fruition, you can find outlets in other parts of the world such as Silicon Savannah.  Incidentally this is all happening while the Net Neutrality debate continues to heat up.  The end of net neutrality might make it cheaper for startups to launch from other countries where they don’t have to pay premiums for fast lane internet.

(We wrote an article on what Net Neutrality is earlier this year – you can read that article HERE)

With all of these new barriers cropping up, it should come as no Surprise that Silicon Valley may be starting to stagnate.

From a Valley to a Savannah?

Seven of the world’s 10 fastest growing economies are now located in Africa.

  • Ethopia which is growing ten times faster than the U.K.
  • Mozambique which has achieved an average of 7.2% growth during the last decade
  • Tanzania
  • Congo 
  • Ghana which is rivalling China in growth speed
  • Zambia 
  • Nigeria 

The importance of Africa cannot be overstated. Now, although Silicon Savannah refers specifically to Konza, located in Kenya, it can be broadened to refer to Africa as a whole.

Africa is a continent without the most reliable of Internet. So how are they able to maintain this rapid economic growth? Of course there are the natural resources to consider, but the main technological draw is their emphasis on mobile technology.

The continent has some 650 million mobile phone users — more than the United States or Europe — who account for a direct economic impact of $32 billion.

This focus on mobile isn’t just changing Africa, it’s changing the world.

What also sets African innovation apart is a core understanding that technology must work for residents in both bustling modern cities, such as Cairo or Cape Town, and the rural areas that are still home to half the world’s population.

Techies hunched over laptops in small offices across Africa want to create their own versions of California’s Silicon Valley and some are beginning to attract investors prepared to take a risk in the hope of high returns.

Technological Innovations from Silicon Savannah


In Ghana, for example, a mobile app by social enterprise m-Pedigree verifies whether medicines are genuine.


Fake medicine is a scourge in Africa and people often have no way of telling whether they are buying the real thing or not.


Known as the BRCK, the router will cost just under $200 and charge off car batteries, solar panels or main electricity.

Its battery can run for at least eight hours, essential in a region with frequent power outages.

Internet usage is still patchy with only about one in five Africans having access to it, as many are restricted by lack of electricity, broadband or devices.


When things turned ugly after Kenya’s 2007 elections, an unlikely group of heroes — young African coders — developed a platform that used cellphones and the Internet to track the violence. Ushahidi, as it was called, would go on to transform not only government accountability in Nairobi but, more broadly, digital mapping around the world

Ushahidi has been used to find survivors of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, to track the impact of the BP oil spill, and for outlets like The Huffington Post and Al Jazeera to gather news otherwise unreported.



iCow is an SMS (text message) and voice-based mobile phone application for small-scale dairy farmers in Kenya.


The continued challenges of connecting a continent as big as Africa continue to be a driving force in technological innovation.

Of course, once BRCK becomes widely accessable and used, that might change. For now, however, Internet access can be spotty at best.

Another problem? The ideas may come from Africa, but the actual product is for the most part being developed in America. That rule also applies to BRCK.

“Can we truly add that silicon name into Silicon Savannah. We don’t have hi-tech manufacturing here yet. But we are starting to,” said Juliana Rotich, one of the creators of BRCK.



It isn’t just Africans who are interested in the rise of the Silicon Savannah. Outside companies are looking to invest huge amounts of money to help make the Savannah a hotbed of innovation.


Savannah Fund

Savannah Fund has made its first move into South Africa, buying into two Cape Town-based start-ups.

The fund, which already has investments in East Africa and West Africa, has invested in e-commerce site BabyGroup, an online shop and information service for new parents, and Wyzetalk, a social business platform developer.

Tax Exempt

Businesses investing in Kenya’s multi-billion dollar technology city are being promised tax exemption for up to ten years in a bid to attract more investors.

This is according to proposals outlined in the ‘Konza Technopolis Development Authority Bill 2014’, which recommends that all businesses operating within the $10 billion Silicon Savannah project be exempt from paying 30% income tax and 16% value added tax (VAT) for the first ten years.

The next time you come across a really cool technological innovation, take a second to find out where it came from it might be just another Silicon Valley product, or it might have come from across the world in Silicon Savannah.