ICT Policy



City Profiles

Tech nationalism walks a fine line

October 19, 2011  »  BusinessNo Comment

Fill in the blank: _____ will be the next Silicon Valley. _____ is Africa’s greatest ICT hub. By 2015 _____ will be an ICT hub. Anyone who closely follows African technology knows the drill. Every month or two, a government official, journalist, or prominent businessman will boast of how his or her city or country is poised for extraordinary ICT greatness. At times, the number of entities claiming to either be or in the near future seems unreasonable. After all, how many Silicon Valleys can African realistically boast in a few years? As it turns out, there’s a massive difference between being Africa’s ICT hub versus a region’s ICT hub.

Silicon Valley

African competition to be the next Silicon Valley is a driving force for innovation.

Based on measurable figures, such as the contribution of tech to GDP, the number and growth of tech jobs per capita, and prevalence of Internet access, there will always be a top city for ICT. As of 2011, South Africa is considered the top ICT center in Africa using such statistics.

Such rankings, however, are beside the point. The key is to think in the relative – not in the absolute. It’s about where the country has been and where the typical African economy stands. Africa’s Silicon Valleys may not boast the strongest economic numbers on paper, but none are afraid of failure. When TIME Magazine mentioned how “Kenya’s love for IT has earned it the nickname Silicon Savanna,” the article aptly added that the “moniker neatly encapsulates the themes of its rising influence on global technology.” The article never makes far-out claims that Kenya is the IT hub of Africa. Nor does the article cite an abundance of metrics. The takeaways are that Kenya is very tech savvy and will continue to be a hotbed for African innovation.

Similarly, last July, Garreth Bloor (staff reporter for South Africa’s memeburn news site), sought whether Silicon Valley could be reproduced. After examining technology scenes in India, Israel, Kenya, and South Africa, Mr. Bloor concluded that Kenya’s tech environment is a worthy alternative to South Africa and that the Kenyan ICT industry, although not the largest globally, is very promising “given the country’s context”. These last four words are paramount to understanding what is meant when someone declares a nation the next Silicon Valley.

Even if a city like Kano, Nigeria may take over a decade to become a tech hub by U.S. standards, the city could very well be considered a regional IT center by 2015. It’s all about the context within both Nigeria and Africa and other developing nations.

Also, radical ideology may be necessary for Africa’s economic and social success. Not only does innovation thrive on positive attitude, but investors’ interests are piqued through terms like ‘ICT hub’ or ‘next Silicon Valley’. Let the people think their city is the best in Africa if such mentality translates into greater passion and productivity. There’s a lot to be said about pride for one’s homeland. Plus, intracontinental competition to be Africa’s thought leader is encouraging collaborations (and competitions) among various locales. Africa is thriving on these types of harmony.


Over the past 2 years, we’ve accumulated quite a collection of news stories touting various ICT hubs across Africa. Not surprisingly, all come from South Africa, Kenya, Nigeria, Ghana, Rwanda, Zimbabwe, and Ethiopia: