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Will tech hubs replace universities in Africa?

November 18th, 2021
topics: Technology
by: Bob Koigi
located in: Kenya, Nigeria, Ghana
tags: Africa, tech hubs, universities

As Africa enjoys improved internet infrastructure and a rising population of educated youths that have access to modern tech devices, a revolution is brewing across the continent with the birth of tech hubs that have become launch pads for young entrepreneurs keen on solving Africa’s problems.

Hubs that offer, particularly the youth, a platform and digital skills have been credited with mushrooming tech startups that have caught the attention of global tech powerhouses and investors, including those from Silicon Valley. 

tech hubs challange universities

And as the tech hub renaissance sweeps across Africa, industry players and studies opine that they are challenging the dominance of traditional universities in the sphere of knowledge transfer due to their model of incorporating economic and social value. 

“While traditional universities are struggling with resource constraints, inadequate industry engagement, and the limitations imposed by the institutional organisation of disciplinary knowledge, our study shows that tech hubs are leading the way in generating new knowledge and innovative solutions particularly for those at the bottom of the pyramid," noted a study titled The emergence and strategy of tech hubs in Africa: Implications for knowledge production and value creation. "They are also more effective in economic and social value creation by generating new jobs, stimulating the entrepreneurial ecosystem and improving the quality of life through technology," the study further reads.

From MEST in Ghana to Co-creation hub in Nigeria and iHub in Kenya, tech hubs have gone on to incubate and produce transformative techpreneurs and startups that have been providing local solutions to African problems in key sectors ranging from agriculture, health, education, public service and renewable energy, among others. 

“Hubs support development and job creation in countries such as Nigeria, where the access to electricity, space and mentorship are hard to duplicate," noted a report titled Supporting Start-Ups Tech Hubs In Africa report by the International Trade Center. "In such a scenario, the hub attracts entrepreneurs and funding, and raises the profile of local start-ups. Additionally, many argue that aiding start-ups generates social impact through their contribution to economic development."

Cross-continent proliferation

A 2019 report by GSMA and Briter Bridges put the number of tech startups in Africa at 683, a 40 percent growth from 442 in 2018. 

These startups have attracted both continental and international players who are keen to tap into the next big concept, among them Africa’s largest telecom company MTN, Pan African technology and digital solutions provider Liquid Intelligent Technologies, Microsoft, Facebook and Google.  

"With Sub Saharan Africa’s working age population projected to grow by over 600 million by 2030, STEM skills will be crucial in positioning Africa’s future," said Martin Koech from the Technical University of Kenya (TU-K). "And as the world focuses on the Fourth Industrial Revolution, there is a lot of interest among players in Africa to tap into the youthful population and to equip them with skill sets that are in line with the 4IR."

The tech hubs have also gained prominence for their model that cultivates job creators as opposed to universities, which, to a great extent, produce graduates who are job seekers. Pundits say that in a continent where jobs are scarce the focus should be on empowering young people to address the problems affecting the continent, chief among them is unemployment. 

“These hubs have enhanced a technology entrepreneurship model where those equipped with digital skills are now running their own businesses that are employing other people," said Kilasa Wakwa, an ed-tech consultant. "That is the kind of approach that Africa needs to take to tackle challenges like lack of jobs. Tech hubs shouldn’t be seen as competition to universities, rather we should have a framework where the two can collaborate to boost practical knowledge production in a way that benefits both of them and ultimately the people."

Overcoming the obstacles

But even with their impressive track-record in Africa, tech hubs have faced a number of headwinds, ranging from limited broadband connectivity and persistent power outages to a lack of clear policies to support the tech ecosystem.

But continental frontrunners in the digital arena have demonstrated the pivotal role an aggressive tech community and leadership plays in enlisting government support in order to create an enabling environment for tech hubs and entrepreneurs. 

"African youth are using technology to create solutions to specific problems and to fulfill needs," stated the International Trade Center report. "Tech hub support through incubation, acceleration and community building is helping youth to turn their solutions into entrepreneurial endeavours."

"The success of tech hub leaders in countries such as Rwanda, Nigeria, Kenya, Ghana, Senegal and South Africa has been critical in convincing governments and their technical partners to integrate entrepreneurship into their policy and structure," the report further noted. 

Image by Lagos Techie.

Article written by:
Bob Koigi
Bob Koigi
Author, Contributing Editor
Kenya Nigeria Ghana
A sales assistant waits for customers at the Huawei Technologies Co. branded booth inside Awolowo glass house in Lagos, Nigeria.
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A customer uses an MTN Group Ltd. mobile money payment kiosk in Accra, Ghana.
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