Leaders in several African tech ecosystems are living by the words of Charles-Guillaume Étienne, the 19th century French playwright: “If you want something done right, do it yourself.”
Since tech and innovation hubs began popping up across the continent over the last decade, an obvious gap has been the absence of enabling digital and business policy. While a few countries, like Tunisia which has just passed a Startup Act”, are making strides, most African governments still appear uncertain about how to boost local tech ecosystems. In their stead, local players in the tech space are taking the lead.
i4Policy, a pan-African group focused on digital policy in Africa, is leading hackathons aimed at getting ecosystem insiders to discuss policy options with government representatives. The big hope is that the policy recommendations are formally adopted. It’s a tactic that appears to have worked in Rwanda where the ministry of commerce is adopting a policy document from a hackathon held in Kigali. Similar hackathons have now been held in Lagos, Abuja and Kumasi.
The next stop is the African Union (AU) as the body’s commission for trade is convening the “largest-ever gathering of community innovation hubs” on the continent next month in Kigali in partnership with i4Policy. To ensure widespread representation, i4Policy is calling for applications from hub representatives across the continent and hopes to have at least 75 startup and innovation hubs represented. Leading hubs including Nigeria’s Co-Creation Hub, Ghana’s Kumasi Hive and Rwanda’s Impact Hub have already confirmed participation. Policy recommendations will be passed on to the AU’s Head of States Summit.
Getting diverse input to discuss digital and startup policy on a continental level is crucial given that tech communities have become more dispersed across the continent and face different challenges. Last month, GSMA, the global telecoms industry body, pegged the number of active incubators, accelerators, and co-working spaces in Africa at over 400. Over 100 of those hubs opened in the past two years sprouting in Senegal, Ghana, Uganda, Zimbabwe and Côte d’Ivoire. Within major markets like Kenya and Nigeria, hubs are also popping up outside capital cities.
Allowing the people closest to technology to be involved in digital policy formation is necessary for proper representation, according to organizers. It’s an approach that’s in contrast to last year when key players across startup communities on the continent led a #NotOurManifesto campaign to protest being sidelined in the process of developing “Start4Africa manifesto”—a document prepared by Startup Europe and presented at the EU-Africa Summit of Heads of States and Government.