Technology is developing at a rapid rate in many parts of Africa. However, with a historic lack of infrastructure in many African countries, technological uptake has been slower in certain areas than in others.
Ironically, this presents a massive opportunity. Why?
Overall, Africa has less entrenched infrastructure and legacy systems (in general), so there is the opportunity to “leapfrog” or bypass certain technologies, which means that in some ways, Africa can position itself ahead of the curve.
“Africa is unique in that the lack of infrastructure has led to some formidable innovative solutions on the continent, ideas as simple as generating homemade vehicles and helicopters from recycled waste, and biomedical smart jackets which diagnose pneumonia four times faster than a doctor ever could.”- Chase le Roux, SovTech Commercial Director
To get a better idea of what “leapfrogging” technologies in Africa actually looks like in practice, here are some examples and opportunities, put together with input from SovTech senior management:
Opportunity to “Leapfrog” in Africa #1: Blockchain
While most people are still trying to wrap their heads around what exactly blockchain means, there are many opportunities for businesses in Africa to take advantage of decentralised technologies, especially in the financial sector.
“Blockchain-based technologies such as Bitcoin, UBU and Blockmesh have the potential to disintermediate traditional financial and communication backbones, introducing frictionless and free decentralised functionality. We may, for example, leapfrog the need for wireless infrastructure rollout by using a decentralised mesh communication network, or data-driven savings products from banks, and move directly to data-driven savings products from decentralised cryptocurrencies.”- Jamie Chennells, CTO
Other potential use cases for blockchain in South Africa also include the following, according to SovTech’s Commercial Director Chase le Roux:
- Healthcare Industry: By using blockchain technology to verify the source or validity of a product, counterfeit medicines that negatively affect so much of the African population can be eradicated. With the blockchain, medical records can also be accessed from anywhere, so illnesses can be more easily identified and managed.
- Mining and Agricultural Industry: Blockchain allows for better traceability on raw materials, by cutting out any unnecessary intermediaries, ensuring secure transport routes and identifying any problems along the supply chain (which ultimately leads to greater trust in the product for end users).
- Government: Another application of blockchain technology is to monitor public procurement and tenders through smart contracts, so corruption is easier to identify.
Opportunity to “Leapfrog” in Africa #2: Decentralised Currencies
The use of decentralised currencies presents a meaningful opportunity in Africa, because it allows for a system that is more sustainable and fair to everyone involved (as opposed to the current economic system, which prioritises consumption at the expense of the environment and economically disadvantaged).
This potential of “leapfrogging” technologies with decentralised currencies can be demonstrated with the success of SovTech built initiatives like Project Ubu, which uses crypto-based tokens as a way to create a more stable economic system.
“UBU has the power to greatly increase the adoption of crypto-based tokens in lower-LSM economic participants across the world. The overall impact of project UBU has the power to unlock tremendous wasted human capital on a global scale, as well as help monetise moribund assets (inventory that’s overstocked, time sensitive, perishable, decaying, low velocity or subject to oversupply or other inefficiencies).”- Jamie Chennells, CTO
To see this kind of growth though, two things need to happen. As Chase says:
“Firstly, applications like Project Ubu (Universal Basic Unit), need to be put into effect. UBU is the future of compensation on the continent, and is based on the idea that we need to “innovate to compensate”. Currently, all UBU Citizens receive access to 100 free UBU’s everyday (with no effort required at all). These can then be exchanged for goods and services. Secondly, smart city technology needs to become a part of our everyday lives.
Using both decentralised currency and smart city platforms, we could build applications that would allow everyday citizens to report to city management, the government or any other authority on what is happening all over the city (for example fires, robot outages and crime).
One concern here is that data needs to be verified, so blockchain technology and smart contracts would be used to allow for a certain number of reports to verify another report. In return, citizens are compensated for providing this kind of data, which will go a long way towards alleviating poverty, with endless long-term benefits!”
“Leapfrogging” Technologies and the Future
Some argue that “leapfrogging” is overrated, and that no real progress can happen without the right kind of governance and large scale infrastructure to support it. This is absolutely true, as to really progress, Africa does need to ensure that foundational infrastructural elements are in place across the board (for example, adequate education, so that everyone can take advantage of new technologies).
But even with the varying opinions around “leapfrogging”, with so many exciting technologies being refined and developed, it’s very relevant to think about ways in which the African continent can position itself differently in the evolving global economy, and how we can shift the negative perceptions that have hampered technological development for so long.