hack

You may want to read the first part of this post first.

Following my initial post, there has been an interesting take from a developer@Ajibz’s on Techcabal here and another on bootstrapping to bridge the developer deficit with seemingly low budgets here.

Both posts buttress the fact that we are not there yet and there remains a deficit of developers to drive the ecosystem. Poco a poco? Perhaps.

It was also good to hear Sim Shagaya’s speech on inshoring some of Konga’s development activities at the just concluded Techcabal Battlefield.  Sim was clear about one thing, if we don’t build it, the Amazons of this world will.

The 170 million jigsaw puzzle

There is abundant chaos and commotion to be tamed with technology in Nigeria and Africa in general. From the farmer in the village to the city worker living the dream, there remain countless untapped opportunities.

No surprise, these markets did not just appear – there is nothing new under the sun as they say. What is new though is a great opportunity to tackle age-old problems using technology – a new perspective to the same problem.

The 170m jigsaw puzzle however will only be solved with the right calibre of technical subject matters to drive the ecosystem – developers being one. The 170m bucket is just one market. a bigger market I see is the human capital and technical prowess we can export to other countries and be the go-to place like India.

The world is becoming increasingly competitive. Human capital will no doubt become the next prized commodity — transferable skills that know no physical country boundaries. I would like to see Nigeria and indeed Africa building awesome stuff beyond our shores.

Who will bell the cat?

It would take a combined effort of both the private sector and government to drive this change. There is great stuff being done by private hands like the CcHUB so I focus on the role of government in accelerating the ecosystem.

Now governments don’t necessarily create markets. They can however create the enabling environment for markets/ecosystems to thrive. Their role is to recognise there is a budding potential and provide the nurture and support required to grow an industry. After all, the Nigerian government should in reality have vested interests in seeing this ecosystem succeed and reducing our reliance on black gold.

I hear a “hmmm, but…”. Either way, we cannot excuse the fact that government have a crucial role to play.

They can add value in a number of ways

1. The Nigerian government must put their money where their mouth is. Governments are big spenders anywhere in the world and you expect them to play a key catalytic role in gingering the shoots that are appearing within the ecosystem. Globally, governments are undoubtedly some of the biggest spenders on technology with the USA reportedly spending $3.6 trillion on ICT in 2012. These amounts have a massive trickledown effect in ensuring the right skill sets are trained and available to meet the demand side.

According to this article, Nigeria spends $550m on ICT related expenditure with the bulk of this going to foreign providers. This had to change. The Government of Nigeria must encourage local players by using locally sourced software solutions. They cannot speak with two mouths. As a nation, we spend over $7bn on ICT imports.

An added incentive to invest in technology is using it as a tool to help fight corruption (if there is a willingness to do this). Whether or not there is an appetite to create these controls remains questionable.

2. Providing incentives to start technology businesses in Nigeria is a move that must be embraced. From tax breaks to job subsidies and technology grants, these are simple tools to encourage technology houses kick-start. I am not necessarily talking about big players here. I am keen to see SMEs grow, the small software houses that employ 2-3 people.

3. One key role of any government is being a sales representative and ambassador – yes a PR job. We have done a particularly woeful job in selling the Nigerian story. The FDI numbers in my previous post provide evidence of this. We must get better at selling our story. India and Brazil remain classed as a ‘risky nations’ to travel to because of crime etc. However, it does not stop companies from going to do business there by the truckload.

The Indian success story is as a result of heavily driven PR started in the early 1990’s, selling how good it is to do business in India. We can learn a thing or two from them. We can start now.

4. Education will remain a key ingredient in achieving the objective of building a skilled workforce, like my developer friend Vlad. Now this is a difficult nut to crack due to years of neglect and depravation. However we can begin to rewind these effects by making a conscious effort to invest in educating the next generation. It is a long-term play after all? We can start now.

In addition, I would like to see the focus shift away from university education to producing well rounded SSCE holders as a starting point. The Nigerian government should first look to produce a cadre of high quality school leavers who are ready to take on the world. University education should be a bonus for those who seek to follow this path.

We are not all built for the university path right after secondary school and for many it adds little value. I for one did not take this path and I do not have a 1stdegree – a story for another day. We must encourage apprenticeships – those looking to learn on the job. People should be willing to finish off as school leavers (SSCE) and go straight into a technology houses to learn the trade. However they must be well equipped to make these decisions. Government can play a key role in selling this as an alternative.

This post first appeared on Peter’s blog.

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I remember working with an Indian developer called Ajay in 2003 whilst building a VOIP billing portal to interop with Vocaltec’s proprietary VOIP gatekeeper. Long story but Ajay never delivered and he also made away with a database of clients. We ended up working with Vlad, a developer from Ukraine to complete the project. Now […]

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