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As Nigeria takes a step back with second at the African Cup of Nations (AFCON), we’re also taking a look at ecosystems that have fallen outside the limelight in Nigeria’s bustling tech ecosystem.
Nestled into the edge of Western Nigeria, Lagos is where some of the continent’s biggest startups kicked off. If there’s a tech event happening in Nigeria, it’s also most definitely going to hold in Lagos. It’s also the state most investors, who fly in for these events, focus on.
But Nigeria has 35 other states, what’s happening there? What’s it like building a tech ecosystem outside of Nigeria’s tech capital? We’ve got answers in the debut of our Weekend Features.
Africa waves goodbye to Herbert Wigwe
One point we hammered in our monthly recap is how one Nigerian commercial bank, Access Holdings, is giving startups a lesson in acquisitions.
Last month, Access Holdings, the parent company of Access Bank, completed three acquisitions across two countries. Before that, the bank made waves in 2019 with the $239 million acquisition of another commercial bank, Diamond Bank. It also pushed an expansion project across the continent, absorbing banks and corporations across Mozambique, Zambia, Uganda, Botswana and several other countries.
In the first half of 2023, the company also reported a 52% jump in profits. More recently, in January 2024, the bank crossed the ₦1 trillion market capitalisation mark on the Nigerian Stock Exchange for the first time.
And at the helm of Access’ sprawling empire was Herbert Wigwe who served as CEO of the corporation since 2014.
Tragically, Wigwe lost his life on Saturday night in a helicopter crash in the US that killed six including his wife Doreen, and their first son Chizi. The crash also claimed the life of former group chairman of the Nigerian Stock Exchange (NSE) Abimbola Ogunbanjo as well as the lives of the two pilots on board.
Africa celebrates Wigwe’s life: The deaths were confirmed by Access Bank in a post honouring his visionary leadership. Since then, Africa’s business and tech leaders have taken to social media to honour Wigwe’s legacy.
“Herbert Wigwe was the best of the best. The finest of the finest. Ah. No. The most hardworking person I know. Such a survivor. Always restless. Always hungry. One step ahead. So strong. So, so strong. The most ambitious person I know. And he had so much more to give. He was only just getting started.”
“I am saddened by the tragic death of Herbert Wigwe, CEO and co-Founder of Access Bank, his wife & son. He was a visionary and brilliant banker. May God comfort your aged parents, children, the Wigwe family and the staff and management of Access Bank. You will be greatly missed.”
“The passing of Dr. Herbert Wigwe, Group CEO of Access Holdings PLC, his wife and son, is a huge loss to our financial sector and country as a whole. Dr. Wigwe was a true pioneer and fine gentleman who blazed the trail in revolutionising our banking industry and more recently in education. Also saddening to hear was the loss of Mr. Abimbola Ogunbanjo, former chairman of the Nigeria Exchange Group PLC.”
“Terribly saddened by the news of the terrible loss of Herbert Wigwe, Group CEO Access Bank @HerbertOWigwe , his wife and son as well as Bimbo Ogunbanjo in a helicopter crash. My deepest sympathies and condolences to the Wigwe family, the Ogunbanjo family, Access Bank Group employees and Management @myaccessbank and my younger Brother Herbert’s partner Aigboje Aig-Imoukhuede. May the souls of the departed rest in perfect peace.”
Access Corporation has also revealed that the board will soon announce an acting CEO for the Group who will carry on Wigwe’s legacy.
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Starlink clamps down on South African resellers
Over the past year, satellite internet service Starlink has launched in some of Africa’s biggest economies—except one. The Space X-owned service which kicked off in Nigeria has snaked its way across the continent, launching in Kenya, Rwanda, Zambia even eSwatini, all while avoiding South Africa.
Starlink won’t give itself up: Starlink is now active—and licensed—in seven African countries with plans to be available in 19 more by the end of 2024, and 10 more by 2025. South Africa isn’t on this list. The reason? Well, Starlink won’t acquiesce to South Africa’s equity requirement: that 30% of its company—or any foreign company launching in the country—must be owned by South Africans.
That hasn’t stopped South Africans from using Starlink though. At least 14,000 South Africans are using the service via resellers like IT Lec and StarSat. These resellers buy Starlink roaming packages available in licensed countries for South Africans, register the services in those countries and manage subscriptions for users.
Regulators also push back: Southern Africa resellers are also finding themselves fighting both the company, and the regulators. In November, South Africa’s communications regulator, ICASA, warned against resale of Starlink which carries a $269,000 fine. Zimbabwe, Ghana and even Senegal have also levied warnings against the unauthorised resale of Starlink with Senegal detaining five people last September, and throwing a 5 year prison sentence and $100,000 fine at the offence.
Bayobab lands two subsea cables in Nigeria and Ghana
We’ve seen a bit of focus on inter-connectivity and the internet in Africa in recent times. This month alone, Google launched its first-ever Africa cloud centre, in Cape Town, South Africa, while Microsoft launched its third cloud centre in the same country.
2Africa makes its Nigerian and Ghanaian debut: Home-grown organisations are also doing a fair bit on this end as well. MTN-owned fibre solutions Bayobab, for one, recently announced that its subsea internet cable, 2Africa, has landed in Nigeria and Ghana. TechCabal exclusively reported that the cable was set to land in Nigeria in November 2023.
The 45,000-kilometre cable is being hailed as the world’s largest subsea cable project, and Bayobab, which is backed by Meta, says the cable will provide Ghanaian and Nigerian internet providers with more capacity and fairer access to data centres, leading to faster, more reliable internet for businesses and individuals alike.
Bayobab’s target is to roll out a total of 135,000 km of fibre by 2025, connecting 33 African countries to better internet access from Europe, the Middle East and Asia. The last time Bayobab’s cable made the news was in 2022 when the first of the cables surfaced in South Africa. Its Ghanaian and Nigerian landing are part of its “East2West” project which it says will connect East Africa 2 West Africa.
Zoom out: It might take time for the 2Africa cable to make waves across these countries. Google’s own Equiano cable which landed in Nigeria in 2022 is yet to fulfil its promise of 6x faster internet.
Funding African civic tech
Civic tech is a fast-growing sector around the world, witnessing a wave of innovative ideas, garnering interest from corporations, government agencies, and investment firms. However, the civic tech space in Africa is far from reaching its potential of helping to strengthen government capacity and improve civic engagement.
According to a database by Civic Tech Innovation Network (CTIN), civic tech projects have grown at a slow pace.
Unlike healthtech, fintech, and other tech sectors, civic tech is mainly focused on developing citizen-driven solutions. As such, investment in civic tech startups pales in comparison to other money-spinning sectors. As most of them are not commercially driven, the sector is also not booming with venture capital funding in Africa. With only a few accelerators
taking a chance on offers to invest in civic tech startups, there are no large returns to be generated and offered to investors. This has affected the overall growth of civic tech in Africa, as entrepreneurs struggle to bootstrap and run the startups on a lean budget in the early stages.
According to Seedstars, civic tech is the “next big thing in Africa” due to the growth in internet usage and social media across Africa over the years. Within the past few years, early-stage civic tech organisations have struggled to raise funds. Presently, they are mostly reliant on grant funding and donations from development agencies and philanthropies. Civic tech companies require institutional support to scale and maximise the impact of their innovative solutions. For instance, the launch of Civic Tech Fund Africa by the African Union boosted the growth of selected civic tech startups in Africa. Similar efforts need to be introduced to expand support for other emerging civic techs on the continent.
Startups in the civic tech space can partner with civil society organisations with donor funding to scale their innovative ideas and solutions, according to Abiola Durodola, co-founder of AdvoKC, a youth-led civic tech platform tracking governance performance, and accountability. “It’s important to find common grounds between civic tech startups and CSOs to work together to incubate and implement civic tech ideas to ensure smooth citizen participation in Africa,” he said.
There are emerging opportunities for the African civic tech sector to explore alternate funding and revenue streams to reduce their operational struggles. This underscores the need to productize civic tech initiatives and tailor them to local contexts on the continent. There is no better time to look beyond the incentives created by grant funding for civic tech in Africa to unlock and drive commercialisation.
Before you go, our much anticipated State Of Tech In Africa Report for Q4 2023 is now out. Click this link to download it.
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- For African founders, applications are open for the Accelerate Africa accelerator for startups on the continent. Founders will receive coaching from two of Africa’s top operating founders, access to a network of 75+ investors on demo day, and Clinics and office hours for your legal, finance, and tech needs. Apply by February 16.
- Are you a young girl with a passion for technology and innovation? Apply now for the National Girls in ICT Competition 2024. The competition is an initiative that creates a platform for girls in secondary school to showcase their skills and creativity in various ICT-related domains. Apply by February 18.
- Applications are now open for the 10th cohort of the Orange Corners Nigeria Incubation Programme(40,000 Euros in funding). The programme empowers aspiring entrepreneurs to transform their dreams into thriving realities. Apply by February 18.
- Report for the World once again invites independent news organisations across the globe to join its growing network of host newsroom partners. Newsrooms will be asked to make the case for the beat they want to cover and how they will provide support and mentorship to their prospective corps members. In turn, Report for the World will fund half the salary of the reporters for up to three years. Apply by February 20.
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