Sierra Leone, the tropical nation on Africa’s west coast, may be geographically small, but its tech ambitions are huge. President Julius Maada Bio wants to make Sierra Leone “the Estonia of Africa.” Backed by political will and government investment, Sierra Leone wants to supply tech talent to the rest of the continent.

“The vision is to see Sierra Leone play a leading role in tech export,” Salima Bah, the country’s Minister of Communication, Technology, and Innovation, told TechCabal during a recent visit to Lagos. 

“This isn’t the first time Sierra Leone has played a global leading role in capacity development. Sierra Leone used to be known as the Athens of Africa.”

The 32-year-old minister, who resumed office last September, believes that the country’s size is advantageous. “Because we are small, we can act faster and adjust to changing times and an easier ecosystem to deal with, which puts us in a better position.” [ad]

In 2018, President Bio established the Directorate of Science, Technology, and Innovation (DSTI) and appointed a Chief Innovation Officer. He also set up the Ministry of Communication, Technology, and Innovation and named Bah its first Minister in July 2023. 

The ministry has spent the past six months laying the groundwork for its plans to support its startup ecosystem, which the minister says, is “still at its nascent stage”. Sierra Leone will host a National Tech and Innovation Summit in May to showcase its ecosystem to attract tech investments and secure partnerships.

The country is putting its money where its mouth is. It will build a tech and innovation city—a special economic zone—where it will train young people in different tech skills to help deliver the government’s mandate to create 500,000 jobs by 2028

“We consider digital skills as an exportable commodity. We will focus on the skills we can export and provide infrastructure,” Bah said. The ministry has acquired 130 acres of land for the project which will also feature accelerator hubs.

Sierra Leone’s strategy involves listening and capturing from its regional counterparts, explaining the minister’s visit to Nigeria. It’s not shy about copying Nigeria’s blueprint on how to build a thriving ecosystem. Highlights from the visit include talks of cross-border collaboration with Nigeria’s tech regulator, the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA). Sierra Leone’s startup act is also in the works.

Sierra Leone’s bold bet is a good start for Africa. While the rest of the continent will be watching how the country pulls this off, its strategy—a combination of political will and government investment—is worth noticing. Catching up to the continent’s biggest players will take time, and Sierra Leone insists it isn’t competing but instead collaborating. It will convene an African ministerial roundtable at its tech summit to discuss open-source software and strategies on how the continent can collectively benefit from AI.

“We are willing to learn how others have done it. We aren’t inventing the wheel, we are learning from others. It doesn’t mean we are just going to copy and paste everything, we are going to adapt and adjust,” Bah said.

Ganiu Oloruntade Reporter, TechCabal

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