By: Anushiem Chidera
A few days ago, the African tech space was awash with the good news of Flutterwave’s latest Series D $250m fundraising round, making them the most valuable African tech start-up. The Nigerian fintech cross-border payment servicing behemoth is now worth $3 billion—at least $1 billion more than Chipper cash and Chinese-backed Opay. With a long way out from ANT’s $200 billion valuation as the world’s most valuable startup, there is more work to be done.
However, Flutterwave’s valuation is not the crux of this piece. Founded in 2016 by Iyinoluwa Aboyeji, Olugbenga Agboola, amongst others, Flutterwave has gone on to exceed expectations (this week, Flutterwave launched Flutterwave 3.0, a service dedicated to providing credit to SMEs, a fintech-as-a-service unit of the company). Quite simply, with the level of innovation going on at Flutterwave, no fintech startup is coming close anytime soon.
Without an iota of doubt, Flutterwave’s success must spark a conversation amongst Africans generally about how integral technology is to its/their very survival. Because Africa faces a make-or-mar century, it is now time for the continent to turn its face to technology, and the reason why is as lucid as the proverbial handwriting on the wall.
First, Africans must take technology seriously for the simple reason that the world is moving in the direction of technology. Both as a tech ecosystem and as a continent, Africa is lagging behind, and we risk being left completely behind. Some countries are planning to phase out the use of petroleum-powered cars in favor of electric cars, while Nigeria still struggles with fuel supply; some nations have higher institutions that are integrating mechatronics and robotics into research and development of even more ground-breaking technology, while the continent still struggles with basic innovation.
Nations are optimizing for the booming semiconductor economy, but no African nation is remotely equipped to facilitate the semiconductor economy locally. Perhaps, the anecdote that amplifies this sad situation is the fact that Flutterwave’s story happened in America over 40 years ago with VISA. While Africa celebrates Flutterwave as its golden child, America has long forgotten what the birth of this kind of golden child means. It has simply moved on to birth even more impressive golden children.
Despite the mitigating factors, the silver lining in Flutterwave’s story means that there is hope for Africa. And this is the second reason why every African must now turn to tech: the tech industry can function in spite of, not because of, government involvement/stifling. Unlike the oil, banking, telecoms, transport, and manufacturing microsections of the macroeconomy of any country, Flutterwave has proven that any serious tech founder can thrive, irrespective of how allergic the government is to innovation.
The irony is all too brazen in Nigeria: under the administration of perhaps the least tech-supportive Nigerian government of all time, out of Nigeria has been borne Flutterwave, PayStack, Flying Doctors, Bamboo, VinSighte (a UI-incubated startup). As the repressive government has found out, unlike the other sectors, technology is the only sector that can thrive without government patronage. In a continent with more repressive and backwards regimes than anywhere else, it goes without saying that Africans cannot afford to sleep on tech.
In addition, whether we admit it or not, Africa— together with Asia—is the world’s primary funnel for talent in this age of high tech-skill demand. Tech is lifting people out of poverty; Nigerian graduates of certain courses do not have sell wigs to get by—they can easily become a DevOps Engineer at Microsoft with dedication to their craft. People do not have to manage menial entry jobs at banks and elsewhere. There is a skill market waiting for whoever is willing to tap into to make a great living.
Is Africa where it’s supposed to be? Certainly not. We do not have startups with the innovative capacity of SpaceX or the range of Alibaba, but with the likes of Flutterwave, Africa is showing that with or without government support, it is on the road map. Thankfully, tech is immune to government support, and with this amount of drive, the existence of Africa’s Silicon Valley is not too far off.