Santa Clara Valley in California had a lot going for it up until the early 1980s. Having since been the centre for economic growth in California, the Valley was home to picturesque orchards of apricots, pears and other fruits and vegetables. Home to a steady economy hinged on agriculture and food production it’s no wonder the variety and business opportunities earned it the title “The Valley of Heart’s Delight.”
It was then that the introduction of the IBM Personal Computer and more importantly the semiconductor and microprocessor industries that defined the 3 decades that have followed. Consequently known today across the world as Silicon Valley, agri-business paved way for high-end technology, orchards making room for innovation labs and an age of software and hardware ushering us into a present day.
Between the 1970s and 1980s there were mentions of the term Silicon Valley and its imminent transformation but they remained murmurs as it wasn’t at full scale. Africa sits much on the same precipice today. The continent’s geography of hubs, labs and accelerators featuring to testify of the renaissance. MXit, Ushahidi, M-Pesa and a range of examples of innovation colouring dots on the new map of the continent. Regions and more specific countries making their own contribution to the collective redefinition of the brand known as Africa.
Coming closer to home is the majesty of the Great Rift Valley which thanks to its happens to form across more than half a dozen East and Central African countries. These said countries were recently represented among the 40 startups at DEMO Africa 2013 in Nairobi. The finalists share the vision of turning the continent into less of a market dependent on agriculture, natural resources and other expected forms of industry and enterprise. Instead by showcasing their businesses they took their chances on bringing software, hardware and a new discussion on Africa to light. The term Silicon Savannah could not hold more meaning and DEMO couldn’t signify a greater opportunity to solidify the credentials behind the term for the African continent.
2013 has been a great year for the nascent hardware production and fabrication sector in Africa. Far from the early days of young William Kamkwamba in rural Masitala. The Malawian inventor of a windmill sparking a decade of emerging under 18 innovators both literate and illiterate alike. This new generation is building and fabricating concepts years before they get access to a keyboard and software technology.
For DEMO Africa 2013, the convergence of hardware and software is a big sign of the times in Africa rewriting it’s present and future. From Ushahidi launching the BRCK to several DEMO participants each bringing longer term hardware ideas or prototypes to market, this year will be make or break in Africa and inevitably Nairobi in realising the truth behind the title of Africa’s Silicon Savannah.
D8A will be bringing opinion, analysis and insights from the two day conference from Nairobi, Kenya here on the blog as we unpack what went into the conference and what the outcomes were.
Image by Mutua Matheka.
Mark Kaigwa has spent the last 7 years helping global and African businesses, brands, and nonprofits use technology to connect with Africans online. He is a consultant, strategist, and speaker who likes to get hands-on solving problems and applying ideas that will change the future of the continent and emerging markets. Follow him on Twitter @MKaigwa.