There is no greater time than now to show commitment towards investing in Africa’s technology innovation and growth prosperity.
Currently, many countries are gearing up and showing full commitment in supporting African innovation on a full scale.
As a continent, there is an urgent need to build a vibrant technology ecosystem on a Pan-African level in order to fast track job creation.
Our world is becoming more globalized and innovation is a key component that will guarantee economic growth in Africa.
African innovation is crucial for finding immediate solutions to the vast challenges.
In oder to unpack Africa’s innovation footprint and to deal with the current technology challenges, Bontle Moneg, BizNis Africa Founder and Managing Director sat down with one of Africa’s leading technology leaders, Rapelang Rabana, the new BCX Chief Digital Officer to gain more insights on our continent’s technology journey.
Tell us about yourself. Where were you born and educated?
I was born in Botswana and I studied Business Computer Science at University of Cape Town (UCT). That’s how I started getting into the technology space even though I was not initially interested in tech but over time I just grew interested into the process of how it allows you to create and build stuff. It seemed more interesting than most of the commercial subjects.
At the end of varsity together with my classmates, we decided we couldn’t bear the idea of getting a job. That’s how we started our first business, which was Yeigo doing mobile voice over internet protocol (VOIP) apps and that business was bought by TelFree in 2009.
That was a seven-year journey.
About three years ago I started Rekindle Learning to apply the same thinking to learning technologies.
What is your core passion in Africa’s Technology Industry?
My core passion really comes down to tackling problems across the continent, which require scale and this is where technology comes in.
It’s easier to solve problems in a localized context for few people and if we are going to have any impact on the trajectory of the continent’s development, we need to scale it to millions and billions and that’s why technology is so important.
What exactly did you do at Rekindle Learning on a daily basis?
I was the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) until 1 December 2017.
My role involved a lot of product and strategy thinking around the solutions we package, a lot of business development through networking and speaking engagements.
I’ve also been supporting operations where I can use my technical expertise but a lot of it was relationships to business development.
You’ve recently been appointed as the new BCX Chief Digital Officer – how did you get the role and what exactly are you currently doing?
I met some of the Telkom Executives a few months ago and they’ve been repositioning a lot.
They’ve been in discussions with me for quite some time and made it clear that they wanted to be more of an entrepreneurial organization.
They want to develop cool new products and revenue streams and they will need entrepreneurs in the digital space to do that.
The intent and the potential to do things on a major bigger scale is my real interest in joining BCX as a Chief Digital Officer, essentially looking at all the new revenue streams, which includes telcos and data revenue streams that will continue to decline.
They also need to make some big bets on where cyber security, analytics, robotics, Internet of Things (IoT) and all the other trends need to be explored, finalized and get to a product that will actually generate the revenues they seek.
In your opinion, how is digital disruption creating new opportunities for African start-ups?
I think that software is one of the simplest ways to manifest an idea, to manifest a view of the world and its certainly cheaper than mining, manufacturing or the traditional industries.
It’s much more accessible to young people to be able to conceive an idea then actually manifest that in reality.
That’s starting point is the most crucial part of how it makes it more inclusive.
As Internet penetration becomes more prevalent, more coding skills become more prevalent as well.
Young people can participate in this with much lower barriers to entry than traditional industries.
Are African tech entrepreneurs able to navigate digital transformation and position their organisations for growth?
I think there’s still a lot of struggle around scaling businesses.
It’s easier to get started and that’s also my interest in joining the BCX role because a key part of that is helping those start-ups to actually achieve scale.
The market is very fragmented and difficult to navigate on the continent despite having over 1 billion people – where you find them, how you service them, how collect money from them, how you deliver products and services remains expensive and that will curtail the capacity for SMEs to grow.
It is through these partnerships and channels like BCX that will support growth which is one of my key areas of interest.
Can entrepreneurship ignite Africa’s digital economy?
It’s an obvious yes.
The digital economy won’t exist without entrepreneurs coming on board.
Enterprise IT solutions are very niche and focused on a specific clientele that is much more top end.
The digital economy is only going to spread through entrepreneurs delivering more solutions to their local communities in context.
What can African start-ups offer large corporates?
All corporates at this moment are looking at different ways to grow new revenue streams and new innovations.
Big corporates will always struggle to come up with those big ideas as they are not incentivised to do so at this point in time.
Their skills set is not in that space, therefore they need to work with start-up to bring in new ideas that they can help scale so it’s a partnership essentially.
One has the ideas and the other has scale.
What is the overall adoption rate of disruptive innovative technologies in Africa? Are we making progress?
I think with most of the new technologies, they remain very niche and as early adopters we have yet to articulate the use cases that will serve millions of people and this is where the partnerships have to come in.
There are probably some good ideas out there that could be relevant to a broad pool of people but getting access or channels to the market is a challenge.
We haven’t seen the disruption rate at the level that we need to yet.