French President Emmanuel Macron says his country will invest $76 million in African startups, saying innovation on the continent is key to meeting challenges ranging from climate change to terrorism. He spoke Thursday at a technology fair in Paris showcasing African talent this year.
It is hard to miss the African section of Viva Tech. There are gigantic signs pointing to stands from South Africa, Morocco and Rwanda. And there are lots of African entrepreneurs.
Omar Cisse heads a Senegalese startup called InTouch, which has developed an app making it easier to conduct financial transactions by mobile phone.
“Globally, you have more than $1 billion per day of transactions on mobile money, and more than 50 percent are done in sub-Saharan Africa,” he said.
Cisse says the challenges for African startups are tremendous, but so are the opportunities.
“In Africa, you have very huge potential. Everything needs to be done now, and with local people who know the realities,” he said.
Like Cisse, Cameroonian engineer Alain Nteff is breaking new ground. He and a doctor co-founded a startup called Gifted Mom, which provides health information to pregnant and nursing women via text messaging.
“I think the biggest problems today in Africa are going to be solved by business, and not by development and nonprofits,” he said.
Nteff gets some support from the United Nations and other big donors. But funding is a challenge for many. African startups reportedly raised $560 million last year, compared with more than $22 billion raised by European ventures.
Now they are getting a $76 million windfall, announced by President Emmanuel Macron here at the tech fair.
“When the startups decide to work together to deploy ad accelerate equipment in Africa, it is good for the whole continent, because that is how to accelerate everything and provide opportunities — which by the way, is the best way to fight against terrorism, jihadism … to provide another model to these young people,” he said.
The funding comes from the Digital Africa Initiative, run by France’s AFD development agency (Agence Francaise de Developpement).
“I think the main challenge is access to funding, and the second is the coaching to grow. AFD wants them to find solutions,” said Jean-Marc Kadjo, who heads the project team.
There are plenty of exciting projects here. Reine Imanishimwe is a wood innovator from Rwanda.
“I try to use my wood in high technology. As you can see, my business card is wood, but I print it using a computer,” said Imanishimwe.
Abdou Salam Nizeyimana is also from Rwanda. He works for Zipline, an American startup that uses drones to fly blood to people and hospitals in Rwanda, cutting delivery times from hours to minutes.
“Now doctors can plan surgery right away and just say, ‘We need this type of blood,’ ” and it can be delivered in about a half hour or less, he said.
Rwandan President Paul Kagame toured the tech fair with Macron. Relations between Rwanda and France are warming, after years of tension over Rwanda’s 1994 genocide.
Entrepreneur Nizeyimana is happy about that. When politics are good, he says, it is good for technology transfer and Africa’s development.