It’s easy to miss the Africa House on Davos’ main boulevard called the promenade. There are no flags or a board with its name, just a monitor detailing the agenda of the day. The centerpiece of Africa’s engagement in the Swiss Alpine town is housed in a blockchain firm’s pavilion, perhaps to underscore Africa’s embracing of modern technologies.
Once inside the hall, Africa comes alive; its colors, costumes and culture are on full display, and so is its entrepreneurial spirit.
“They say ‘who will eat chocolates made in Africa,’ I tell them, well, Africans will eat them,” says one speaker at the panel discussion underway, as the audience bursts into laughter and applause.
The panel discussion is part of several events organized by the Africa House to tell the Africa growth story to global investors, while showcasing the opportunities on the continent.
“The turnout has been impeccable,” Hyatt Antognini, chief commercial officer of the Africa House, told DW. “We have been hearing that a lot of people have already made some strong partnerships. It seems that things are moving forward.”
Selling Brand Africa
While Africa and issues concerning it have been regularly debated and discussed prominently during annual meetings of the World Economic Forum, African governments and businesses have been largely absent from the promenade, where countries and companies have been setting up pavilions for years to attract investments and build networks.
The Africa House, which was launched in 2020 at the World Economic Forum’s 50th annual meeting, aims to change that. It is offering a platform for African businesses and entrepreneurs to foster collaborations, build connections across borders, as well as showcase their activities to global leaders.
“We’re not waiting. Why do we have to wait for somebody else,” rapper and tech entrepreneur Will.i.am, who is also the co-chair of the Africa House told DW. “Africa has lots of issues, but it also has lots of freaking awesomeness.”
IT sector in focus
Africa has been a late bloomer on the tech scene, but it’s now eager to make up for the lost time. African entrepreneurs are using technology to develop solutions adapted to their own realities.
Global investors are also taking notice, as evidenced by the big turnout for panels on entrepreneurship and technology at the Africa House.
African startups, especially in Nigeria, South Africa, Kenya and Egypt, have seen a rise in funding over the years. They secured a record $2 billion worth of investment in 2021, Disrupt Africa’s African Tech Startups Funding report showed.
“We have a trend toward an increase in investment on the continent in startups among others because investors are present where you have a crisis, they see opportunities,” Landry Signe, author and professor at the Thunderbird School of Global Management in Washington, DC told DW.
The African IT sector owes a lot to the success of the mobile money platform M-Pesa. Launched in 2007, the so-called branchless bank which pioneered mobile payments to drive financial inclusion in Africa has evolved into a payment behemoth, moving around 40% of Kenya’s GDP.
“For a very long time the African tech industry wasn’t even considered a part of the innovation part of the world,” Mamadou Toure, the founder of Ubuntu Tribe, a digital platform promoting shared economy through tokenization of gold, told DW. “It started changing with the introduction of mobile money, mobile payment, where Africa pioneered and led the world in terms of mobile banking.”
At the Africa House, an informal gathering of policymakers and crypto companies, aptly called Crypto Kings Mixer, was another packed affair. Most present there agreed that blockchain technology could prove to be a game changer for the continent by promoting financial inclusion among other things.
The decentralized ledger that allows transparent information sharing within a business network is already popular in Africa, and so are cryptocurrencies. Nigeria is among the world’s largest traders of bitcoin, the most popular cryptocurrency.
While still a small market globally, Africa is one of the fastest-growing crypto markets in the world, according to Chainalysis. The Central African Republic is the second in the world after El Salvador to designate bitcoin as a legal tender.
“I don’t think Africa is as represented as it could or should or is receiving the interest that it could,” Toure said. “There’s a bit of a misinformation about the real opportunities there, and that’s why we have Africa House to showcase and articulate what this continent can do and more importantly, what it is that it’s doing right.”
Edited by: Uwe Hessler