Digital technologies are transforming African businesses, but obstacles remain


Digital technology has created new opportunities for businesses in sub-Saharan Africa to compete on a more equal footing. However, these businesses have yet to enjoy the full benefits because of a difficult operating environment.

Our recently published book, ‘Digital Entrepreneurship in Sub-Saharan Africa: Challenges, Opportunities and Prospects’, details case studies of economic sectors where digital technologies are making a positive impact.

In Ghana, digital technologies have had an impact on the agriculture sector. Agri-tech firms like Farmable, Farmerline and Esoko have successfully pursued the creation of new business ventures and renewal of existing, matured corporate business models. These agri-tech firms support farmers with pricing data, crowdfunding and communication activities. They are also connecting farmers with buyers as well as helping them work out what differentiates them from competitors.

Digital technologies are playing a role in Nigeria’s agricultural sector too. Prime Wave , an engineering company that supplies equipment to rice processing firms, and Al-Wabel Trading Company Ltd, a rice miller, have been working together to invent new technological solutions. These are aimed at improving the performance of rice processing. The innovative solutions the company came up with for rice processing can be applied more widely across the agricultural sector. However, these firms have had to overcome regulatory and institutional challenges in the sector.

Crossing boundaries

Digital technologies have also become a part of arts, media and entertainment, in particular in Kenya and Nigeria.

Case studies from Nigeria show how small and medium-sized new media players benefit from embracing a culture of experimentation, partnership and continuous learning. These businesses have adopted a “mobile first” mindset. They do this by using mobile technology as a resourceful, quick and flexible solution to do business, connect and promote their content.

The advertising, game development and media companies that took part in the research had all invested substantially in establishing their own systems for sharing data. These firms also embrace the Passion economy which centres around social causes and high access to mobile technology “as driving forces of the business”.

Nigeria’s movie industry, too, has benefited from digitisation. The technology has improved production time and quality. It has also helped extend the reach of movies to wider audiences. Foreign investors are taking greater interest in this fast growing business.

A potential drawback of digital technology in the arts is that cultural artefacts created digitally can also appear in many places at once. So, instead of gaining visibility it is actually lost in the digital crowd. But Kenyan artists have managed to use social media networks to build their own “cultural capital” and gain access to physical galleries. Continue reading…

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