Hype Around NGO-Funded Apps Is Stifling Africa's Innovation

Jessica Hatcher | Wired | June 10, 2014

The Silicon Savannah brings to mind a hyper-tech innovation zone, a mini-city of mirrored buildings ringed by sandy sub-Saharan scrub. Closer to the truth is a handful of industrial-style offices that occupy the top-floors of mirrored buildings and overlook a traffic-clogged Nairobi city artery called the Ngong Road.

Another common misconception is that Nairobi's most successful tech startups connect small-scale, rural farmers with the wonders of the worldwide web, or provide pre-natal care for penniless pregnant mothers cut off from urban amenities. It's true that some of Kenya's most visible technology products occupy the social enterprise space, but experts caution that the hype surrounding apps such as iCow and M-farm is disproportional, and that the ready availability of NGO funding for social apps could be damaging the business ecosystem and stifling innovation and growth.

A recent private equity confidence survey suggested Kenya's tech sector was not performing as well as expected, and is often overlooked by investors in favour of Nigeria and South Africa. "The hype about Kenya as a Silicon Savannah is in fact not translating into business opportunities", Andrea Bohnstedt, director of private equity consultancy Africa Assets, told Kenya's Standard newspaper.