The Internet, it is often said, provides equal access to knowledge and to markets. It opens up new opportunities for economic success and prosperity in disadvantaged regions or even continents, like Africa. A new book by Nicolas Friederici, Michel Wahome and Mark Graham examines whether this will succeed.
Digital tools and technologies generally work regardless of location and time zone. They enable users to bridge large distances. They also enable entrepreneurs to be economically active worldwide. Being based in Africa is no longer of great importance for a company’s ability to do business in other parts of the world – at least in theory.
Digital Gold-rush Mood in Africa
These perceived new opportunities have triggered a kind of gold-rush mood, Frederici, Wahome and Graham analyse in their recently published book “Digital Entrepreneurship in Africa: How a Continent Is Escaping Silicon Valley’s Long Shadow”.
Africa has experienced a boom in digital entrepreneurship in recent years. Investors and politicians have spent millions of dollars on developing infrastructure and promoting the digital economy in the hope of benefiting from a globalised market and almost unlimited scalability.
In their publication, Frederici, Wahome and Graham examine whether reality matches these great ambitions. They analyse the intellectual foundations and offer insights into how what is actually happening on the ground may be in contrast to ambitions.
To this end, the authors document and analyse the phenomenon of African digital entrepreneurship over recent years. Their aim is to understand both the opportunities and the limitations that the rise of the Internet has brought for companies in Africa.
Local adaptability as key to sustainable business models
When we talk about digital innovations, the USA and China first come to mind. We see Amazon, Google and Alibaba as prototypical companies that have sparked digital revolutions. Actually, however, their success stories are not representative of other companies and continents.
The authors of “Digital Entrepreneurship in Africa” show – on the basis of a five-year research project – how African entrepreneurs creatively and effectively adapt digital technologies to local markets. The success stories of sustainable, if usually much smaller enterprises are created here through strategies like relationship-based scaling or the building of analog last-mile platforms, rather than dreams of global dominance. Business models from the US thus have to be carefully adapted to the challenges of African infrastructure, while they cannot be copied. The book makes a forceful case that Africa has to escape from Silicon Valley’s symbolic and actual influence, and it outlines the first observable pathways in this direction.
Digital Entrepreneurship in Africa: How a Continent Is Escaping Silicon Valley’s Long Shadow – open access edition