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Business growth in Africa depends on ‘big tech’: Kenyan entrepreneur

Max Zahn with Andy Serwer
·3-min read

Twitter (TWTR) CEO Jack Dorsey made headlines in March when he opted out of plans for a months-long stay in Africa amid the onset of COVID-19. His plans to go to Africa reflect a trend in recent years of major tech CEOs traveling to the continent, including Dorsey himself, who visited several African countries months before his change of heart.

Those trips have coincided with efforts undertaken by the tech giants to help bolster the continent’s internet infrastructure, contributing to buzz that Africa and its more than 1 billion people may prove to be the industry’s next big growth market.

In a new interview, Kenyan tech entrepreneur Mubarak Muyika tells Yahoo Finance that aspiring business leaders on the continent understand the immense role that big tech companies will play in its economic development, saying that the acceleration of Africa’s digital commerce amid COVID-19 owes to steps taken by tech giants in the U.S.

“What's really driving growth in Africa isn't really COVID-19,” says Muyika, 26, the founder of an enterprise software company called Zagace. “It’s about big tech politics in the Bay Area.”

“The technical system in Africa isn't controlled in Africa,” he adds. “If you want to expand a business in Africa, it doesn't make sense to really invest in Africa, you invest in the Bay Area.”

“That’s where there’s the talent,” he says. “That's where there's big tech.”

In May, Facebook launched a project to build a massive 37,000-kilometer long undersea cable around Africa to bring internet access to more of its residents. The year before, Google (GOOG, GOOGL) made waves when it opened an artificial intelligence lab in Ghana, the first for the company on the continent.

Highlighting the industry’s potential on the continent, Google published a blog post in November entitled, “Understanding Africa’s $180 billion internet economy future.” Growth of the tech sector in Africa will include an influx of new consumers, predicts data firm Digital TV Research, which said in a report in October that the number of streaming subscribers on the continent will increase five-fold to nearly 13 million by 2025.

Mubarak Muyika, founder of the enterprise software company Zagace, speaks with Yahoo Finance Editor-in-Chief Andy Sewer on an episode of "Influencers with Andy Serwer."
Mubarak Muyika, founder of the enterprise software company Zagace, speaks with Yahoo Finance Editor-in-Chief Andy Sewer on an episode of "Influencers with Andy Serwer."

‘We have to be like the big five’

Muyika, who was raised in the suburbs of Nairobi but now spends most of his time in Silicon Valley, said his company counts nearly 2 million paying customers — 70% of them in Africa — for its suite of app-based enterprise products for small businesses.

He said he looks to the growth and scale of U.S. tech giants as a model.

“To become a big tech company in Africa, we have to be like the big five in the Bay Area,” he says.

Muyika, who grew up in the suburbs of Nairobi, spoke to Yahoo Finance Editor-in-Chief Andy Serwer in an episode of “Influencers with Andy Serwer,” a weekly interview series with leaders in business, politics, and entertainment.

Speaking with Yahoo Finance, Muyika said the tech giants not only promise potential growth for the region, but that Africa also provides an opportunity for those companies, which will gain a large swath of new customers and a friendly regulatory environment.

“We are at the point where the next billion customers for big tech...are going to come from Africa,” he says. “We're talking about a population that's going to be joining the internet.”

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