50th St. Gallen Symposium "Freedom Revisited": 7–8 May 2020


Ready for a Breakthrough

Africa is on the cusp of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, and the way its policy-makers embrace technology to develop its industries will determine whether or not it can be a leader, according to  Jumanne Rajabu Mtambalike.

The young entrepreneur from Tanzania founded his consulting firm Sahara Ventures five years ago. After studying in India, one of the world leaders when it comes to start-up incubators, he came back to Tanzania only to notice the lack of innovation hubs. “I wanted to create a platform that would help to build Tanzania’s innovation ecosystem,” he says.

To do so, Rajabu Mtambalike works as a consultant with startups and co-created Sahara Sparks, an annual event held in cities around Africa that brings entrepreneurs, investors and policy-makers together to discuss issues related to innovation and technology. The event is an opportunity for startups to pitch and showcase their businesses, while also offering seminars and workshops. “Basically, we are trying to come up with ways to integrate emerging technological innovations into our existing manufacturing processes,” Rajabu Mtambalike says.

We don’t want to get aid. Don’t consider giving us grants. Instead, let’s discuss what kind of business we can do together.

The young entrepreneur has a few ideas on how to tackle the challenge.

First, the continent’s governments need to engage more with their younger citizens. “The political power in place is too old, and unaware of the digital revolution. Most leaders are not resonating what is happening in the world, so they can’t address it,” says Rajabu Mtambalike. He sees this partnership as a win-win situation: the policies will be more adapted to the digital era, but the actual leaders know the history of their country and have learned lessons from experience.

Africa also needs develop outside of the smokestack industries, the ones producing traditional heavy machinery. “They harm the environment, and even if we chose to focus on them, we couldn’t possibly catch up to East Asia, who already leads the way. We need to find a new way to industrialize,” said Rajabu Mtambalike, “a way that’s our own.”

Agriculture and the services industry top the priority list when it comes to reform and new investment. “We already have expertise, and they don’t require massive investments and capital,” said Rajabu Mtambalike.  And attracting private capital is another major challenge, according to Sahara Venture’s founder. “Most of the capital in Africa comes from the government,” he says. “That means that even the private sector sometimes can’t offer capital, because it is trading with the government. They take loans from the banks, and the banks are owned by the government.”

That’s why the rest of the world needs to change their perception of Africa. “We don’t want to get aid. Transactions need to happen,” Rajabu Mtambalike says. “Don’t consider giving us grants. Instead, let’s discuss what kind of business we can do together.”