Nerding in Nairobi

A few months travelling, living and hacking in Kenya

Silicon Savannah: Why Kenya?

I’ve covered some of the challenges Kenya faces in becoming a global tech player including limited market size and underdeveloped talent. It also ranks among the bottom 50 countries for corruption, income inequality and educational achievement. Yet I’m not alone in believing that Kenya will be a success story for tech entrepreneurship in Africa. So why Kenya?

M-Pesa

Kenya hosts the most successful mobile money system in the world. In 5 years, Safaricom’s M-Pesa has grown to serve almost 15m active customers and no one blinks at accepting mobile money. The ability to push real transactions over mobile makes it a more appealing platform for tech entrepreneurs.

English

Being colonized is a bad deal but, given the choice, select an empire that will be a major world power and trading partner after independence (UK). It’s also nice if they impose a language shared with the largest economic and military power in history (US). Note that though Kenyan innovation played a major role in M-Pesa’s success, it was originally developed by Vodafone in the UK.

International Attention

Nairobi hosts the UN’s headquarters in Africa and the hundreds of NGOs that have flocked around it. Kenya’s parks attract hundreds of thousands of tourists from the developed world every year. Foreigners bring money, expertise and new perspectives to Kenya and return home with an interest in the country.

Culture

I have been told that Kenyans have more “hustle” and business drive than people in neighboring countries. I don’t have a basis for comparison, but I can say that people are pretty scrappy here. Soko artisans like Steve make amazing jewelry from waste like bones from the butcher, aluminum scrap and leftover wire.

These are merely the main factors I’ve encountered in six short weeks. Maybe the real proof is in the people. Foreigners are coming to Kenya and getting too excited to leave. Kenyans who have spent decades in diaspora are coming back to capture new opportunity. Local Kenyans are getting interested in tech, prioritizing education and believing in change.

Come spend a few months in Nairobi and see for yourself! Great companies like Shop Soko, Kopo Kopo and Bridge International Academies would love to lure you out and get you hooked on Kenya.

[Previous: Talent]

Comments