It is true that the world today is a global village. This is a narrative that is driven by the fact that technological advancement now allows for remote operations across borders. An individual can be in Europe and conveniently manage processes in Asia and vice versa. While this appears to be a forward-looking development, there seems to be a lopsided expression in the African context.
To a large extent, the continent of Africa is seen more as a market for newer technologies, rather than a co-innovator in the system. It looks like Africa is sidelined, or more appropriately sidelines herself when new things show up. This is the same scenario that is playing out with the emerging industry of blockchain technology.
It is not like Africans are not making efforts at all, but it is hard to find native innovations that can compete side by side with their foreign counterparts. Rather, it is the same foreign technologies that show up and take over the viable African market as usual. At best, some of them simply adopt a lopsided partnership structure with the struggling African startups in order to gain access into a ready market.
The Attitudinal Problems of African Startups
A typical example to this situation is in the area of exchanges that we have in the cryptocurrency industry, same goes with digital media. A regular African crypto user would prefer to trade on platforms like Coinbase and Remitano. Meanwhile, there is a local exchange that is based in the same city where he lives. Similarly, startups that aim to serve local communities would rather feature on foreign websites, rather than associate with those that focus on their home soil.
This kind of attitude among people who are expected to work together towards a commonwealth has been criticized in many ways. Yet, nothing seems to change. Often times when African startups meet, instead of looking for ways to collaborate and grow together, they are more likely to compete against one another. The unfortunate thing with this situation is that many of them have no capacity to function in isolation.
A lot of times, the reason for this competition does not go beyond mere ego. Everyone wants to show off to be better than the other. This is an offshoot of a fundamental socio-cultural problem that is prevalent among Africans. Ego and show of power have been some of the reasons behind the many conflicts that plagued the continent in the past.
For no just reason, it is common to find a typical Nigerian trying to prove to his next door neighbour from Ghana that he is more superior and vice versa. Even within the same country and local communities, people who are supposed to cooperate have often been guilty of fierce competition. This runs down to contests between members of the same nuclear family. Perhaps, the first drawback for Africa in terms of technological progress comes from bad socio-cultural orientation.
Many African Blockchain Startups are Run by Amateurs
Another factor that is common among African startups is the bandwagon behaviour. This has led to the birth of premature projects that are run by teams that are not really qualified. This is one of the major reasons why most startups around the continent have failed to hit it with the first gear.
Many of them end up trying to learn on the job, having entangled themselves with a lot of liabilities from the very early stages. In the end, these startups resolve to living on the edge and hoping for some form of breakthrough, probably through some kind of partnership. The bottom line remains that most of the blockchain startups in Africa are struggling to survive.
We cannot pass all the blame to the startups and their founders. Even though a majority of them went in unprepared, we would still give them some credit for taking the risk. Perhaps, if there was a more conducive environment, without the kind of pressure that the regular African youth is confronted with, they may perform better. What this means is that some, or even a lot of the blame goes to the government.
Lack of Government Support
The reason for this is that they have not really supported the young Africans as they should, except for a select few. For instance, how would you explain the fact that most of these young Africans that struggle on home soil migrate to more developed countries and become stars. The answer is simple – a better working environment with better infrastructure and more reliable policies.
With the current situation of things, it is difficult to expect that the trend will change from Africa remaining at the backseat. While we are hoping that native products will rise to establish themselves, international giants like Binance are already making entry to dominate the market. So what will happen to all the work that has been put in by the creators of these native platforms that have been struggling for years? How will they recover the efforts and resources that have been invested in the projects that they are toiling to build?
There Needs to be A Paradigm Shift
Perhaps, African innovators need to have a rethink. There needs to be a paradigm shift that will revolutionize the ways that they have adopted so far. Instead of running alone and struggling to surpass a brother in the same struggle, there needs to be a different orientation. Startups in the same field will do well to come together and find ways to collaborate. They need to pull resources together and try to create a strong beam of light, instead of the insignificant rays that are isolated here and there. After all, the foreign companies are coming in with proposals to partner. Even though their offers are usually lopsided.
It is clear that waiting for the government to save the day is just like waiting for the rains in the Sahara. It may never come until the trees wither. African innovators need to take responsibility and pull themselves out of the dungeon as a team. Something about the socio-cultural inclinations needs to be redefined, and moments like this when a revolution is taking place is usually perfect for such redefinitions.
The Way Forward for Africa
What we need to see is a series of collapses, where similar projects will pool their resources together. Instead of having projects fade away as a result of insignificant network effects, there should be robust networks that are born out of purposeful collaboration. This is what blockchain technology is all about – a network of participants working together to ensure the sustainability of a project.
Africa can rise, African can sustain herself, Africa can chart her own course. All she needs to do is to recognise the strength in togetherness and have the willingness to collaborate. Perhaps, that is the way to avoid the pseudo-colonialism that is still plaguing the continent even in the 21st century.
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