16 February 2018

Rwanda: Realising a Digital Revolution - Challenges and Opportunities

Tech adoption and digitalisation of economies is among the top priorities for most sub-Saharan African countries, Rwanda included.

The tech sector continues to have an increasing number of investors while governments are seeking to incorporate technology to their ambitions.

For the last two days, Kigali hosted over 250 ICT stakeholders from the continent and beyond to share the growth in the tech ecosystem across Africa.

Top tech firms from across the continent were represented at the summit where they networked, shared experiences, forged partnerships and collectively mulled ways out of common challenges.

Below are the top tech trends and concerns according to delegates at the summit.

Raising capital

Emerging and established firms in the tech space continue to face challenges in raising capital from traditional financial institutions.

Most of the tech firms present at the meeting said that the most viable options for raising capital was through venture capitalists which is fast picking up pace across Africa.

However, players said that to raise required capital, de-risking the investment and having clear predictions is key to guarantee investor confidence.

"On very high risk deals, investors like to de-risk as many components as they can," Ravinder Sakind, a Kenyan tech-preneur, said.

The players in the sector were also tipped on the importance of operating within innovation hubs to ease their chances of securing financing.

E-commerce

E-commerce is fast becoming popular as brands make attempts to get closer to consumers and ease the purchase processes for goods. The trend seeks to make it possible for consumers to buy and pay for goods at the comfort of their homes.

However, the trend, in regards to business, sector players say that implementation is not as easy as it sounds on paper.

For instance last year, Jumia Rwanda closed its online shopping platform Jumia Marketplace to concentrate on its fast growing online food delivery platform.

Speaking at the forum, Albert Munyabugingo, the Managing Director of Jumia Food, said that among top considerations for players seeking to join the sector is learning how the market is mapped out.

"Logistics start with looking at how our cities are mapped for faster delivery," he said.

Entrepreneurs were also tipped on the importance of finding a niche and concentrating on it.

Citing the example of local firm Kasha, Ecobank Rwanda managing director Alice Zulu said that it is important to build on one's niche than trying their hand at everything.

Kasha is a Rwandan e-commerce platform that makes deliveries of sanitary towels for women.

Developing skills and talent

Do you have the right skills to develop the tech industry? Stakeholders attempted to answer this by looking at the best models the African sector could employ to develop skills that could drive tech adoption.

Among the options to scale up skill levels is through public-private partnerships to bring in world leading academic institutions like was the case at Carnegie Mellon University Rwanda.

The American university entered Rwanda following an invitation and partnership with the government.

Crystal Rugege, the Director of Business Strategy and Operations, said that increasingly there is need to produce graduates who have both technical and contextual expertise.

"Talent from the continent understands its challenges and responds accordingly. This is also a huge boost for companies outside Africa that want to expand into the continent," she said.

Venturing into new markets

With most African markets being relatively small for the tech ventures to make adequate profits, more and more firms are looking to grow beyond their home countries.

However, most say that it has been a complex process beyond simply opening up a branch in a different address.

Firms who have been able to expand out say that the process involves aspects such as understanding characteristics of new markets and building partnerships with local partners.

Cashless economies

Despite being advantageous to economies, traders and businesses the pace of uptake of cashless economy is relatively low. This was partly blamed on mindsets of the general public which most agreed requires further sensitisation.

Lucy Nshuti Mbabazi, the assistant vice president, Push Payments for the Ecobank Group, said that there is need for increased awareness and sensitization to adjust the mindset of citizens.

Other top concerns in the regional tech industry include how to tap into digital marketing to increase the market for tech solutions, generating and creating more local content to make the most of the digital television space, and ability to generate a large number of jobs.

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