I'm David, and we're going to hit it off.
When I stumbled into the African tech media scene a few years ago, it was as nascent as the ecosystem (people and businesses) it was covering. Back then, we wrote about everything— from startup profiles to fundraising news and feature stories explaining how the Internet and new technology worked.
In those early days, the startup craze saw people building digital layers upon offline elements without necessarily factoring in logistics and infrastructure. The format was simple: see something hot in the West and try to replicate it here. There were countless endeavours of that nature, so we had an abundance of topics to write about, but few asked hard questions or provided deep insight. We were mainly concerned with "championing the ecosystem".
Fast forward to many years later, and a lot has changed. There is far more nuance in our conversations and coverage. But there is also far more interest in the ecosystem than there ever has been. That comes with its complexities and competing interests.
In the media arena, we have more people asking hard questions and providing more thoughtful analysis. Still, often, the latter happens more publicly than the former, and the reasons for this are clear. As investor interest and attention grow around the ecosystem, there is a massive upside to positioning oneself as an oracle—as one who possesses profound knowledge and insight into a promising market that is, in many ways, up for grabs.
Investors, especially those who do not primarily operate locally or do not spend enough time on the continent to fully grasp the intricacies of the market, rely heavily on signals to make their decisions. Thus, those who can pontificate the best beam the most vital signals and have the ears and eyes of the 'money men'. This observation doesn't necessarily infer a lack of quality, accuracy, and validity of the insights on offer. But the reality is that various actors have a massive incentive to mould facts into narratives that ultimately influence investment theses and decisions.
Narratives are often crafted to benefit the well-resourced elite amongst us and thus tend to be exclusionary. They can ignore certain realities and quieten tough questions that do not favour them. There are lucrative incentives to present the various tech ecosystems around Africa with homogeneous, simplistic, and often overly optimistic language. This newsletter will attempt to push back on that dynamic.
As contributing editor at African Tech Roundup, my goal is simple: to objectively curate critical facts and insights alongside candid observations and let you, the reader, decide what to make of it all.
🎙️ UNAJUA Round-up: What do you know?
'Unajua' is a word in KiSwahili that means 'do you know?'
African Tech Roundup's UNAJUA Podcast Series features a revolving door of Villagers who know a little more than a thing or two about how things work in our ecosystem (across multiple industries), offering 'minimum actionable responses' to pertinent crowdsourced questions — in 15 minutes or less
For the inaugural UNAJUA series, Nigeria analyst and researcher Derin Adebayo stepped up to the plate to answer questions about the size and significance of commercial opportunities for tech companies in Africa. He also shared lessons the first wave of African founders have learned from running early Internet startups and factors driving the current capital boom in Africa's tech ecosystem.
In the second series, Peter Kisadha, a Ugandan founder and researcher, shared the challenges and opportunities of building a research insights business in Uganda (and anywhere else in Africa).
Then, in a punchy two-parter, Kenyan environment advocate and communications specialist, Mwihaki Mundia addressed grassroots matters by explaining why brachiaria grass is well-suited for Sub-Saharan African livestock farming, and ultimately why she (and numerous agriculture scientists) believe the indigenous fodder should be a bigger deal across Africa.
And, the latest complete UNAJUA series we've published features South African agritech entrepreneur Karidas Tshintsholo, who addressed lies most commonly told about Africa's agriculture sector and the production challenges African farmers face. Karidas also put forward some ideas about how the continent's agri-supply chain might be fixed.
(Extra: This speech by Professor Jeffrey Sachs at the 2021 UN Food Systems Pre-Summit offers a brief historical backdrop to the issues Karidas raises. It highlights how the global food system inequalities have been caused by colonialism and slavery, dubious foreign intrusions in African politics, and conscienceless capitalist greed.)
🔎 Quick views
South African card payments startup Yoco raises $83M Series C backed by Dragoneer. We won't be covering too many fundraising announcements in this newsletter — unless doing so offers opportunities for us to reflect meaningfully on ecosystem progress. A case in point is Yoco's recent headline-grabbing raise, which inspired us to dig up this conversation with Yoco co-founder and CEO Katlego Maphai (published four years ago). Couple that with this chat we had with Sureswipe Co-founder/CEO Paul Kent (published two years ago), and you will find clues as to why Yoco appears to be dominating the competitive card payments landscape in South Africa. Check out both podcasts, and let me know if you make any noteworthy observations. In the meantime, this take on Yoco's $83 million Series C by Justin Norman of The Flip offers handy insights into the broader ecosystem implications of the deal.
A bank at every corner store: agency banking is transforming Nigerian business. In a country where the economy is still predominantly cash-based, where Internet and mobile network connectivity can be shaky, and trips to the bank/ATMs are a stressful mission, mobile money agents provide a much-needed service that solves numerous consumer pain points. Even beyond financial services, agent networks have become an integral part of digital service ecosystems across Africa, as this essay by tech analyst and entrepreneur Emeka Ajene outlines.
Stears' lemonade machine and Netflix's $3 beer. In the wake of Nigerian startup Stears closing a $600,000 seed round in 2020, I wrote a piece analysing the company's strategic subscription-first first model in a market where monetising media in that way is far from the norm. However, my analysis overlooked a significant nuance — that the team at Stears is not building a media company but, instead, a technology company with a media product. The startup is helping reframe notions of profitable sustainability in a journalism media industry struggling globally.
✨ One last thing…
Heads up—the team at African Tech Roundup is pioneering new ways of building a sustainable community-led media platform. Click here to learn all about it.
And finally, as we advance, expect to hear from me once a month. If you have ideas, tips, and leads worth sharing, do drop me an email. I'd love to hear from you: firstname.lastname@example.org.