Want to learn about African immigrants? Mr. President

Tuesday, 23 January 2018

President Trump’s comments about immigrants coming from “shithole” countries are continuing to stir up controversy internationally.

And while the language itself is bad enough, the president and his advisors need to also reboot their assumptions about the African continent — not just for the immigration debate but for U.S. foreign policy considerations.

Among other sweeping changes, Africa is in the midst of a tech boom that’s reshaping the culture, politics and economies of many of its countries. African immigrants are key drivers of this digital movement. And African tech companies are now generating revenue and creating jobs in the USA.

Sure, just like any region in the world, the continent has its goods and bads. Many of Africa’s stereotypical problems — conflict, poverty, corruption — have not vanished. But nearly two decades of improved stability, economic growth and reform have come together to create some bright spots. Rapid modernization and a growing technology scene are among them.

Africa now has more than 316 tech hubs, accelerators and innovation spaces across IT hotspots in Ghana, Kenya, South Africa, Nigeria and Rwanda. Thousands of African startups are moving into every imaginable sector: from blockchain, logistics and education to healthcare and agriculture.

And hundreds of millions of dollars in venture capital is flowing to these startups, with the expectation that some of their solutions for Africa’s 1.2 billion people will produce significant ROI.

The continent minted its first billion-dollar unicorn — e-commerce venture Jumia — in 2016. And at least one big technology company in Africa, Naspers, regularly makes outward investments in Asia, Europe and the Americas.

Over the last five years, just about every big-name U.S. tech company, including FacebookGoogle and Netflix, has expanded in Africa. IBM built a $100 million research initiative based in Kenya to create an African version of Watson, dubbed Lucy. Uber operates in eight African countries and is testing product options on the continent that could end up in its cars in London, New York or DC.

Africa is now exporting technology and innovation that has the potential to impact the U.S. The solar-powered BRCK Wi-Fi device, developed in Kenya, helps connect people in internet dead spots on five continents. The Andela coding accelerator is shaping African programmers who work for global Fortune 500 companies.

African mobile payments solutions in Kenya and Nigeria are used as digital finance case studies by big banks across the world. In 2016, Africa incubated the first national drone delivery program at scale through a partnership with American robotics startup Zipline and the government of Rwanda, which has been studied by the FAA for application in the U.S.

And behind all this technological innovation is a new generation of African tech enthusiast and entrepreneurs. Many of them have stronger ties to the U.S. than any other region in the world.

The original founders of the continent’s big e-commerce startups, Jumia (Tunde Kehinde and Raphael Afaedor) and Konga (Sim Shagaya) went to Harvard Business School and worked in the U.S.

BRCK co-founder Juliana Rotich

BRCK co-founder Juliana Rotich is a University of Missouri grad and MIT Fellow. Nigerian fintech entrepreneur, Tayo Oviosu, founder of fintech firm Paga, studied at Stanford and worked at Cisco before launching his digital payments company in Lagos.

And Nigerian immigrant Chris Folayan — founder of e-commerce venture MallforAfrica — is using his platform to boost U.S. exports in Africa and profits for American companies.

With its proprietary payment and delivery system, the site allows partners such as Macy’s, Best Buy and Auto Parts Warehouse to sell in Africa. Through MallforAfrica’s eBay collaboration, American individuals and small businesses are generating revenue in the U.S. through online sales in Africa.

And MallforAfrica — a tech startup founded by an African immigrant — is now employing Americans at its Portland processing center. It plans to expand with a new U.S. location in 2018.

So circling back to Shithole-gate, when it comes to Africa and African immigrants, there’s a lot more for the president and his administration to consider when it comes to policy and characterizations of the continent. Africa’s technology sector, IT entrepreneurs and their growing connections to the United States should factor highly.

Credit: TechCrunch

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