Representatives from over 100 tech companies gathered in Nairobi Tuesday for the start of a two-day conference that brought together some of the leading lights of the continent’s ongoing digital revolution.
The China-Africa Mobile Internet Economy Summit featured workshops, panels and showcases spanning a diverse range of commercial applications for mobile technologies. Attendees highlighted how advancements in digital tech are reshaping the way Africans do business in the fields of agriculture, finance, entertainment, communications and logistics.
The summit was largely funded by TECNO Mobile, the Chinese cell phone-manufacturing juggernaut that, together with other Transsion brands like Itel and Infinix, sells more phones on the continent than any other.
But the activities of the mobile tech powerhouse are not limited to hardware alone. App innovations from Transsion, like Vskit – a short video platform similar to other Chinese software hits like TikTok – are also beginning to make their mark.
“It’s a mobile app that allows users to create, share and explore videos which are cool and fun,” says Vskit’s Overseas Head Daniel Lin, “but it’s also a social community that connects video creators and their fans.”
For Lin, the app’s singular focus on local markets is a big part of what sets it apart from the competition. “It’s the only short video app focused on Africa in the whole world,” he says. “More than half of our local staff come from Africa and they play a very important role in the team.”
Transsion Vice President Arif Chowdhury echoed a similar sentiment. “We always believed that localised products should be marketed by a localised team” he told us. “That’s why TECNO has been emphasising local employees.”
For observers, it comes as no surprise that some digital economy models which have found success in China are proving to be profitable in Africa as well, albeit in localised ways. Tech commentator and legal analyst Alexandria Williams says conditions are ripe for a boom like China saw in past decades to play out here on the continent next.
“A lot of Chinese investors, when they come to Africa, see a similar story in what’s going on here. Thirty years ago, people did not think that China could develop its own native tech industry or that this industry could be profitable. What China did have that people there were able to see was high human capital, high literacy rates and a high population. A lot of Chinese investors are seeing the same things here and they’re ready to invest.”
China’s tech infrastructure investments as part of the country’s Digital Silk Road scheme have topped 8 billion dollars in five African countries alone.