"Africa offers many investment opportunities," says an enthusiastic Greg Wyler, a boyish-looking man in his mid-thirties. "We simply have to bring the Internet into each of these huts, and the rest will fall into place." Wyler, an American entrepreneur, hopes to launch an "African Renaissance" with his project.
His optimism reminds me of mine, a few years ago. I want him to succeed because I want the me of a few years ago to be right about Africa's potential and our ability to come back from very far. I remember that when we were looking for a motto for our non-profit, we chose "beyond the digital divide." The point was that we should not try to catch up but to leap forward. This meant that we should not be accepting old PCs that could not utilize the latest in technology but try to acquire and develop cutting edge technology which would bring Africa to the forefront of the digital age.
To make this happen, we developed a project called the African Center for Technology Innovation and Ventures (ACTIV). This center was to be a sort of incubator for high-tech entrepreneurs and a place where all types technologies from Africa and elsewhere could be showcased. The ACTIV offices are open and wired up but the center is non-operational because our business was funding the project and we could no longer fund ourselves, let alone this project. It is a pity but the experiences we have had in the country on the business side will help us in better guiding the entrepreneurs once the project is able to launch again. The most important lesson we have learned is that the main impediments to the development of technology are not infrastructure and lack of skills, but corruption and government intervention.
I am still hoping that we will one day be able to make the project happen. The Rwandan example is one of an American entrepreneur contributing to development in Africa through technology. As much as we encourage the Gregs of the world and welcome their initiatives, we also want to empower Africans themselves to build technology businesses. Just wish our governments were not so against us.