VENTURES AFRICA – The man known as the “Bill Gates of Ghana” believes there are three factors to achieving African economic growth: mobile technology, internet, and good African minds.
Herman Chinery-Hesse is the founder and chairman of SOFTtribe, Ghana’s leading software development agency. Having been born in Ireland, educated in the US, and having gone on to work in the UK, Chinery-Hesse moved to Ghana in 1990 determined to be part of the wave of Africans taking control of the continent’s future.
In Chinery-Hesse’s opinion, the only way to develop the continent is through clever Africans seizing upon and effectively using the mobile and internet technologies that are spreading across Africa.
The first important premise necessary for growth, Chinery-Hesse says, is that Africans become empowered and take over the reins. He explains: “Only Africans can develop Africa. I don’t know of any country in the world, once again, where a bunch of foreigners came and developed the country… I don’t know where that formula is coming from; there’s no precedent… We have to sink or swim ourselves. And Africa can!”
He laments the fact that the African population lacks the insight to understand that while infrastructure on the continent may be lacking, the human resources for excellence are present. He notes: “Technology is the only way for Africa to get rich. We don’t have proper infrastructure and we can’t compete in manufacturing. But if you put me behind a PC and tell me to write software for a Chinese customer, then I can compete brain for brain with anyone trying to do the same thing in the US.”
Next, Africans must harness the networking power that mobile technologies have presented to the continent. In a location which has a 1 billion population spread across a 31.2 million square kilometre area – often without good transport connections – the consumer demand is abundant. With the advent of mobile communications, entrepreneurs are placed in an ideal position to reach out and respond to demands.
“Our rural populations were in a black hole…You couldn’t speak to them. You had to go on a screwed-up road and cross a river and so on but today they all have mobile phones. Suddenly they’re part of a mobile community and that’s 50% of our population. It’s boom time, you can sell them all kinds of things from shoes to cement to building materials… it’s made things efficient. Even if you have to drive to the village, you don’t go there blind; you make sure Kofi is home first,” the “Bill Gates of Ghana” comments.
And finally, he extols the importance of internet in the development process – a theme that is being increasingly taken up by businesses and politicians alike, as the continent pushes to expand internet penetration. He notes of the population in Africa: “some have internet and suddenly people are getting educated online, trading online, and this is the future.”
Fiercely dedicated to the African continent, Chinery-Hesse came to Ghana in 1990 and began developing software relevant to the African market on his personal computer, from his parents’ home. Soon out-growing the bedroom, he moved to the house’s garage to continue developing his programs while growing his reputation and customer base.
Before he knew it, SOFTtribe became the leading business management software developer in the country, and was providing services to over 250 highly-reputed customers, including Guinness, Nestle, Unilever and the Ford Foundation, to name but a few. SOFTtribe is also a Microsoft development partner.
Chinery-Hesse has earned himself a global reputation, and aside from being dubbed “Ghana’s Bill Gates”, has received global recognition through a number of awards. In 2005, he received a Millennium Excellence Award for IT (his second nomination for the award); and has also been recognised as an Outstanding Ghanaian Professional by UK-based GPA Awards, as well as being bestowed with the Distinguished Alumnus Award from the Texas State Alumni Association and Texas State University-San Marcos (USA), making him the first and currently only African to receive the award.
Humble and renowned for his sense of humour, Chinery-Hesse believes in patience and honesty in all aspects of life – including business.