Google’s Boss Eric Schmidt Projects Kenya As Africa’s Tech Leader

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VENTURES AFRICA – After a week’s visit to sub-Saharan Africa that included meetings in Lagos and Nairobi, Executive Chairman and former CEO of Google, Eric Schmidt has labelled Nairobi as the ‘maybe’ silicon valley of Africa.

“Nairobi has emerged as a serious tech hub and may become the African leader, “Schmidt said on his Google+ post yesterday.

He added that “A combination of relatively stable politics, the British legal system, and a benign climate seem to attract a significant share of foreign investment. Incubators are hosting potential solutions to many problems, including connecting M-Pesa (their mobile money solution on simple phones using SMS) with payment systems for local stores. If they manage to get through the upcoming March elections without significant conflict, they will grow quickly.”

During his visit to Nairobi, Schmidt toured Kenya’s first innovation hub, the iHub. He hung out with the techies, visited some of the startups there and gave a presentation at Strathmore University about the importance of education to enable young people solve the world’s most challenging problems.

In his post, Schmidt said “Rwanda is a jewel with a terrible past” and Nigeria has an “international image problem.”

He describes Nigerians as entrepreneurial, stylish, educated people who have the belief that their country can emerge as the next Brazil.

Schmidt however said that “With 170 million citizens, and a record breaking eleven years of civilian elected government, the compound growth and the shared memory of real internal conflict almost guarantees (its) short term success. Future growth of Nigeria should help with its international image problem, as the real story of its success gets out.”

On connectivity, the Google boss said, “The Internet in Africa will be primarily a mobile one.” “Information is power, and more information means more choices.”

“The demographic dividend in Africa of young people is their greatest hope, in my opinion. Today high rates of unemployment show an economy underperforming to its true potential. This new generation expects more, and will use mobile computing to get it. Optimism is appropriate for Africa, as the people we met will do much more with less than we can imagine, and the devices and systems built in the first world will be used in the most creative ways in the emerging new world of Africa,” Schmidt added.

In a related development, Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki launched the Konza Technology City in a ground-breaking ceremony yesterday. Heralding the commencement of the first phase of construction works on site of Africa’s silicon savannah.

The ground-breaking event had seen substantial delays, originally having been planned for April of last year; but was postponed due to the need to re-plan some areas. Delays were also felt as the legal approval of the project and the registration of the project’s Development Authority was protracted – giving rise to popular doubts as to the viability of the whole project.