The African continent is home to some of the world’s most innovative people and businesses. From mobile money to e-commerce, Africa is leading the way in the digital economy.
There are many reasons for this. Africa’s population is young and connected, with a growing middle class. Africans are also entrepreneurial and resourceful, with a strong culture of collaboration.
This is the Africa of today – a continent of opportunity and potential. In this blog, we explore the African stories of innovation that are shaping the future.
Many people do not know that the emergence of technology and science didn’t suddenly start in Africa but has been a part of the continent as way back as 35,000 years ago. In fact, Africa is the home of innovation.
Today, Africa houses many tech experts and start-up companies. Every day, we hear about the rise of these tech-driven companies and founders all over Africa, and it is no doubt that these tech experts are making Africans home and abroad proud. In 2020, Nigeria recorded about 3,300 start-ups, the highest in Africa, with South Africa and Tanzania following suit, with 660 and 600 start-ups. In January 2022, African start-ups raised over $400 million, solidifying the continent as an emerging market full of possibilities.
Despite how the tech giants are putting the continent on the road map and consistently contributing to the growth and development of the continent, Africa is still often poorly mentioned in the media. In this article, I will share the six areas in technology and science where Africa has impacted the world and the top 10 tech giants in Africa who are putting us on the frontier.
Size areas in technology and science where Africa has impacted the world
We often associate backwardness and undevelopedness with Africa in terms of innovation, and the reason cannot be far-fetched. Africans lack data storage. Africans have a data problem, thanks to poor policy making. Since prehistoric times, we have understood our species to mark their existence on earth.
They do this by crude-rock carvings, cave paintings with red ocher, and transmitting historical records orally at the time the written records and methods were popular with Europeans but, thanks to the new post-colonial Africa, there was an abundance of records which partly helped in measuring the horrible effect of colonialism. From the post-independence period onwards, from the 1950s, Africans had constructed physical archive centres across the continent, where historians and journalists had access and made use of them.
However, that did not last, especially in anglophone Africa. Despite the lack of data storage, we can’t still take away the fact that Africans have contributed to the technology and science industry. Below are the six areas in tech and science where Africa has created a blueprint.
Most of us are unaware that we derive the most popular middle school concepts from Africa. The development of mathematics started in Africa. The Egyptians had textbooks about maths created during the first millennia. Some of their equations were used to solve algebraic equations and used in calculating the size of the Nile river. About eight thousand years ago, people in present-day Zaire developed their numeration system, as did the Yoruba people in Nigeria.
The Yoruba system was based on 20 instead of 10 and thus required a great deal of subtraction to identify different numbers. Scholars have lauded the system because it requires abstract reasoning.
African cultures played an active role in creating breakthroughs in astronomy. We still rely on those foundations, and some were so advanced that a primitive discovery may still be possible. Ancient Egyptians charted the movement of the sun and constellations and the cycles of the moon. They developed the 365-day-long calendar and also introduced the use of moving water to make clocks back then.
The Dogon people of Mali have made a large amount of detailed astronomical observations. Many of their discoveries were so advanced that some modern scholars credit their discoveries even though the Dogon culture is steeped in ceremonial tradition, centred on several space events.
The Dogon knew about Saturn’s rings and Jupiter’s moons, the spiral structure of the Milky Way and the orbit of the Sirius star system. In the 1990s, these scientists plotted the orbits accurately. They knew this system contained a primary star and a secondary star, which were invisible to the naked eye.
High advances in metalworking and tool-making were made across Africa. The tools include steam engines, metal chisels and saws, copper, iron tools and weapons, nails, glue, carbon steel and bronze weapons and art. Advances made between 1,500 and 2,000 years ago in Tanzania, Rwanda and Uganda surpassed those of Europeans then and were shocking to Europeans when they learned of them.
African societies value buildings and structures a lot. Egyptians did incredible feats–besides the magnificent obelisks and the Egyptian pyramids. The largest of the pyramids comprises 2.25 million stones.
In the late 12th century, they discovered many cities in Zimbabwe and Mozambique, with massive stone complexes being the central hubs of cities. These walls were a 250-metre-long, and 15,000-ton granite wall. By the end of the 13th century, the empire had impressive cities full of mosques, palaces and universities.
Ancient people used many types of treatments that we use today in Africa. Before Europeans invaded Africa, medicine was more advanced in what is now Egypt, Nigeria and South Africa. Certain practices included the use of plants with salicylic acid for pain or diarrhoea, kaolin for diarrhoea, and extracts that were confirmed in the 20th century to kill Gram-positive bacteria, among others. Other plants used had anti-cancer properties, caused abortion and treated malaria – and these have been as effective as many modern-day Western treatments.
Medical procedures were performed in ancient Africa before they were performed in Europe, such as vaccination, autopsy, limb traction and broken bone setting, bullet removal, brain surgery, skin grafting, filling of dental cavities, and installation of false teeth. Africans carried out cauterization tissue, Caesarean section, and anaesthesia during the world war before the Europeans started to put a label on it.
Most of us learn Europeans were the first to sail to America. However, there are lines of evidence that show that ancient Africans travelled to South America and Asia hundreds of years before the Europeans. For hundreds of years, rivers and canals traced the booming trade routes across Africa.
There were various boats built in Africa. The boats built by Mali and Songhai were 100 feet long and 13 feet wide and could carry up to 80 tons of goods. Some genetic evidence from plants, descriptions and art from societies inhabiting South America suggests that small numbers of West Africans sailed to the east coast of South America and remained there.
Around the same time they were sailing to South America, in the 13th century, these ancient peoples sailed to China and back, carrying elephants as cargo. It is said that people of African descent come from cultures that have been rich and sophisticated.
Hopefully, over time, there will be more studies in this area and more people will know of these outstanding achievements.
Top 10 tech giants in Africa
In Africa, Nigeria’s tech ecosystem is the most talked about. This is not unexpected — Nigeria is both Africa’s largest economy and most populous nation; many also considered its tech ecosystem to be the continent’s north star. Below are the names of African tech experts and their start-ups putting the continent on the frontier.