City Focus: Yaoundé
As Africa continues to embrace digital innovation, the capital city of Cameroon connects thousands of young people to the technologies of tomorrow.
In recent years, Africa has become a continent transformed and technology has been the key driver. With technology all around the world redefining everyday life and industry sectors in more mature countries and markets, Africa is currently undergoing a digital revolution. Some of the leading technology companies and service providers have turned their attentions to Africa. Only recently, Google provided an update to its Google Africa Scholarship challenge to provide Android and Web development trainings. In the announcement, it revealed that it had connected more than 8,000 developers across Africa to training and technology solutions, as well as more than 10,000 young aspiring and professional developers. It is of no surprise then, that the capital city of Yaoundé, is also significantly investing in the technologists of today to embrace the technologies of tomorrow.
In early 2018, the capital of city of Cameroon officially unveiled the Next Generation Center for Technology (NGCT). Located in central Yaoundé, NexGen is a non-profit start-up incubator, supported by Ministry of Vocational training and Employment in Cameroon and UNICEF. Its purpose? To fund mentors, nurture ideas, startups and entrepreneurs to bridge the gap in providing skills for the next generation of workers in Africa. “The NexGen links workforce education to the latest technology and is designed to achieve excellence and foster creativity amongst the brightest minds,” says NexGen.
The centre provides a diverse ‘bootcamp’ curriculum that incorporates project-based learning, connecting aspiring young technologists with real-world technology problems, and a robotics summer program that sees children and young people work with robotics and automation to solve problems with innovative solutions. This bootcamp portfolio offers courses in digital literacy, coding, graphic design, cyber security and database design management among other courses.
Another area of innovation that is proving key to developing a new generation of entrepreneurs is gaming and Yaounde is home to one of the most successful digital startups in Cameroon focused entirely on education through gaming technology.
Kiro’o Games, headquarter in central Yaounde, is an innovative game studio described as the ‘first of its kind’ in Central Africa. The company is made up of 20 young Africans with a vision to create the best digital African catalogue with a blend of video games, comics, animations and illustrations. Orginally founded back in 2004, Kiro’o Games has spent the last decade transforming not only the Cameroon gaming space, but disrupting the global industry. In 2016, the company broke new ground across the gaming industry with the release of Aurion: Legacy of the Kori-Odan. What makes the game unique is that it is one of the very first companies in the world to produce and release an African-themed role-playing game (RPG). The game was incredibly well received around the world and has cemented the company as an innovation hub for Cameroon, but the journey was one of challenge. As it approached a launch date for the game, the company was rejected by every bank it approached for funding and so it launched a Kickstarter campaign. The campaign was incredibly successful and saw more than 88 international investors invest into the company. Speaking at the time of launch, Guillaume Olivier Madiba, founder of Kiro’o Games, commented that the game and the backing from international investors represented more than simply gaming as entertainment. “Our dream is bigger than that,” he told the Wall Street Journal. “We want to build a bridge between the gaming industry and Africa.”
Recognising this responsibility, the company launched a mentoring program designed to connect the ‘missing link in the African economy’. The Kiro’o Rebuntu project is a mentoring program and fintech platform that offers the “quintessence” of the company’s 13 years, connecting more than 10,000 technology project leaders to Cameroon and wider African communities. This project is but a reflection of the company, and Yaounde’s growing emergence as a technology hub, and its vision to create an African digital catalogue hub with a user base of at least 18mn users across the continent by 2025.
“The Web 3.0 will open a world based on the shared economy, and the one that will have the formula of "Renewable Finance" will be one of the kings of this new world,” says Kiro’o Games. “For now, it looks like science fiction (like the smartphone 30 years ago), but we know that this revolution will come from Africa, and we are now starting to prepare it with Rebuntu as a first step.”
Yaounde demonstrated its commitment to embracing the technological revolution by hosting a unique event designed to realise the tremendous opportunity that technology can bring to NGOs. Through a partnership between leading global technology companies including Microsoft, Bitdefender and Autodesk, “Exploring TechSoup Cameroon and taking advantages of TechSoup Global” invited professionals and NGO representatives to explore the “firing power” of the TechSoup programs. TechSoup provides access to resources, solutions and digital knowledge for NGOs all around the world. While no plans have been announced to make it an annual event, it is but a testament to the growing recognition of the transformative effects of technology across Africa.
As Yaounde looks to the future of technology it continues to invest in the young generation of entrepreneurs and innovators of today. Africa is embracing technology now more than ever and Yaounde has already begun to show that it will play a key role in the evolving landscape.
Billionaire Kumar Birla Champions Regional Supply Chains
As the head of the Aditya Birla Group, a US$46bn firm that operates in 36 countries, Kumar Mangalam Birla is no stranger to splashy strategic moves. Yet his recent announcement that he no longer wants to acquire globally distributed supply chains stood out. While many companies have struggled to cope with shipping backlogs, his firm has chosen to pivot and focus on regional networks. Said Birla: ‘We wouldn’t look at a company or a business where you source in one corner of the world and sell in another’.
He cited protectionism, the pandemic, and the limited movement of products and people around the world as ABG’s primary causes of lost profits. And they aren’t alone. Over the past year, 900 of the U.S. and Europe’s biggest IT, defence, and financial services firms have lost an average of US$184mn apiece.
An Era of Global Disruption
Over the past few decades, low shipping rates and rapid delivery times have lulled multinational firms into a false sense of security. In the early 2000s, companies chose to take on significant global supply chain risks in exchange for increased profits. First, it made sense to manufacture higher-value goods, such as electronics, in low-cost regions throughout Southeast Asia, India, and Africa. Second, first-tier suppliers started to outsource the manufacturing of specific components to second-, third-, and even fourth-tiers—leaving supply chains with extremely limited visibility.
So when COVID-19 disruptions struck certain regions, companies were caught unprepared. Usually, these events come few and far between. But over the past ten years, we’ve seen a number of ‘black swan’ events that have thrown the supply chain industry into chaos. Here’s a quick history of the most significant events in recent years, thanks to the MIT Sloan Management Review:
- 2010. China creates export quotas for rare earth elements.
- 2011. The Tōhoku Earthquake hits East Japan; flooding sweeps throughout Thailand.
- 2016-present. Trade wars between the U.S. and China hurt suppliers.
- 2020-present. COVID-19 pandemic shuts down international shipping ports.
Now, Kumar Birla is one of many who want to re-evaluate how we run our supply chains. Though his company has acquired 40+ companies in the last quarter decade, Birla intends to build up local hubs rather than expand operations.
Why Pursue Regionalisation?
Combine Chinese economic dominance, global supply chain vulnerabilities, and major government policy shifts around the world, and you have a storm brewing on the horizon for big multinational firms. As Brookings noted, ‘the biggest risk for trading opportunities in the developing world is growing protectionism in more advanced economies, often dressed up as national security protection’.
Altogether, from the U.S. to the European Union, governments are trying to protect their domestic supply chains, secure adequate stockpiles of materials, and build world-class local networks. Consider Biden’s recent executive order, which seeks to bring semiconductor manufacturing back to home soil, or Japan’s bid to open more memory chip fabrication factories near Tokyo. The Aditya Birla Group intends to react in kind. Said Birla: ‘We’re looking at regionalism as a very big theme’.
Will Others Follow Suit?
In the post-pandemic economy, global businesses must decide whether to expand or contract. On one hand, the Alibaba Group’s Cainiao Smart Logistics Network recently launched a direct flight between Hong Kong, China, and Lagos, Nigeria. On the other, the Japanese government is desperate to make its chip manufacturing domestic. Indeed, as two supply chain strategies diverge in a post-pandemic world, the one businesses take may make all the difference.
Yet Birla is confident that regionalisation is the right call. According to his words at the Qatar Economic Forum, even necessary cross-border transactions should be smaller in scope. And as the Bloomberg Billionaires Index now lists his net wealth at US$10.4bn, up 52% from 2020, he may have the cash to test his theories out. ‘Regional hubs, regional presence, regional employment, catering to regional demand’, he stated. ‘We’re a global company rooted in local economics’.