Kashifu Inuwa, the Director General, National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) had an interview with Sueddeutsche.de during the conference with Ludwig von Bayern Startup Lions, Germany.
He made it clear that the countries of Africa want to participate in the digital revolution, but must develop their unique models to cater for the needs of the continent while serving the global market.
Kashifu Inuwa has the young people on his side. “The average age in Nigeria is 19,” he says, “We have a demographic advantage.
He wants to use that: “We can become the global IT talent factory.”
The 42-year-old is rather lanky, he speaks softly, carefully and in a structured manner.
In his home country Nigeria, he is a well-known man. Since 2019, he has headed the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA). Its mission is to advance Nigeria’s digital transformation.
Inuwa has big plans for Africa’s most populous country. By 2030, he calculates, there will be a global shortage of 85 million IT professionals. Nigeria’s young population could fill the gap with digital products and services. Today, the country already has almost 220 million inhabitants; by 2030, this figure is expected to rise to more than 260 million.
Africa is a digital continent, a continent of the mobile web that has more or less skipped the age of the stationary computer.
Mentors and creative’s on the continent dream that Africa can give something of its fascination with technology back to the world.
That might be necessary. Silicon Valley, which has shaped the digital world, is in crisis. Mass layoffs and deep mistrust of Facebook, Apple & Co., whose business models many see as exploitative and manipulative, are taking their toll on the US industry. That there are other visions for the digital future in other parts of the world was shown last week at the DLD digital conference in Munich.
Kashifu Inuwa envisions his country becoming a kind of digital workbench for the world. “You can live in Nigeria but work for Western countries,” he says, “the first start-ups offering this are already there. So far, India has been leading, he says, and he wants to change that. The world has almost ignored Africa “because people think that nothing happens here economically anyway”.
The DG of NITDA counters with an example: When the British-Sudanese entrepreneur Mo Ibrahim founded a mobile phone company in Sudan, he was advised against it. It would not work, the people were too poor. The opposite happened, “after a few years, Ibrahim sold his company Celtel, which was now active in 13 countries, for 3.4 billion dollars”.
Of the seven African unicorns – start-ups worth more than a billion dollars – five are from Nigeria, says Abdullahi. The government is supporting the IT industry, for example with money for start-ups. It is also working on a law to support the IT industry. The head of the digital agency is never tired of praising the advantages of his country, the talented young people, and the comparatively good economic development.
However, he does not talk about Nigeria’s many problems on his own; you have to ask him about them. Corruption, he says, exists because people lack the right means to apply for state benefits. “If everything is digital and transparent, how can someone demand a bribe?
Corruption is only one of many problems in the country. This year is the presidential election, and observers like the UN fear outbreaks of violence.
In the fragile state index, a ranking of 179 states compiled by the international non-profit organisation Fund for Peace, Nigeria is in 16th place – from the bottom. In a country with many population groups, languages and religions, the situation is too unstable.
Inuwa counters that Nigeria has had a stable democracy for 24 years and that economic recovery will improve the situation.
“Come and discover the silver lining,” he urges Western companies. But what he doesn’t want is a second colonisation – through data: “The technology companies have more data than any country,” says Abdullahi.
That endangers democracy, he says. He plans to make Nigeria a model state in Africa, following the EU’s strict data protection rules. A law to this effect is in the works.