Arts + Culture

In Conversation: The Founder of Afrobytes Tells Us Why the World Needs to Focus on African Tech

We talk to Haweya Mohamed, one of the founders of Afrobytes, about the work they're doing and what kinds of tech innovations Africa can offer the world.

PARIS—Afrobytes is a technology conference for Africa co-founded by Haweya Mohamed and Amin Youssouf with the ambition of being a technological innovation hub between Africa and the rest of the world and to extend a marketplace for African technologies.


“Europe tends to look at Asian tigers and Silicon Valley while ignoring Africa" Mohamed tells OkayAfrica in an exclusive interview. "Africa has to get involved in that business competition.” 

Mohamed was born and raised in Fontainebleau, France. Her parents migrated to France in the early 1970s from Somalia. After getting her masters in communications her work in international broadcasting led her back to the continent of her origin. This helped her see Africa as a continent of opportunity instead of the "dark continent" as it was perceived growing up in Europe.

We reached Mohamed at Afrobytes headquarters in Paris where she shared her ambitions for a Silicon Africa that can boost the technology revolution on the African continent and catch up with technology in other parts of the world.

OkayAfrica: As an African raised in the diaspora what was your motivation to go back on the continent and start Afrobytes?

Haweya Mohamed: I grew up with my three sisters and brother in Fontainebleau where we were the only Africans. My mother raised us as a single mom because my father passed away when I was two years old. She has influenced my career even if she has no idea about information technology. I have always admired her strength and determination—she made things happen alone. She sent me to school and I studied with an ambition to become an English teacher, but as you know, sometimes the visions change as we grow up.

In childhood, I remember asking myself what I could do for my continent. I used to think about that while going to school. Using the example of my mother, I thought that I could start a project or company that would empower women in Africa. My field of expertise is communications. After I got my masters, I went to England where I worked with Endemol for awhile.

In 2014 when I went to work in Casablanca in Morocco, I saw many global companies coming and opening their headquarters there. I thought that there might be some opportunities there that so many in Africa didn't know. I met some Africans, mostly Senegalese, who discussed the opportunities in Africa and I learned a lot about the continent.

When I came back to Paris I met Ammin Youssouf who used to be a CEO of an advertising agency. He worked with Ferrari and he is very active in Information Technology and media in France. We shared our experiences in Africa and decided that maybe we should use technology to show another side of the continent. Here in France, many look at Africa as a place of misery and drama and nothing positive. People are skeptical about the innovation in Africa.

In November of 2015 we started Afrobytes and went to different African countries to explore more about the technological progress. We asked Africans what they needed in order to catch up with the developed countries in terms of tech. So, many people in the countries that we visited were impressed by our initiative because they often meet people from other continents who dictate to them what they need, instead of listening to them first.

Among the things that they needed were visibility, partnership, and financial empowerment. From these ideas we had an idea to create the opportunity for African innovators through the regular conferences and exhibitions where they can show to the world their products, talents and find solutions to their needs. There are so many people in big cities like New York, Paris, London, Berlin and others who would love to invest in African technologies, but the huge hindrance is often the lack of information. We want to create the bridges of technologies from Africa to other developed countries.

Haweya Mohamed Photo courtesy of Afrobytes

OKA: How is Afrobytes facing the challenges and opportunities for information technology in Africa?

HM: We have already identified different regional tech-hubs in Africa that we are in touch with who are building a strong network and doing research. Since we have started this initiative we have seen a big change in African information technology. We are making a difference by promoting a culture of business in order do away with the old culture of aid for Africa. I watched TV here in France and saw someone joking about mobile money, but it is a technology that is working well and making lots of money on the continent.

OKA: So, what kind of technologies made in Africa do you want to help bring to market?

HM: There are plenty of technologies that we can bring to the market from Africa that Western countries haven't yet adopted, including mobile money; the M-KOPA energy initiative in Kenya which recently invented a solar TV; MSPs from South Africa and plenty of other innovations in African technology. In the past we always heard of North-South cooperation but this time Afrobytes is facilitating South - South cooperation.

OKA: What kinds of achievements have you had with Afrobytes?

HM: We still have a long way to go, but we are proud of our achievements. The important thing that we have learned is that the world was in need of our services—we hosted more than six hundred representatives and interestingly some big western companies were surprised to see lots of technology innovations from the continent. The western world of technology and big international companies were impressed by African innovations in this domain. On the other side, some Africans in the diaspora and European citizens who have the roots in Africa were inspired to invest in African technology. That is Afrobytes mission, to start the revolution in the world technology business— showing what Africa can contribute. That first edition was about building momentum. Now we are creating the bridges to future generations. Nobody can hold your future in his hand. We need to take control. Africans need to know their needs and decide their future.

OKA: Africa has natural resources but it is behind in industry and infrastructure. Africa has fertile soil but many are still suffering from hunger. What will Afrobytes do to help face these challenges?

HM: Today we have a billion and a half people on the continent. Africa is still facing challenges that colonialism left to us in education, politics, infrastructure, conflict and so on. That was the legacy of colonialism. If we invest in African technology it will boost all these sectors—an African renaissance. The agricultural production that Africa could not sell because of the lack of infrastructure, can be sold because of the information technology. Youth using the technology will be able to influence the political decisions about their future, the women will be able to share their experiences about their role in the worldwide community and we will deal with all these problems through African technology as a solution of the world's problems.

OKA: You said the first edition of Afrobytes was very productive. What’s next?

HM: The next conference is in Paris from June 8th to 9th. This one is going to be more than a conference—this one will be dedicated to professionals; the audience will be as qualified as speakers. The most important thing will be to bring African technology to the world of business. We will bring together investors from Silicon Valley, Asia, Europe and all over the world who are interested in African technology and we will show them the best tech talent Africa has to offer.

OKA: How will Afrobytes engage the African diaspora in that process?

HM: I will give you an example, look at China. They're competitive today because of their diaspora! If we would create more technologies for money transfer to Africa, if we would create more marketplace for African products around the world through the new technologies, Africa would be the focus of the world in terms of information technology.

popular

Tay Iwar: Nigeria's Most Reclusive Musician Opens Up

In his most open interview ever, the Nigerian artist demystifies himself, opening up about his reclusive personality and why emotions are the biggest drivers of his art.

Tay Iwar won't touch anything that lacks a strong emotional pull. It's a driver for all the music that he makes.

He has been a satiated lover ("Satisfied"), a vulnerable sage ("Weather Song"), an existentialist thinker ("Utero"), and a straight-up loser ("Sugardaddy") across his debut album's songs. "I fell in love with you and I almost died," he sings on "Monica," the lead single off that album, Gemini.

When I ask Tay about Gemini on a hot, sweaty afternoon at his Bantu Studio in Abuja, Nigeria, he seems proud of it. Staring into the distance, he says he considers the RnB fusion record his first album which doesn't have him selling emotions to people. He is simply expressing himself now, rather than the more "packaged" offerings on his previous projects Passport (2014) and Renascentia (2016). It's huge artistic growth for a 21-year-old, one in which he is basking.

Tay, born Austin Iornongu Iwar, hated it when his father forced him to take classic piano lessons at an early age. But by the time he was 13, and midway through high school, that sentiment had become the opposite; he had fallen deeply in love with the art, making music on his computer, and teaming up with his brothers—Sute and Terna Iwar—to co-found the Bantu Collective. His first love was the guitar, but something about making music on the colourful "video game" early version of the FL Studio software got him hooked. Mastering instruments, and becoming a sound engineer gave him a high-level of understanding of music creation. At 16, he released his debut project, Passport, which became an instant niche favorite, offering him a modicum of fame and demand that surprised the artist.

Keep reading... Show less
Culture
Danielle Ekwueme.

This 21-Year-Old Entrepreneur Is Bringing Nigerian Palm Wine Into the Future One Bottle At a Time

With her bottled palm wine company "Pamii" Daniella Ekwueme is improving on tradition and filling a void in the Nigerian spirits market.

In 2016, Daniella Ekwueme, the founder of the Nigerian palm wine company Pamii, had a casual thought when looking out at her mother's land in Abuja. "She just had this farmland and she wasn't doing anything with it," she recalls. "So I was like 'Oh, have you ever thought of planting palm trees and getting palm oil or palm wine and boxing it up?"

While her mother's answer was no, the thought took hold in her young, entrepreneurial mind. She'd had palm wine—an alcoholic drink made from the sap of various species of palm trees and endeared to many Nigerians—at weddings and gatherings in the past, but it never quite "hit the spot" so to speak. "I realized that every time I've had palm wine in Lagos or Abuja, it's always off or sour. Because palm wine ferments, so the longer you leave it, it gets bitter and [undrinkable]. So anytime I've had it at weddings it just doesn't taste right to me."

This presented an opportunity for the young student who was just 18-years-old at the time and moving between Lagos, London and Abuja: she could improve upon an age-old product, still very much in demand, by revamping the production process and packaging it. After extensive research and visits to local palm wine farms in Abuja, Ekwueme decided she was ready to experiment. Along with a small team, she bottled her first batches of palm wine in December 2017, calling the product Pamii—a naturally-brewed, premium palm wine. Ekwueme's product is different—it fills a void in the Nigerian spirits market because it's actually Nigerian-made. She reminds me that while her company isn't the first to try bottling the beverage, others fell short due to "poor execution, poor branding," and failure to "cultivate a brand and lifestyle around it."

Keep reading... Show less
Music

Rouge, Moozlie, A-Reece, J Molley & The Big Hash Will Be Part of Sway’s South African Cypher

Sway will certify more South African hyenas next month.

Sway is coming to South Africa for the #CastleLightUnlocks event. The renowned media personality has proven fond of South Africa's hip-hop scene (who wouldn't be?). Sway has hosted the likes of Cassper Nyovest, AKA, Nasty C, Stogie T and Kwesta on Sway In The Morning in the last three years.

Keep reading... Show less

get okayafrica in your inbox

news.

popular.