No. 125: Osiakwan: Africa’s Time is Now

Eric Osiakwan stated this at the Africa Technology Summit a couple weeks ago, and from what I hear the Summit was a great success. Something of a debate broke out on what sub-sector of the technology industry was the next big thing in Africa. Eric pointed out communication, content and commerce and their impact on health, markets, and education. Another panelist, Pat Wilson, argued for trade finance, supply chain finance, agriculture, and women’s content (would be interested in hearing more about this).

Along the lines of the infrastructure-related solutions mentioned by Eric and Pat, I have questions like what are the latest technologies for road pavement so tractor trailers can move goods more reliably? Who is working on oil valve technology that enable oil companies to deal with oil theft a bit better? Who is developing technology to better manage port traffic?

If you have suggestions of folks with whom I should connect who are working on this stuff, let me know!

From my perspective, I think Africa’s time being now will become more tangible when conversations tackling these sorts of infrastructure questions are happening. I’ve been thinking about these questions ever since watching Something Ventured earlier this year. Watch it and let me know what questions come up for you regarding Africa’s technology sector.

Paul Graham, founder of Y Combinator, posted a tweet that I haven’t been able to track down. It said something to the effect of Silicon Valley is the product tester for the world. I bristled when I saw this, though it may be true to some extent. For Africa, mPesa has been the flag bearer for taking some of that market share away from Silicon Valley, but there has got to be more of this across the continent.

Bright Simons made a good argument in a post from years ago on leapfrogging being a set of tools and techniques that will enable Africa to hack infrastructure. Framing leapfrogging that way opens the door to systematic thinking about this: the end goal is “X”. Here is the road map to get there. Events like the Africa Technology Summit, Demo Africa, among others help get us to that systematic thinking. At least I hope they do.

This was a bit of a ramble, but I am interested in what you think about Africa’s technology sector. Leave comments below or email me.


No. 124: 3 Tuesday PM Reads – Power Struggle | Renewables Rescue the Day |Startups for Demographics

  1. Jacqueline Musiitwa shares personal anecdotes on the struggle of working in Lusaka when the power is out. Lights off is a situation Africans across the continent experience, and it impacts education, bottom lines, and general quality of life – for women, especially. Jacqueline points to initiatives like the Power Africa initiative as important in alleviating unreliable power supply across the continent.

  2. Speaking of power, Jake Cusack and other players in the renewable energy space recently shared insights on the possibilities for renewable energy and power provision now that renewable energy costs are competitive with fossil fuels. Some highlights from the piece – global subsidies for coal, oil, and natural gas totaling $550b compared to $120b for renewables; 10k customers in African countries signing up for renewable energy; and global investments in renewable energy growing from $40b in 2004 to $320b in 2011.

  3. Ablorde Ashigbi wrote a really solid analysis of the prospects for venture-backed firms seeking to serve a particular demographic. He uses Walker & Company and its first brand Bevel, a shaving system targeting black men (whenever I get out of Sampson mode and shave my beard, I look forward to using the product) as a case study.

No. 78: Shoutouts 

There should be an app that tracks when you’re bragging about your friends and sends them updates when you do. 

One of my good friends and daughter’s godmother, Livi, is pursuing her PhD at the University College London and got upgraded from a Master’s candidate to a PhD candidate a few days ago after writing a chapter of her thesis and giving a lecture to the faculty. I’m extremely proud of her. In college, she would talk about pursuing one and to see her reach a major milestone in that goal is super inspiring. 

My little brother, Kwadwo, just released a new short film called Yours Only. It’s a dope mix of a dystopian future and folks who take a moment to worship in the midst of a tough situation. 

The youngest Som-Pimpong sibling, Delali, just graduated from middle school and got an award for how she embodied the ethos of her school. I’m super proud of the beautiful young woman she is. I pity the fool who steps to her incorrectly. I’ve been picking up serious weight in the gym. 

This list could go on. It’s so awesome watching friends and family take big steps in their lives. 

No. 72: International Company ABB Invests in Michigan

Every time I see announcements of foreign companies locating operations in the US, I dream about more African companies doing the same. Companies like United Bank for Africa have US operations, but I am talking about big announcements at the scale of Porsche’s $100 million investment in its North American headquarters near Hartsfield-Jackson Airport in Atlanta, Georgia.

Granted, there is a ton of expansion opportunity on the African continent. The Dangote Group seems to invest $1 billion in a new factory in a different African country every year. Yet, as African governments, companies, and people gain control over the continent’s story, there is something strategic about seeing an African management team shaking hands with the governor and mayor of an American state and city at the announcement of a major deal.

Back in 2010, BCG put together “The African Challengers: (, an assessment of African companies poised to make their mark on a global scale outside of the African continent. SABMiller and AngloAmerican, two companies listed in the report, have long been global players in the brewing and mining industries. Perhaps, we could see the likes of an Orascom Construction or MTN Group make moves in the US one day. I’ll keep dreaming.

Tradeology, the ITA Blog

This post originally appeared on the Department of Commerce blog.

Post by Bruce H. Andrews

Deputy Secretary Bruce Andrews and ABB CEO Ulrich Spiesshofer at the Michigan ribbon cutting Deputy Secretary Bruce Andrews and ABB CEO Ulrich Spiesshofer at the Michigan ribbon cutting

I was thrilled to be in Southeastern Michigan earlier this week to participate in the grand opening of ABB’s first North American manufacturing facility in Auburn Hills.

As global leader in power and automation technologies, ABB’s investment in Michigan demonstrates their commitment to the U.S. market and is a strong signal that America has the most attractive investment climate in the world.

At the event, I was joined by ABB CEO Ulrich Spiesshofer, U.S. Ambassador to Switzerland and Liechtenstein Suzi LeVine, Swiss Ambassador to the U.S. Martin Dahinden, and SelectUSA Executive Director Vinai Thummalapally.

Our SelectUSA initiative is one way the Department of Commerce is helping international businesses like ABB enter the U.S. market. SelectUSA ensures investors can access the…

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No. 23: Three Things Africa on My Mind This Week

1. Mining and Governance in Africa – Kudos to Ghana for ramping up its move against illegal mining in Ghana with the arrests of several Chinese miners two weeks ago, and several Nigeriens a few days ago. I look forward to seeing how the country and others continue to build their capacity around governance to provide protection for their people.

2. Market Research and Private Equity – While traveling last month, I ran into a few companies doing innvoative work to collect market research in their respective countries. This is a key area for Africa’s economic growth especially as more people move out poverty into the middle class. I’m sure private equity firms will appreciate access to market research as more and more firms scout out investment opportunities.

3. Value Chain Capture – Read about Zambeef capturing its whole value chain. Interested to read more case studies from the continent.

No. 20: African Countries Drive Geothermal Development Amid US-China Brinksmanship

A geothermal well at the Menengai crater. Credit: Suleiman Mbatiah

United Nations climate talks end today in South Africa and the United States and China are playing chicken on who will take the lead in stewarding the environment well while also driving economic development. Quietly, Kenya has signed major deals just this year that will see the opening of at least three plants that will grow Kenya’s geothermal capacity to 514 megawatts (MW) by 2014. By 2030, Kenya aims for geothermal energy to make up 5000 MW of the total 15,000 MW of power the country will produce to meet growing demand – an estimated $16 billion investment. Imagine that, an African country driving the uptake of clean and renewable energy.

Experts estimate that Kenya has the potential to generate 7,000 MW to 10,000 MW. The country began developing geothermal in the 1980s and currently produces about 209 MW. In 2008, the country set its geothermal power goal in the Vision 2030 strategic plan. Since that time Kenya has aggressively grown geothermal with the 36 MW expansion of the 48 MW Olkaria III, the construction of the 280 MW Olkaria IV, and the drilling of the 1,600 MW Menengai field.

Contrary to what the Wall Street Journal reported on December 6, Kenya is not the only African country developing geothermal energy. Kenya lies within the East African Rift System that runs 6,500km from Tunisia to Mozambique. In a recent conversation with Dr. Meseret Zemedkun of the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), she explained that some countries in the East African region are looking to complement their current hydropower capacity, while others like Eritrea and Djibouti are looking for primary renewable energy sources. Ethiopia has drilled a pilot 7 MW plant. Eritrea is conducting detailed exploration. Djibouti is drilling wells, and Uganda and Rwanda are conducting semi-detailed and detailed exploration.

According to Dr. Zemedkun, “[African] countries are very keen to develop their resources.” She cited the high availability rate of geothermal compared to hydropower – 90-95 percent versus 50-55 percent. Changes in weather impact the availability of hydropower whereas geothermal energy is not impacted by changes in weather. Furthermore, enhanced technology is reducing the unit price of geothermal energy, increasing its accessibility to African countries.

Dr. Zemedkun is currently driving the African Rift Geothermal Project, an initiative that brings together several African countries in working to build their geothermal capacity. It also helps reduce the risks of exploration through exploration studies, site selection, and surface exploration. UNEP partners with the World Bank in this work, leveraging its risk mitigation fund to further the exploration of geothermal energy.

I am excited about the work Kenya is doing to develop its geothermal energy capacity. Its leadership has also kickstarted the exploration of geothermal energy in other countries along the East African Rift System. Hopefully, the US and China will figure out a way to do their part and contribute to the preservation of this earth while meeting the economic needs of their citizens.

No. 15: Incredible Uganda – Week 1

I have been eager to update you on my first week in Uganda. The past week that I have spent in Uganda has been a tremendous time of soaking in observations of Uganda’s business and governance environment.

My first meeting of the week was with Dr. Yasin Ziraba, Chairman of the National Steering Committee for the Innovation Systems and Cluster Programmes of Uganda ( This is an incredible program that works to foster innovation, collaboration, and competition among small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in Uganda. If you are into collaboration, this is a program to watch out for. I cannot wait to connect you with this program when I get back to Atlanta.

Dr. Yasin Ziraba commenting during an ICT facilitator training session for the Uganda Clusters Program

We discussed how this program brings together enterprises operating in the same sector and forms them into clusters according to their geographic location. Some examples of the successes clusters have had through this program include the following:

-The Management Consulting cluster securing a contract with Emirates Airline to hire 300 personnel for the airlines operation in Uganda.
-The Katwe Metal Fabrication cluster building an entire car from scratch.
-The ICT cluster developing a system that utilizes SMS messaging to determine Uganda’s national milk supply

Uganda has a burgeoning film industry, and I met with the Director of Uganda’s Investment Authority and the Program Director of Maisha Film Labs in efforts to gain a better grasp of Uganda’s film space.

Maisha Film Labs trains filmmakers through laboratory training sessions in partnership with the likes of Columbia University, Goteburg Film Fund, and the Danish Film Festival. After the labs, filmmakers produce four short films, some of which have appeared in renowned film festivals. Oscar-nominated director Mira Nair founded the organization in 2004, and it hasn’t looked back since.

The Ugandan government is establishing the environment for filmmakers to be successful through the creation of intellectual property laws, and the capacity building of officials responsible for enforcing such laws.

Yesterday, I and three friends had a terrific dinner with Derreck Kayongo’s parents. Derreck works at Care International and is Chariman of the Global Soap Project (, an Atlanta-based organization that reprocesses used soap from US hotels. His father told us how Derreck, at a young age, would watch him make soap. A lot of people are grateful that he was paying attention.

I have stayed with a most gracious family, the Kajjubis, who has given me an eye into people living at the bottom of the economic pyramid. They lead a church in a struggling suburb of Kampala, Uganda’s capital city. They have a vision to impact the lives of the community spiritually and economically. I have learned so much from this family in the past week. We have had incredible fellowship every day – praying, building business plans, playing soccer with the local boys. I am most grateful to my friend for inviting me to join him in visiting close friends.

Today, we leave for Bugiri, a rural city east of Kampala. Agriculture is one of Uganda’s leading economic opportunity areas, and I am eager to spend time with farmers working the land in that part of the country. I will be back in Kampala next Wednesday, and I look forward to updating you at the end of next week.