A Conversation With A Friend: Young Nigerians and Technology.

The Landscape

Yesterday, towards the end of our long conversation, I asked one of my guys when will Naija get there? I did not even finish my question before he answered: “me, I no know oh!”

The funny thing about our conversation was not even my question or the answer he gave, it was the quickness with which he answered me. You needed to be there, but I am sure you understand. Well, my guy did not let me say what my question was and he went on to say that “for everyevery, e go teeeeehhh before Naija reeassh anywhere.” I laughed and shook his hands even though he had just flicked his nose.

I am hoping though that you will ask me what’s up with that my question. First of all, let me just say that I am a very optimistic person, and I like to understand the world from a lot of angles before closing in on a decision.

However, when it comes to Nigeria, there seems to be a clear-cut response to everything. Not really though, some people will disagree but let us start from these somewhat ‘yes’ or ‘no’ questions. Do you think Nigeria will be a better place to work and live in the next 10 years? Do you think Nigerian women will be deemed equal to men in 5 years? What about technology, will our indigenous advancements dwarf our tech imports?

What answers did you come up with?

Back to my conversation with my guy. As soon as he gave me his answer, I lost every motivation to ask the initial question that I had in mind because it seemed like his answer was the answer to every Naija question. But I refuse to conclude because I have you to consult with.

For your sake, however, my initial question was about the current technological landscape of Nigeria. I wanted to understand for myself what the future of tech is for us Nigerians and I wanted to learn from another perspective by asking my guy.

I understand that not everyone is a technology enthusiast like me, but my journey into tech as a lifestyle is a funny story for another day. By the way, I am trying to push this new thing where at a glance somebody can look at somebody else and with the affirming nod of a lizard declare that that person is “tech” and it will mean a good thing.

I did the math and crunched the numbers, and I have come to the conclusion that technology will transform the lives of Africans everywhere for better or for worse. Forget about the math I did, this is not rocket science. With new startup hubs springing up across the African continent especially in countries like Nigeria, Ghana and Kenya, it is no news that Africa is seeing new light in this area.

Technological advances are good and dandy, but what is more interesting is trying to understand how they are intertwined with the social politics of everyday life. Arguably, one of the first things that come to mind when the words politics and Nigeria are mentioned in the same sentence is corruption. But who knows, maybe with tech in the equation, things might just change for good. I will not duel on this, you already know the rest of the story about how our politicians are old heads who don’t care about technology. Instead, I will focus on the exciting part – the opportunities, a short case study, and my final verdict, which should by no means be yours.

The Opportunity

Although what they do is not so clear sometimes, startups are plentiful these days. They are fast becoming workplace havens for young budding entrepreneurs a.k.a hustlers like me and my peers. I was asking one of my friends what she does for her startup firm and it took her about 30 minutes to explain her current role. I was not surprised at all because to explain mine to her took even longer. In fact, I was hooked as it made for an amazing conversation about designing solutions to multifaceted challenges that Nigerians face on a daily basis. She went back and forth about their product problem and how it was hard to develop generally acceptable solutions. I understood her plight clearly because it was my plight too. From what I got, I think her company is trying to reduce the childbirth mortality rate of Nigeria by connecting pregnant women in local communities with pre-natal and post-natal resources. This is such a hard problem to solve, but it goes to show the depth of open problems staring us right in the face. Now, I know it is not socially acceptable to ask a girl her age and trust me as a gentleman, I did not. But If I were to guess, I’ll say she’s about 22.

The truth is that there is so much young Nigerians could be doing with their time and youthful energy. What that will be in your case completely depends on you. As for me, I am quite focused on learning as much as I can now so that I can fully contribute my quota to building the Nigeria that I want to live in 10 years from now.

A Case Study

Nigeria is not alone in this struggle. When it comes to tech in Africa, the good, the bad and the ugly must be explored. Take the case of Kenya for example, according to the MIT technology review:

“Technology has changed radically in Kenya over the past decade, as it has everywhere else. Almost nine out of 10 people have a mobile phone, and a quarter of the homes have an Internet connection—among the highest rates in the developing world. In a population of about 48 million, there are at least seven million Kenyan Facebook accounts and another 10 million on WhatsApp. Twitter lags behind at only a million accounts, but it is supplanting television and print as the premier space for political critique. M-Pesa, the mobile money transfer platform, was less than six months old at the time of the 2007 election. Today, transactions on mPesa equal almost a third of the country’s GDP, and Kenya has the highest number of mobile money transactions in the world.

— Are these changes good?

These technological changes are positive at first glance, however, on a closer look, we might discover that some lapses still exist in other more serious areas. For me looking at these serious areas is what I do for a living but trying to get other young Nigerians to join me is the main challenge that I face. I am not backing down though.

To answer my question

I believe the African tech scene is a burgeoning one full of delight and exuberance. Imagine that happiness you feel when you buy the latest gadget and then imagine that same excitement on over 50 million Nigerian faces. Young Nigerians are always super excited about tech and gadgets, and this is good, don’t get me wrong, but imagine if that same energy and interest was directed to actually building these technologies. Could Nigeria become the digital interface for Africa? My version of optimism does not actually allow me to be all jolly dolly about everything, instead, it forces me to think of problems as challenges as opposed to insurmountable hurdles. This is one of those questions.

The Verdict

Advances in technology do possess great advantages for social and political growth, but they must be harnessed without bias or trepidation. For now, there continue to be high hopes that things will change, and if they do, Nigerians may be able to combine technology, politics and their social lives without any sort of excesses from political tyrants or bureaucratic die-hards. Lastly, if technological advances must be used for development, then we too must advance in our way of thinking and reasoning. I look forward to a time in the nearest future, by which I mean between 2 – 3 years from now, when it will become the norm for young Nigerians to come together to design and create technologies that solve the problems of the typical every day stressed Nigerian. Just to be poetic, I will drop my pen here, even though I can’t remember the last time I wrote something this long with a pen. Before then, however, I will quickly repeat what my guy said to me after our looonng conversation – “las las, Naija go better.”