Africa can also create solutions for the world

The phrase ‘we are living in interesting times’ could never be truer. We indeed are. My ability to write these words on this site such that anyone located anywhere in the world with access to internet can read was something that was just starting to be conceived 20 years ago but was inconceivable to vast majority of the human population. Even now, it is still incomprehensible to almost half of global population how the internet works. A whole new economy has emerged on the internet redefining how we communicate, work and live. And it is only just beginning.

In this new digital revolution age, there is nothing stopping Africans from creating solutions for the rest of world despite our state of economies. This does not mean that we neglect or fail to solve the current problems pervading the continent: food shortages, healthcare, poor infrastructure and the rest. We should of course dedicate major resources to solving these. However, I also think that the new technological revolution powered by technologies such as internet, blockchain, internet of things, smart cities can also be contributed by Africans and be used in different parts of the world. I think It is therefore okay not to think local when developing something or thinking about a solution. With these new technologies the possibilities of new careers has been stretched further.

I think this possible because new economies will be powered by whole new business models some of which do not exist yet or have not become mainstream yet. Furthermore, the new developments are powered by digital technologies which are not limited by current national boundaries. Young people have a chance to learn these and apply them anywhere. The definition of work boundaries is rapidly changing. Someone can work with a client in another continent without setting foot in a plane.  The convergence of digital technologies that are powering the third industrial revolution, will change how people work and geopolitical boundaries will be redefined. This is already happening. For example, a computer programmer, a graphic designer, a writer can work for a company in USA from Kenya. A blockchain developer or miner can be part of a global interconnected crypto community and using computers to verify transactions for a person halfway around the world. There is no reason why a developer in any part of Africa cannot build software that is deployed or used in another part of the continent and beyond. The interconnected nature of the new world is such that we can learn about what is happening in another part of the world almost instantaneously. Knowledge and information is now decentralized like never before. When a new way of doing things is discovered in one part of the world, it easily spreads to other parts of the world. Therefore a young person living in Kenya can develop expertise about a particular subject and use that know-how to provide skills to another person or company  regardless of geographical location.

The convergence is also being powered by ability of people to work and collaborate over vast distances through peer to peer networks. Authority and influence is also shifting from vertical to horizontal. Unlike the past industrial revolutions that were highly resource intensive and could only work in a centralized manner, the new digital connectivity means information is fast and the cost of production brought down significantly, at least for virtual related world. Barriers to entry such as technical know-how and capital have significantly been reduced in new digital era.

Smart governments understand this and are laying the groundwork to anticipate these changes. The initial infrastructural costs of powering these developments will be very important in setting the ball rolling.  This will further inform better policy rather than outright banning or copy-pasting policy. For example, the way Kenyan government set out to lay the ambitious undersea internet cable was a leeway for increased connectivity rates, at least in urban areas that has unleashed opportunities in the internet space.


Africa Undersea cables, 2014. image courtesy of mybroadband

Government players, institutions such as universities, research bodies should be intentional about wanting to facilitate these developments.  Funds will need to be directed to research, training and awareness  on these new areas:fast and affordable internet, internet of things, smart grids systems, distributed systems. The knowledge gained in these areas can be used globally especially for blockchains which adopts a decentralized architecture. If our people are equipped with that mindset, nothing stops us from using our skills and opportunities to work and collaborate and build solutions for people across boundaries notwithstanding local situations.

It is hard to stop an old system all at once, but what we can do is begin to channels state and local funds. At some point the economy will be made up of hybrid populace both in terms of skills and world-view. We will have a section of the population that reside locally but work for a company in SA for example, with colleagues in Seattle, Shenzhen and Buenos Aires. Instead of just waiting for free-market forces to dictate the way forward, intentional steering while allowing for creativity and innovation around these areas would push us forward. This would also make us not just consumers of these new technological products but also makers of them and hopefully bringing the African experience to the world stage.




In this post, I share some of recent documentaries I have enjoyed. They are not based on any particular topic but areas of general interest.

Shenzhen: silicon valley of Hardware: Shenzhen’s approach to innovation and building companies is quite different from Silicon Valley’s. The major prevailing notion is that Shenzhen and generally China’s innovation is based on copycat mentality. But this documentary explores this idea more to show that it is rooted on idea and opinions on open-source and intellectual property and that instead of always building things from scratch, sometimes it is easier, faster and more efficient to make improvements on existing products. Funny how the concept of open source seemed far-fetched but is now going mainstream especially with things such as public blockchains. Also some other things like the inevitable process of gentrification that is as a result of government trying to ‘upgrade’ a place.

Another closely related documentary is: Holy Land: Startup Nations, Israel’s innovation  amidst the prevailing conflicts with Palestine which has also its own share of innovation and how innovation permeates the prevailing social/political situation in the region. Other themes include influence of military training on innovation- most young people first join military at 18 before proceeding to college. Click here for the full video. Innovation and ideology are closely tied.

 The revenge of electric car: story of the complicated journey of start, almost failure and re-birth of electric cars. What many might not know is that GM was actually first to manufacture electric car long before Tesla, then stopped, saying they would never work, and that’s just in 2005. Then later, the launch of Tesla Roadster in 2008 revamped the excited from other manufacturers and now mainstream electric cars seem a reality more than ever.


The men who built America: A three part docu-series about a small group of industrialists pioneered various industries. John Rockefeller(Standard Oil), Cornelius Vanderbilt(Railroads), JP Morgan(banking), Andrew Carnegie(steel industry) and Henry ford (cars).


 modern urban cities: Abu Dhabi, with all its glory. The storyline of this documentary is showing the progress, the exquisiteness of a modern advanced city. But you can also feel the underlying story of  intersection of high city life and ordinary people, especially small scale traders, which is a story of almost any major upcoming city in developing world.


The India’s smart city plan is also a notable view.

A decent review by DW of promising Africa innovation scene

why Germany continues to be the richest country in Europe: families manufacturing businesses that continue to thrive by a combination of management practices, apprenticeship, investment in R&D.


blog classics

I am a sucker for good old wisdom and to see how people were thinking then and relate it to now. There are some archived blogs that i find interesting.

Let’s start locally, Ory Okolloh’s blog has insights about her views on politics, social justice na kadhalika as she calls it. Last blog post was in 2010. Gives you a feel of kenya, africa and global affairs between 2005-2010 especially.

The immediate former CEO of Uber, Travis Kalanick has an old blog called swooshing that was last updated in 2010. It offers his insights on startups, investing and technology in general. One post even predicted what would happen to a company once its reputation is in question, especially in relation to past dealings. for example this quote is lifted from one of the blogs ‘ But I think that reputation is anything but dead, and instead will become more important than ever. With more data and info getting on the net, and as the tools to decipher fact from fiction get better, reputation becomes more accurate, and significantly more valuable‘.

If you are into technology, startups and related insights i find Mark Essien of  , Mark Cuban and Fabrice Grinda’s equally thrilling.  These are still updated once in a while.

would love to hear your suggestions on favourite old blogs that are not updated anymore.


PRISONER’S DILEMMA- occurs when two completely rational individuals fail to cooperate even if it would seem that cooperating would lead to favourable outcome for both. ie when two prisoners are in jail and asked to betray each other. Betraying each other would make each of them worse off, remaining silent would make each of them better of.  However, since they do not know how the other party will react, they are most likely to try and betray the other person and end up being worse off: longer jail time.

lesson: in market economics, cooperation is sometimes better than non-cooperation. If one party protects themselves at the expense of another party, there is greater chance of greater losses if the other party also makes a decision. 

RACE TO THE BOTTOM- government undertakes measures to deregulate the business environment through measures such as tax cuts in order to retain economic activity by attracting investments in a certain region. The consequence, if not well monitored could be poor standards. In corporations, happens when competitors attempt to undercut the other by lowering standards such as safety standards in order to make a product more affordable. It is referred to as race to the bottom  because it could be destructive/unethical since some of the safety/product specifications are ignored thereby harming of society in general and even the corporation in the long run. As competition intensifies, some companies may adopt policies that ensure costs of production are reduced at all cost- eg low pay, ignoring some safety standards etc in order to offer low product prices to undercut the other competitor.

FREE RIDER PROBLEM/TRAGEDY OF THE COMMONS : free rider problem occurs when people are able to use a public resource without paying for it. For example through taxes. It occurs when consumption cannot be restricted eg, use of a public road, public library etc. Free rider problem is basically when the public tend to shrink/ignore their responsibilities at the expense of others, leading to Tragedy of the commons. The tragedy of the commons happens when people seek personal gain at the expense of the society. For example, overusing a public resource and ending up depleting it completely leading to a scenario whereby no one is using it. Examples would probably be-traffic jams. Roads are meant to be used by general public and everyone would try to maximize their payoff by using the road. what happens when public transport system becomes unreliable? People buy their own cars in order to get to work faster. But it ends up clogging the roads and everyone gets stuck. One way to solve is ensuring decision makers have direct consequence over the decisions. ie. those responsible for public resources should be using them in the first place, what Nassim Taleb called skin in the Game. This could result in some urgency in fixing the problem.

ZERO SUM VERSUS NON-ZERO SUM GAME: simply put, zero-sum games happens when one person’s gain equals to another person’s loss. meaning that the net change in wealth or benefit is zero. Zero sum game is not necessarily a bad thing if it is positive zero sum game, for example trade. When two people trade, there is exchange -one person loses something and other gains, but both are happy participants, and have anticipated gains from the engagement. Buying and selling options and futures is zero sum game,one has to lose for the other to gain. Everyone cannot outperform the market, some will have to lose. Stock market is not zero sum game. Non-zero sum game occurs when the aggregate gains and losses are less or more than zero.

EXTERNALITIES in economics can be either a cost or benefit incurred or received by a third party who has no control over its production. The basic and most straightforward example is pollution, when a company pollutes and the people who have no association with the company end up paying for it-by damaged health. There could also be positive externalities such as clean environment, healthcare system that ensures a healthy population that is able to contribute positively to nation building. Knowledge accumulation by population is also positive externality. R&D by corporations could be positive externality.

Butterfly effect : is the concept that a simple thing can cause far more impactful/unseen and even unintended consequences. The concept is imagined that when a butterfly is flapping its wings, it is causing a typhoon. Ofcourse, a butterfly cannot cause a typhoon.  It is mainly used in chaos theory. Some small acts of people may cause far greater consequences than intended. In history of the world, it is assumed that it is great events than caused great impact but in reality, it is small acts of people that spread like wildfire. In markets and business, sometimes it is hard to predict because sometimes things happen from what appears to chaotic behaviour partly because everything is highly interconnected.

ACTING IN SELF INTEREST IS THE INVISIBLE HAND THAT RUNS THE ECONOMY: when a person acts in self-interest and ends up benefiting others. for example, a farmer who plants in order to sell and get money, ends up creating a whole ecosystem from farm to processing industries, to transport, to logistics, to restaurants to the person buying the food. The farmer most probably did not intend to affect all that, he/she wanted to feed their family, get some money. Acting in self-interest does not therefore necessarily mean something bad. It is this principle that underpins blockchain. For the blockchain transactions to be verified, mining has to take place(verification of transactions). Miniers do so in order to earn some tokens/coins not necessarily in order to help the blockchain ecosystem, but in them doing so, end up sustaining the blockchain ecosystem. So in order to get even millions of people to cooperate even without them knowing or intending to, look out for their self interests. Another quote says ‘incentives run the world, understand incentives, direct or indirect and you understand people’. The good thing is that people can cooperate in millions even without government control or a structure as long as each party is benefiting. Self-interest and competition are what Adam Smith termed as ‘invisible hand’ that runs the economy. Self-interest is the motivator while competition is the regulator.

The blockchain promise

I have not been able to post on this blog for a while. I took time to work on a few projects one of which is CoinWeez . It is a platform for sharing information, news, reviews and all things blockchain. Together with a few friends, we thought of starting the site after we realized there was not much being discussed about blockchain especially from Kenyan/African perspective. The site will also try and focus more on the broader blockchain ecosystem to analyze the opportunities as well existing challenges in this technology. It is still a work in progress but it is something we think is exciting to watch. coinweez Yellow

Everyone has a different angle, opinion about the blockchain. It is okay to appreciate individual biases in any article/opinion expressed about blockchain. Notwithstanding, in the last couple of years, we have observed many industries coming up with the intention of disrupting the middlemen in various industries. Airbnb, Uber, Alibaba, Amazon etc all have one agenda: to eliminate the costly middleman and use a centralized software to aggregate the marketplace and connect buyer and seller in a more efficient way. That has been the model of many consumer facing startups in e Commerce, travel and marketplaces. Marc Anderson even penned the now famous article ‘software is eating the world‘ as a pointer to how internet-based businesses have been thriving and even co-founded a venture capital firm a16z with the same mission statement.

Now there seems to be a new aspect: blockchain could further change this dynamic by introducing decentralized ledger system instead of centralized software.  The decentralized system adopts the concept of peer-to-peer networks and therefore running the system through nodes within a network.  To make it work, the community is incentivized to run the network through the process of mining which is basically verifying transactions.  Blockchain achieves two inherent goals: ability to build trust and data sharing without the need of a centralized system or meeting the other party. Another interesting facet is smart contracts. They could represent the final puzzle in order to enable two parties to enter into a binding agreement without need to meet and is all enforced on the blockchain as a well a variety of other digital assets. Smart contracts especially, are promising because of the ability to build decentralized applications on top of Ethereum blockchain and this could bring forth new applications/industries. Check out more articles on coinweez exploring different dynamics of blockchain.

The biggest focus has of course been on Bitcoin, the decentralized cryptocurrency introduced in 2009. The prices have been skyrocketing like crazy and there are two completely different camps on this. Some believe that Bitcoin is going to be adopted world over while others believe it is a scam/hype that is going to die down and it is a bubble. This is a long discussion and that could probably be a subject for another post.  However, I am intrigued by the concept that is blockchain and what it could mean for various industries. In terms of investing in  cryptocurrencies (they are in thousands now), that is based on personal research just like any other investment. In every technology, there are innovators, early adopter, early majority, late majority. The biggest challenge of any technology is crossing the chasm  which is the stage between early adopters and the early majority. For the vast majority to use a new technology or just about anything, people need assurance, stability and such like things. I think Bitcoin and blockchain  in general will appeal to more with continued improvements in aspects such as application, stability, ease of use. In the meantime, there is lot of volatility.  We will see what happens. Back to investing, i think Barbel strategy is a good strategy to use when investing in anything.  I came across it from Nassim Taleb. Taleb advocates that 85% of your earning should be put in ‘safer investments’ such as money markets, Saccos, fixed deposits, bonds etc.
Then 10-15% into ‘risky investments’ such as venture capital, equity investments and probably now cryptocurrencies. With time, one can then raise their portfolios based on experience in the industry and other improvements. When one side starts winning, then you double down.


It’s like playing both attack and defensive football. The way Jose Mourinho approaches footballing-extreme on both fronts but nothing in the middle. You can score goals but not likely to lose and if you win, it is a win that many are not expecting. Like Ferguson says, ‘Attack wins you matches but defence wins you titles’.Being conservative but when you have a chance, even slight, you go for the kill.

Moving on, Mark Cuban advice to  Vanity fair employees is to diversify and if you are a true adventurer, things like Bitcoins, limit it to lower percentages, it’s like being an art collector- if you are more intrigued by it, then you will not mind the price point placed on it.  I think this is a reasonable way to approach investing. Actually that is how venture capital works. A venture capital portfolio consists of a group of companies. Most likely not all of them will succeed but ones that do have greater upside thus offsetting the not so good returns. In startup investing, for example Y Combinator  invests in early stage startups in batches. Each year YC invests in more than 200 startups a year.  Of Course most do not go on to become great but the breakthroughs have such a large upside that it offsets the losses. Take for example, the market cap of all YC companies so far is about $80 billion. Airbnb, Stripe, DropBox all which came out Y Combinator make more than half of that market cap. I think it’s a good strategy to try in smaller scale but nothing is bulletproof of course.

But overall, blockchain is an interesting space  to explore and that is what we’ll be doing at CoinWeez. I will resume  posting  articles on this site on all things, startups, ideas, innovation, the world, Africa rising etc. I have many drafts that i have not really edited but will try to post- generally curating based on what i am gathering on all these aspects.

2018 up next




forerunner entrepreneurs in Kenya

It is said that for one to know where they are going, it is important to understand where they are coming from. In the case of entrepreneurs in Kenya, it is necessary to understand the challenges, successes of previous generation in order to have a solid basis for future growth. This post is like a book review of “A profile of Kenyan Entrepreneurs” by Wanjiru Waithaka and Evans Majeni. The two authors have done a good job of trying to document some of the environment that some of the forerunner entrepreneurs faced in Kenya. They come close to documentary named “The men who built America” detailing the work of American forerunner entrepreneurs such as Henry Ford, J.P Morgan, John Rockefeller and Carnegie. I believe in telling of stories. That is how information, lessons are passed from one generation to another. As I said in an earlier post (Here), it is important for those who came before us to document their failures and successes in order to provide context to those who come after them. It’s a fascinating tale of the business environment before independence, the coffee boom, the africanisation policy in 1970s, political corruption and new hope in 2000s. The book covers more than a dozen entrepreneurs such as Ibrahim Ambwere, Sunil Shah, Esther Muchemi among others but i only review three in this post.

profile k

S.K Macharia: A compelling account of struggles and successes of a pioneer in many things in Kenya. Went to study in USA under very challenging conditions, (took a bus from Nairobi to Kampala to Juba then to river Nile then to Benghazi,  before crossing the Mediterranean by ship to London and finally USA, a 3 months journey!!).  He came back and worked in civil service for a while before delving into business. He has had many businesses. Matatu business (failed), Ngwataniro enterprises- a project to manufacture clothing pegs, Madhupaper, one of the first tissue manufacturer in Kenya (lost it under unclear court cases, government interference), Royal Credit Limited -a hire purchase system that evolved to a credit card system), and finally Royal Media services. It’s a riveting tale of political impact on business environment, resilience, failures and successes. In between, you get a glimpse of how the famous ‘Biashara Street came to be, due to “Africanisation agenda’ by Jomo Kenyatta, KIE (Kenya Industrial Estates) role in supporting early business environment after independence.  Provides great context to the type of businesses that operated that time.

Manu Chandaria: Manu joined family business straight from his studies in USA and rose to become the CEO and Chairman of Comcfraft Group, an industry behemoth producing everything from plastics, steel, aluminium products. Indians plans their family direction long into the future. They ensure their kids gets educated as much as they want and then try to convince them to join the family business. They don’t prefer their siblings to work for multinational business but for family business, so they set up systems early enough to absorb them. He studied mechanical engineering in order to fit better into family business which was involved in manufacturing. He subsequently engineered production of everyday usage products such as sufurias, PVC pipes, aluminum tiles, exercise books and many others. These were products that were in high demand and they kept expanding.  They focused on areas they had experience- aluminium pots and pans, galvanized roofing sheets, steel galvanized pipes and tubes. However, as more family members joined the business, they ventured into new frontiers based on changing market dynamics. The new family members joined ranks with older family members to create immense pool of knowledge and skills. To show you how long term oriented they are, The Comcraft’s group investments in Africa were considered ‘sunset industry’- sufurias, pipes, roofing sheets, tubes etc, while also investing in new ‘sunrise industries’ in US, Canada, New Zealand such as ICT, media and electronics. In early years, they focused on what was needed in Africa especially after independence. Currently, Africa accounts for 25% Comcraft’s Group size, Europe and North America- 40% and South East Asia and Australia at 35%. A great analysis of how Indians plan their businesses long into the future and long term wealth creation.

Elizabeth Okello: She has accomplished many firsts. First African woman  bank manager, Barclays bank, first woman adviser to the President of the African Development Bank-Abidjan and later thrusting herself to more unstable environment as first chair of Kenya Women finance Trust. After that she co-founded Makini  Schools in 1978. . Makini School was among the first private primary school institutions. started as a nursery school, Makini schools expanded to Junior, middle and upper sections, later secondary and now even college to make up Makini Group of schools.  She advances the idea that people should always look to grow and expand instead of being comfortable with a small business- moving from a kiosk to a shop, to a store to a supermarket, a concept she was adopted with Makini Project.

Myke Rabar: One of the pioneers of turning deejay as a career and forming a media powerhouse, Homeboyz Entertainment comprising of: Homeboyz Radio, Deejay Academy, record label. Homeboyz was also involved in making of ‘Tinga Tinga Tales’ launched in BBC pre-school channel CBeebies in February 2010 and later sold to Playhouse Disney. This was a breakthrough project for Kenya involving fully equipped animation studios employing local designers, writers, musicians and animators. Homebeoyz DJs were pioneers of Radio Mix in Kenya through Tv show (H20), first DJ outfit to start a radio station, organised events in East Africa through working with Coca-Cola, EABL, Unilever, MTV Base Africa among others.

Myke started with free gigs in high school through to UoN, in 1990s, forming ‘Bad Boys’ and ‘The Crew’ later named Homeboyz. Started ‘Campus Night’ in clubs along town, selling tapes to matatus. He was later joined by his brothers and his wife to form a formidable force. Some ventures failed along the way too. ‘The Boxx’ opened in 2005 at Nakumatt prestige on Ngong Road to sell CDs failed: too expensive to maintain, music pilferage, and culture of buying music was too low. Another one ‘HomeGalz’ an all-girl crew launched in 2000 failed. The deejay academy took off.  Also ventured into sound hire industry through ‘SoundTraxx Touring’, studios and ‘Aktivate’- handles roadshows, experiential marketing and product launches. Homeboyz Records commonly known as “Producshizzle’ was less successful. Homeboyz brand was among the first to offer more than one service when it came to music. Currently, Homeboyz Group entails: audio recording studios, tv production facilities, events management, music technology academy, Homeboyz Radio, Homeboyz Rugby, PR and advertising agency. Not bad for an outfit that began with just deejaying. The ability of Homeboyz Group to make inroads in almost every aspects of show business offers lessons on how to build an empire in related industries. Also quite a tale on the growth of entertainment industry in Kenya through 1990s and early to mid 2000s.

In conclusion, the entrepreneurial hype and focus that is there today is good but it needs to be rooted in deep understanding of our social fabric, consumers, the way of life and systems in place. In addition, as one of my friend says, few are willing to put in hours, work ethic and grit required to build an empire today. The basics of building anything formidable to last a long time still remains even in the technology age. What better way to do that than to learn from forerunners and understand their way of thinking and the manner it influenced the businesses they created. I believe it is more relatable for an aspiring entrepreneur to learn from another person who speaks their language, looks like them and lives probably in the same country or at least continent than someone far away.

Startup School

It is commonly said that startups are here to save the world. Maybe not to that extent but the current state of events show that we are at a time whereby we need to harness opportunities to create great enterprises. I am not that old but i don’t believe 20 or 50 years ago there were as many opportunities as they are now. The opportunities i am referring to are mainly in two fronts: technology and information.

Today it is easier to access tools that can help you make a great company. Access to information helps you avoid some of mistakes, learn best practices and scale up. Majority of industries are nascent today meaning that even though there are challenges, they also provide opportunities for solutions. Some of these solutions can be business based solutions. Consider that we are able to learn skills, tactics and ways of doing things through the internet. Facilities such as Y Combinator’s startup school is a great information resource for starting or established entrepreneurs. Earlier, Sam Altman started inviting established founders to teach startup class at Stanford University. Now they have startup school where you can view lectures, talks and live office hour sessions. I find the live office hour sessions to be particularly useful. YC partners talk to early stage founders in batches and assess their progress and give valuable feedback. Each office hour session covers about an hour with batches of about 3 startups each covering approximately 20 minutes. There are other videos on: how to start a startup, product-market fit, growth tactics, how to build and manage teams, PR among others. This, from one of the most successful startup accelerator, is worth some attention. Videos are posted every week. This is a great resource not only for entrepreneurs but anyone in general. check out