“Think of the Word Africa, Think Mobile, Think Innovation” Mark Kaigwa at Innotown 2011

I’ve given the summary and the long form story of my experience at Innotown in June of 2011. Now I’m glad to share the full-length video of my talk at the conference. Also had it featured on Sandbox Network, where you may or may not know by now I’m their Nairobi Ambassador. Video and transcript below.

Transcript below. Would love to know what you think. Commens, criticism and compliments welcome. Speak your mind in the comments.

What’s the first thing you think of when you hear the word Africa?

Famine? Poverty? Civil War?

Safaris and maybe lions. Innovation, technology and mobile don’t always pop up first.

And yet, if we take a birds-eye view of the continent, we’ll see that there’s more to it, than war,

lions and diamonds at least as far as numbers go.


It may go without saying but is always worth stating, Africa is not a country. It’s over 57 countries.



1 billion people

Over 2,600 languages. Mind you, that’s 2,600 local cultures to address.

Over 500 Million mobile phones

110 Million internet users

A Facebook population of over 25 million


Globally, the narrative on Africa has never been owned by Africans. Sure it’s been shaped and

determined by them, but we’ve never had the chance to fully participate in the narrative.

The past 5 years in my endeavours I’ve dedicated myself to moving beyond someone who

hears the narrative, to someone who participates and eventually owns the narrative about my

continent and my country.


I conceptualised an award-winning African videogame for Warner Bros.

I curate African film, animation and through AfricanDigitalArt.com a global network of creative

professionals in Africa and of African origin.


My story starts further back. I was born naked just over two decades ago in Nairobi, Kenya in

East Africa. I’ve since taken quite a liking to clothing since and I’ve been born and raised in The

Green City in The Sun, Nairobi.


When I was about 7 years old, the clothing or lack thereof, landed me a role in the George

Lucas movie The Chronicles of Young Indiana Jones . It was the one episode which they shot

in Africa and I played “Ubangi Boy” – the last survivor from a village wiped away by a mysterious

disease. Has George Lucas written all over it, doesn’t it?


I made up for my lack of lines with ad libs and gave it the performance I thought it deserved.

One quip which made the final cut was a scene where I confessed “I want to go wee-wee” in

Swahili and they just kept going, great stuff, keep him going.


So 15 years later after playing my “wee” role in The Chronicles of Young Indiana Jones I

travelled down to one of Africa’s most prestigious film festivals, The Durban International Film

Festival in South Africa. By complete chance I spotted Isaach de Bankole, the same actor I’d

worked with years earlier. Only this time I had made the transition full circle, from playing a role

in George Lucas’s rendition of Africa to the world premiere of Dawa, my first film.


Moving from participating in the narrative, to owning it.


Similarly, now I stand here before you, the sole representative of a village you may not be

aware of. The village of digital citizens through Kenya and across Africa. All of whom are

determined to play an active part in reshaping Africa’s narrative.


There’s a Tanzanian proverb that says Mtumbwi hauwezi kujua panapokuwa pamejaa maji and

what that translates to is that a boat or canoe does not know the depth of the water.

I won’t take you deep, but I do want us to sail briskly across so you can get a sense of the

undercurrent that’s powered by a new generation of Africans; what Ghanaian economist,

George Ayittey calls, in his famous TED Talk, “The Cheetah Generation.”


I run Afrinnovator, one of Africa’s leading blogs on Technology and Innovation, and with my

partner, we follow a simple mantra, put Africa on the map. The map in the mind of every global

citizen in contact with the web.


If there’s one story on Africa that I can share with you, it would be that of the mobile phone.

Take the Kenyan example of M-Pesa. M-Pesa (M for mobile and Pesa being Money in Swahili)

is a Kenyan mobile payment service that started in 2007. It allows two people to send, withdraw

and deposit money on their mobile phones. In just over 4 years it now has over 13 million

Kenyan subscribers transacting over $500 million per month between them.


To put that in context, PayPal Mobile’s total volume for the entire YEAR globally was $600

Million and the number of M-Pesa transactions is greater than Western Union’s global transfers.

To date, M-Pesa’s transferred over $7 billion and in 2010 transacted an estimated equivalent of

20% of Kenya’s Gross Domestic Product. Not bad for a 3rd world country.


Whether it’s paying for a cab, my groceries, my tab at the bar or coffee shop or even sending

money to my grandma, paying my cousin’s school fees; my mobile phone is my wallet, my bank

and my insurance. Google’s CEO Eric Schmidt a few months ago implied that they had built the

mobile wallet with NFC technology in the Nexus Prime. To be honest, Mr. Schmidt, the

mobile wallet’s existed in Africa for the past four years.


For Africa, the proponent of change, the currency of today and the economy of tomorrow in

Kenya, Ghana, South Africa, Nigeria and more recently in Egypt and Tunisia, beyond social

media and the internet it’s the mobile phone.


So if you ask me what’s the one thing I’d like you to remember the next time you think of Africa?


Think mobile. Want another word? Think innovation.


As for me, a storyteller, with my thumb on my keypad, I’ll keep shaping and owning the narrative

on Africa, one keystroke at a time.


Thank you.

And now over to you…share what you think below.

  • Peeps4kim

    Good work Mark. I think more work needs to be done to explore potential growth in rural areas. The gap between the urban folk and their rural counterparts needs to be addressed. Let’s bridge the gap.