For over 15 years I’ve been helping companies on the continent with their digital strategies, and I firmly believe in the potential of African SMEs to be at the cutting edge of tomorrow’s digital world.

And here is why

First, because there is a technology gap

When it comes to digital in Africa, the reality today is that usage is still limited. Only 36% of the African population was connected in January 2023. Technological progress is held back by structural constraints (lack of infrastructure, poor Internet connectivity, weak electricity networks), as well as societal issues (limited purchasing power, populations far removed from the written word, etc.).

But this technological gap is, in many ways, an opportunity.

In fact, we’re seeing that the latest adopters tend to go straight to the most advanced uses. Newcomers to the Internet, for example, will immediately start using artificial intelligence – already via voice recognition on their smartphones – and this will seem normal to them.

This is what we call the Frogleap: a jump that enables African companies to go straight from the craft to the Web 4.0 industry!


Secondly, because these companies operate in difficult environments

Political, economic, social, regulatory, environmental: the context is often difficult for African companies – more difficult than elsewhere.

Here again, it’s an opportunity! Because innovation is born of constraint.

After all, why change something that works? Yes, we could do better, but by nature nobody likes change…

This is the main reason why transformation projects in French companies, for example, come up against so many obstacles.

We all know how difficult it is to change established habits. But when faced with a problem or a stumbling block, we’ll do anything to find a solution.

The most obvious example is mobile money, which accounts for over 36 billion transactions in sub-Saharan Africa – compared with just 300 million in Europe and Central Asia (source: GSMA 2021).

Why are these uses struggling to take off in Europe and Central Asia? Because the market is already equipped with bankcards, and while mobile payment brings a plus, it doesn’t respond to a real need.

It’s interesting to see here how these innovations impact the way we measure a country’s level of development – with mobile money, for example, the rate of bank penetration is no longer necessarily as representative …

Finally, African SMEs are often young structures with limited resources.

Surprising as it may seem, this can also be an opportunity for digital.

Indeed, digitalization is no longer so much a question of budget, but more a question of culture.

The rise of “no-code” has democratized access to digitalization for businesses.

Applications such as Notion have enabled companies like Sayna, in Madagascar, to digitize their entire processes without the need for special technical expertise or large budgets.

Social media make it easy to reach a local and international audience.

What’s more, it’s easier for younger and smaller structures to take advantage of digital.

More agile than large groups with established practices, they can evolve their tools and practices to implement new, more appropriate working methods.

This ability to adapt is a real strength in a context of great uncertainty, particularly when it comes to energy and climate issues.

So many reasons for African SMEs to confidently embrace a digital transformation that can be a real lever for development.

However, it’s important to keep in mind:

The human element: Digital must not replace, but rather “augment” the human element. Digital should not be designed for digital’s sake, but to add value. This means improving, simplifying, and streamlining relationships that are first and foremost human, whether within companies or with their customers and partners. In this respect, it’s interesting to see the growing importance of conversational uses in digital interfaces, which are those closest to human interaction (e.g. WhatsApp or ChatGPT).

African specificities: On the one hand, it’s a question of ensuring a better representation of the continent’s realities in the various digital tools. Indeed, the realities proposed online in Google results, on social media, or in image or text productions generated by Artificial Intelligences mirror the content available online – content that is above all American, Asian, European… The aim is to encourage the production of African content so that the continent’s specificities are also taken into account in the future.

On the other hand, while the main digital players today are American or Chinese, we need to ensure that digitalization does not create over-dependent relationships for individual countries. An issue that Africa shares with many other geographies!