Mansoor Hamayun, CEO and Co-Founder, Bboxx
The UK is currently in a muddle. It is legally bound to get to Net Zero by 2050 – in fact, it was the first major economy to pass a net zero emissions law. But how on earth to get there – and at what cost? The current Prime Minister Rishi Sunak says that now is not the time to burden hard-pressed families with the cost of Net Zero through heat pumps and electric cars.
The UK is what I call a “legacy country”. It has tied itself up in knots because it is saddled by ageing infrastructure; even if it could produce more clean energy, it largely has a housing stock which lets out much of it because of poor insulation.
These really are first world problems.
But, maybe in the true zero-sum game of our globalised economy, these pounds, dollars, and euros could be better spent in terms of impact elsewhere in the world.
Take Africa – and the dynamism and vitality of the continent which is enabling it to cultivate a unique leap-frogging approach to problem-solving and innovation, undeterred by Western stagnated benchmarks or expectations.
Historically isolated, not only by geographic barriers but also by socio-political circumstances, the continent has experienced phases of colonisation, exploitation, and internal conflicts. These experiences have bred resilience, resourcefulness, innovation, and a strong sense of community among many modern African nations.
When I think about Africa, I picture blood transfusions delivered by drone; the first fully cashless societies; rapidly scalable and affordable renewable energy. The truth is that Africa is at the forefront of modern technological innovation, because necessity is the mother of invention. The world should take heed.
The challenges facing the continent demand innovation to tackle them in a pressing manner – for the sake of improving quality of life, improving life outcomes, and saving lives. Countries widely seen as pushing the boundaries of technological innovation, like Japan, are propelled by economic pressures, with production-line efficiency and a desire for luxury driving advances in robotics. But this is no match for the technology-enabled problem-solving taking place in Africa, where the problems to be solved are instead how to create healthcare infrastructure in a landscape without adequate transportation infrastructure, or how to enable the millions of people without access to financial services to participate in and grow economies. For this reason, the greatest advances in the 21st century tech boom are being pioneered in Africa.
Take Somalia, for example, where a significant 85% of the population has embraced mobile money, paving the path towards the first fully cashless society.
Or, in the healthcare sector, where Kenya is not just keeping pace but setting a new global standard. Remote healthcare access via mobile phones is now embedded into the public health infrastructure through public-private partnerships, a sharp contrast to the West where such innovations remain predominantly in the private sector.
Meanwhile, Rwanda is revolutionising logistics as well as healthcare through expansive drone delivery networks, ensuring that essential goods, blood transfusions and vaccines reach the remotest and most rural corners of the country swiftly.
Bboxx can attest to this necessity-driven innovation – it’s what powers our entire approach, from to extending off-grid solar home systems to rural communities, extending access to health-improving clean cooking solutions by using technology to make cooking with gas more affordable than charcoal, and creating our own data-based credit scoring system to extend financial services to people who have been overlooked by large banks.
As well as necessity, the other half of the innovation equation is education. Recent data indicates a remarkable surge in education quality across Africa, with PISA score increases outpacing many Western nations (including the UK). The African population is overwhelmingly young, increasingly connected, and eager to carve out a niche in the global landscape. The rising numbers of individuals learning to code demonstrates this growing educational environment, creating a generation that is tech-savvy and ready to innovate.
Africa’s accelerated pace in innovation, and its potential impact on the global marketplace of the 21st century, have not gone unnoticed. Global powers are keenly eyeing potential partnerships, recognising the continent’s burgeoning influence in the international arena. From being a hub for carbon offset projects to crafting technologies that have a global application – those drones, pioneered in Rwanda, are now being rolled out in home deliveries in the US – Africa is gradually emerging as a pivotal player in international relations. In an increasingly tense geopolitical climate, it will be Africa that has the potential to tip the balance of power towards the West – or away from it.
We are witnessing the African Renaissance, a period characterised by a deviation from the beaten path of the West, powered instead by home-grown technology and innovation. This is the onset of a remarkable journey that promises to redefine the continent’s role and stature on the global stage.
Yes, there is a legacy, of course, but this is now the turning into the continent’s strength; in contrast, the legacy of the so-called developed countries is now holding them back.
It’s high time the world shifts its focus and recognises the waves of change emanating from Africa. The global environment has altered, and Africa is not trailing behind but is instead spearheading progress in the 21st century, showcasing a model of development that is both resilient and sustainable. The developed world should not just take notice but actively engage with the innovation blossoming in Africa.
And, crucially, given that the race to net zero is a zero-sum game – we all share the same atmosphere, after all – the place to really invest our resources is where it is cheaper per capita to get communities to Net Zero. Building resilience, driving economic growth, and empowering communities in those places hardest hit by climate change — now this is a legacy worth fighting for.