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iRise hub, Somalia’s first tech innovation centre

As Africa continues to accelerate efforts in elevating its tech ability to cope with the new trend in growth, many countries have resorted to take to setting up technology hubs.

South Africa has 54 tech hubs, the highest in the continent while Kenya is in the process of building a technology city valued at over $200 million.

Somalia is not about to be left behind in the sweeping wave. One icon in this journey is a political scientist by training, but a technology and data enthusiast who has been involved in discussions and studies on ICT and role of technology in development in Somalia.

Abdihakim Ainte, the co-founder of iRise Hub, the first innovation hub in Mogadishu says that technology will be a crucial enabler in Somalia’s efforts to become more globally competitive and match trends that other economies are taking.

The innovation hub, which was launched in Somalia this year is aimed at supporting the growth of tech start-ups in the country by providing a co-working space, research, incubation, acceleration and business advisory services for new start-ups. “iRise Hub is a community-based hub in Mogadishu, which will be an open space for entrepreneurs, techies, coders, IT geeks and people with start-up ideas. It will target innovators or future social entrepreneurs who think outside the box”, said Ainte.

Among the key contribution the innovation hub will make is gathering and creation of a data base of various economic aspects of the country.

“Although I’m not a techie or IT geek, I’ve been obsessed – and equally frustrated – by lack of data of this country. Absence of reliable data, numbers and figures are impeding development of this country,” Ainte told The Somalia Investor Magazine.

Ainte is optimistic that Somalia’s transformation is ripe and will ride on the wave of technology which can surmount any physical obstacles with much ease.

“Today, Somalia is at the cusp of major transformation. That change can be realized when we unlock our potential, talents and find new and innovative ideas/solutions. We are encouraged by the speed of stability and development of this country, but also the resource and energy of Somali youth who make up the 75 per cent of the population and will be the future of this country. This space born out of this spirit, and the entrepreneurs acumen that Somali people bestowed,”

Abdihakim Ainte, the co-founder of iRise Hub

The entrepreneur believes tech will be key in attracting Foreign Direct Investment which the country direly needs.

He said the relative calm the country is currently experiencing creates a useful dividend to compensate for the lack of infrastructure which can be done in the current situation.

“…Somalia has a remarkable growth of ICT and internet infrastructure. There is fiber optic cable that cuts through the sea – a basic service that many fragile countries lacks – and that gives us the opportunity to have strong and reliable internet access to our members and entrepreneurs a like,” said Mr. Ainte. 

Innovations hubs like iRise will also create a general attraction towards technology as people begin to realise the power of being connected just like they embraced the use of mobile phones.

Apart from the infrastructure which will ensure a robust internet service, the country will also need a regulator to oversee the operations and growth in the ICT sector, after the communication bill is passed both by the cabinet and parliament. This is a high hope for social entrepreneurs like Ainte and other investors.

It has not been an easy journey though according to the tech lover, “It has been excruciating and humbling at the same time to establish and come up with this innovation hub. This idea has long been in the making and with help of my other co-founders and friends, the Hub is finally taking shape and in service.”

The political scientist admits, however, that growth in technology at times results to loss of manual jobs but says the increase in productivity that comes with it outweighs the disadvantages.

The tech hub derived its name from the popular hashtag #SomaliaRising, which has been widely used on social media to express and demonstrate the progress that the country has witnessed over the last few years as well as the massive return of Somali diaspora to the country who are bringing much needed skills, ideas and innovations.

All across Africa, more than 300 tech hubs are currently operational in 42 countries according to the global body that monitors mobile and internet services, GSM Association. As of July 2016, out of the 314 active tech hubs in Africa, half of them were based in five countries (South Africa, Kenya, Nigeria, Egypt and Morocco) with almost each of the other African countries have at least one or two active tech hubs.

Regionally, Morocco, Tunisia and Egypt lead in North Africa; Nigeria, Ghana and Senegal in West Africa; Kenya and Uganda in East Africa; and South Africa in Southern Africa.

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