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Africans must drive Africa’s technology urges Cassava boss

Hardy Pemhiwa, Cassava Technologies. Photo: Karolina Komendera
Hardy Pemhiwa, Cassava Technologies. Photo: Karolina Komendera

If Africa’s ICT and telecommunications industries mean enough to stakeholders on the continent, they should be overseen personally and directly by Africans themselves - If global tech giants like Samsung can do it, so can we says Hardy Pemhiwa, CEO of Cassava Technologies.

“I personally come from the school of thought that says if it’s possible for South Korea to produce a Samsung, that’s a distinctly South Korean company, but is a global tech company, it should be possible that we have a distinctly African company that has got African heritage that is a global technology player. That’s our geographic vision,” said Pemhiwa.

Established by Zimbabwean telecoms pioneer Strive Masiyiwa, Cassava, under Econet Group umbrella, incorporates various businesses including Liquid Networks, Liquid Intelligent Technologies, Liquid Dataport, Liquid Cloud and Cyber Security, Africa Data Centres, Distributed Power Africa and Fintech firm Sasai.

It has operations in over 20 countries, mainly in the Southern and Eastern parts of Africa, as well as some presence in North Africa and West across the Congo.

Pemhiwa said the company’s strategy is designed to support its primary objective to make affordable, quality broadband connectivity readily available to a mass market.

It is looking to add to its 110 000km network and tap into the growing datacentre and cloud services markets in Africa.

It is a timely business strategy, given the continent’s increased focus on digitalisation and rollout of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA).

Cassava believes this pan-Africa-driven trade ecosystem, which at its core promises to enhance inter-and intra-African trade and commerce, will help change the narrative around the potential that the continent’s technology entrepreneurs have and their capability to compete globally.

However, the continent has to first overcome its past – its origins are based on division, peppered with colonial influence and numerous socio-political and economy systems, said Pemhiwa, and it is going to take the same level of drive and energy that was used to divide it, to actually unite it.

“We have to recognise how difficult it is to bring a disparate continent together. The continent, unfortunately, from the Berlin Conference was designed to be divided. We can only reunite it by spending more energy than what was spent on the division. I see AfCFTA not as an event… I think many people categorised it as an event, and disappointment is related to expectation. It actually is going to take as long as 25 years, but what is important is direction. The continent has been able to say ‘this is the direction we are going’.”

Pemhiwa believes that the initiative is going in the right direction, but will require buy-in. “As businesses we have to embrace it, we have to support it and we have to take advantage of every little gain that it brings. For us, the fact that we’ve been able to build a fibre cable that crosses these many borders and in a way almost flattens the continent – despite the differences of culture, of language, of legal systems – and now, for the first time, a packet of data that leaves Cape Town to go to Senegal does not have to leave this continent. That for me is really the Continental Free trade area.”

Pemhiwa uses the company’s recent purchase of Israeli telecommunications firm Telrad Networks to give context to the belief that Africa has as much to offer globally as any of its international counterparts.

“We bought Telrad which has operations in Mexico and Costa Rica, and if we want to put our African imprint on that business, the best way for us is to send some Africans and embed them in the Mexican business. But if the person produced by the University of Nairobi, for example, has never seen themselves being in a Mexican business - let alone speak Spanish - then how will we do that?

“Samsung sends South Koreans to each of their important operations, Huawei will send Chinese to each of their operations, we need to be able to send Africans to each of our operations, and they need to be able to come from Senegal, Cote D'Ivoire, Nigeria and Ghana. A pan-African conversation about how we train the next generation of general managers and leaders is important.”

For more on Cassava’s African ambitions, click through to Brainstorm Magazine.

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