Filling Africa’s Technology Skills Gap

Fiona Graham, BBC News, August 13, 2012

Stand on almost any gridlocked street corner in central Nairobi and you’ll find yourself close to a building site.

The Kenyan capital is booming, with multinational after multinational moving their African headquarters here.

At the heart of this lies the technology industry, growing by 20% annually.

The government is vigorously promoting its vision of creating a Silicon Savannah that can take on the developed world.

To do this, as well as the more traditional forms of investment, human capital is needed.

The population is one of the most educated in the region, unemployment is running at around 40%—yet technology companies are struggling to hire enough qualified talent.

Something that could, if left unchecked, derail Kenya’s technology explosion.

Fast track

In one of Nairobi’s many gated suburbs, tucked away behind a luxuriant hedge, is Computer Revolution Africa. The IT company occupies a sprawling colonial bungalow in the middle of a shady garden.

For director Simon Kinuthia recruiting new graduates to join the team has been tough.

“I would say it has been a nightmare,” he says.

“We do not get the right people from the universities and tertiary institutions where we expect technology-trained students to come from.

“Modern technology is simply not available in colleges, so we have to bring them in and train them and bring them up to speed before we send them to the clients.”

His company is taking part in a internship project run by an NGO called NetHope and technology giant Microsoft.

After a rigorous selection process, 400 computer science graduates are whittled down to 40. The successful group are then trained at the NetHope Academy—partly funded by a Microsoft grant.

Then the interns are placed with companies, about half through Microsoft partners, to gain that all-important practical experience.

“[The course] was actually very vigorous but it was also very interesting and I got to learn a lot,” says current intern Lease Mutisya.

“It opened my eyes to the IT world . . . to the very many possibilities out there, so I was actually better placed to choose. Things are explained more in detail and things that never used to make sense began making sense.”

The interns are paid a stipend, and the placements last 6 months. Another intern, Dennis Gichuhi explains what the chance means to him

“Actually getting this place is more of a golden opportunity, and it means a lot to me, because it’s like achieving one of my dreams.”

The project is more than just a philanthropic gesture according to Microsoft’s Mark Matunga.

“Obviously the impact is clear that there will be stagnated growth in the technology sector, technology being an agent of growth in the 21st century,” he says.

“When you don’t have a qualified workforce in a country then you’re facing stagnated economic growth, stagnated social issues.”

Virtual doors

It’s not only in the technology sector where companies and jobseekers alike have problems finding a good fit.

Nancy Wang is one of a generation of young entrepreneurs that has migrated to east Africa to make their fortune, arriving here in 2006.

After running her own business in South Sudan for five years, she returned to Nairobi looking for opportunities.

When a Kenyan friend of hers came to her house to polish up her CV and apply for some jobs she realised she had found a gap in the market.

In Kenya, job-hunting can mean a lengthy journey across town by bus to an internet café, the constant expense of paying for newspapers, and most likely relying word of mouth.

“Information is so hard to come by, whereas you know the affluent, they get a lot of job information because family members or communities are able to link them to the right opportunities,” she says.

“Whereas if you are a fresh graduate living in Kisumu, or even more rural outside of the major cities, it’s very difficult for you to hear about the job information or opportunities.”

This was the inspiration for recruitment platform M-Kazi. Kazi is Swahili for job.

This is more than just a job listings website. Designed for a country where many people have limited access to the internet—but where just over 70% of the population has access to a mobile—it works on the most basic mobile phone handsets.

Job seekers register their details from their phones using technology called Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSD)—a sort of souped-up text message system that works more like a secure form of chat.

Vacancies tailored to their experience and qualifications are then texted to them each day, as well as job-hunting tips.

One trip to the internet café is still necessary, to upload their CV. But after that users can send a coded text, and it will be sent with a generic covering letter to prospective employers.

Sylvia Wamuyu lives in Nairobi. The 24-year-old has been looking for work since the beginning of the year.

“It has been tough getting a job since most of the applications you send no one ever replies, even with a regret if you never made it to be shortlisted,” she says.

“Other agencies take your money with the hopes of getting you a job but only to find that they were fraudsters.”

She started using M-Kazi several weeks ago and since then has landed a job as a receptionist with printing and marketing company Identity Partners.

Her new employer is Monicah Ngongoo. As a small business employing four people, finding reliable staff has been difficult, especially as she relied on referrals from family and friends.

“This has been the biggest issue for me when I started my business, as I ended up with inexperienced personnel,” she says.

“The best thing about M-Kazi is that I didn’t have to go through irrelevant CVs, as the ones I received were filtered to the category I wanted, it was so easy as I had to call only four people for an interview.

“It has made things so easy, especially for small business like mine, as I cannot afford to use HR companies as they are expensive for the percentage they are charging, or newspaper advertising.”

The service is fairly new, so for now it is free for employers to post jobs, while the young company builds up a comprehensive database. Employees are charged a nominal amount for text messages containing vacancies.

Current estimates put the population of Nairobi at around 3m—and it’s growing fast.

Getting the right people into the right jobs—and finding ways to harness technology to make that happen may ultimately ensure that this expansion in population is mirrored by one in the economy, rather than in unemployment levels.


Topics: ,

Share This

We welcome comments that add information or perspective, and we encourage polite debate. If you log in with a social media account, your comment should appear immediately. If you prefer to remain anonymous, you may comment as a guest, using a name and an e-mail address of convenience. Your comment will be moderated.
  • I love to see do-gooders scratching their heads. These guys move their companies to the 5th world, and they’re going to show us all how they’re going to turn Africa into a paradise, and then whoops, now they’ve run into a little snag– no one intelligent enough to make a computer chip. They’re confused. Get me some popcorn.

    •  Good luck hiring Whites, Indians, and Asians to come fill in the gaps and provide the necessary technical expertise. 

  • JackKrak

    Someone should have realized things were not going to go well when the venture was kicked off with a witchdoctor who performed a dance to make the evil spirits go away.

    • bbshaw

      But he wasn’t a very competent witch doctor.  The evil spirits didn’t go away.

      • Yea, it sucks when you get a quack witch doctor.

  • Biff_Maliboo

    You mean those $100 laptops didn’t kick-start a bunch of dusky little Bill Gateses and Steve Jobses?$100_Laptop

  • Quit inviting them to this country and their might be enough capable employees there.

  • anarchyst

    “Filling Africa’s Technology Skills Gap”  HA HA HA!  That was good!
    Maybe they could hire some whites to get things done . . .

    • I know for a fact that there are some very skilled Spear Technicians in Africa.

  • WhiteGuyInJapan

    They were surprised?  Really?  Damn, I should become a consultant…

  • IKantunderstand

    We have no freaking kazi (oh wait, do I put an “s” on the end of kazi to signify the plural? Help someone? My swahili sucks(thank God).  Anyway, why the hell should I be concerned by the lack of kazi(kazis) in Kenya? This country has already conferred the most powerful and significant job on one of your compatriots. You want employment? Run for public office here in the United States. We have no requirements to be in government. Kazi? Schmazi! Immigrate  illegally, and you are set for life.

  • More fake scam emails coming out of Africa, is this what we want ?

  • IstvanIN

    African’s have punch cards? I didn’t even know they had vacuum tubes!

  • Sherman_McCoy

    As I have mentioned before, during my entire 37-year IT career, I’ve met exactly one qualified black working as a programmer.  Well, OK, he WAS a mulatto.  Before I became a race-realist, I used to use this fellow as an example to disprove Shockley.  I’ve come to realize since then that an exception proves the rule.  And this guy wasn’t even really an exception, just a high-functioning, high-yellow, with a chip on his shoulder the size of a sequoia.

    • Carney3

      How did you not understand that Shockley and others never denied the existence of SOME high IQ blacks; their assertion was always that such blacks are much rarer among blacks than similarly intelligent people are among whites.   It’s like triumphantly pointing to a short man and a tall woman to “disprove” assertions that men are taller than women.  Can you go back mentally to the you of then to recall what your thinking was?  Our race’s survival may well depend on pro-whites being able to understand what otherwise well-informed, well-meaning, and intellectually honest whites really know, and what they tell themselves to justify what they think, say, and do.

  • Kenya is said to have a thriving money transfer industry.  That’s because Africa is full of millionaires whose fortunes are sequestered.

    Microsoft is helping?  This is the great company whose next great OS, Windows 8, will be basically a tablet OS running on a desktop, while ironically it won’t be compiled for tablets.  If/when Google decides to scale Android for desktops, Microsoft is deader than a doornail.

    • not true  
      you must know little about operating systems 

      •  I gorge on the tech press as sort of a distraction from the real world.

        Turns out it wasn’t that MSFT wasn’t compiling Win 8 for tablets, it had something to do with MSFT not allowing OEMs to install Win 8 on tablets because it wanted to get into the Win 8 tablet business itself.

  • patriotdad76

    Microsoft spending money to train AFRICANS!

    But in America, if you want to be trained you have to PAY Microsoft for the privilege.

    But don’t complain, that would be ‘racist’…

    • anarchyst

      Most people are unaware that Bill Gates is not and was NEVER a technical genius . . . He purchased the first DOS operating system from some REAL coding geniuses (for $25,000.00, a lot of money in those days).  He happened to be at the “right place at the right time” when the microcomputer revolution took place.  His break came when IBM approached Digital Research Corporation for an operating system.  Digital Research turned IBM down . . . it was Digital Research’s loss and Microsoft’s gain. . .it is interesting to note that Bill Gates was no pauper, his daddy being a hot shot lawyer in a prestigious law firm.  .  .
      Bill Gates is a race traitor of the first order.  His distribution of “scholarships” specifically EXCLUDES whites from participation . . .

      •  The one time Gates actually tried to write code for some MSFT product, of course it was buggy, and one of his lead programmers said in Gates’s presence, “who wrote this brainless s**t?”  He wasn’t aware that it was Gates himself.

        Gates’s father’s law firm, a Seattle-Washington DC firm that now mainly does lobbying (yes, including for MSFT), is called Preston Gates Ellis.  The “Ellis” is a relative of the Bush family, as in George HW, George W, Jeb, etc.

  • Tom_243190

    Ability in Africa, like here, is dispersed in a Bell Curve, if a narrower and steeper one in
    Africa.   Just as we have among millions, a few people who clear the Mensa low hurdles
    with lots of visible space to spare; they, too, have people who clear our, say, 90%ile,
    with space to spare.   That the abler Africans seem not easily found among the middling
    Africans may be deserving of explanation.  That all of them are “short of a full load” is
    not true, and our detractors and “linkage” critics  will be glad to feed on such mistakes. 

  • Why is it okay for other races to be openly hostile to Whites, speak evilly of Whites, and instigate crimes against them solely based on it, but as a white founded nation we’re not allowed to do it back? Why are White people committing cultural suicide? I know people have a problem with this statement, but it rings true: every advancement worth its salt to the world over the course of its entire history, with the exception of Chinese fireworks, has been brough to you by the mind of a White person. Now we allow the world to scorn us, genocide us, vote us out, take our jobs, take our money, rewrite our historical and cultural achievements in their own bastard names, and systematically denigrate us until we don’t exist anymore? I’m openly gay, too, so I don’t want to hear about how i’m just some white male enjoying white privilege – yes, I grew up in a fantastic household in a very comfortable suburb and I’m a doctor now, but I have NEVER milked my homosexuality to get a.) a school interview b.) a job interview c.) sympathy of any sort d.) any kind of attention. The only truly non-prejudicial, non-discriminatory way to measure success, in my opinion, is by MERIT. I’m the kind of gay person you realize is gay because I choose to tell you, not because I demand government compensation for my “oppression,” and march outside delicious chicken fast food establishments, not because I run up and down the pride parade marches in a pink thong with tassles on my nipples. I go to Catholic church Sunday, as I have every sunday in my life. In any case, if you’re black and you can’t get that Boston fire department promotion, maybe it’s because “sheeyt you dumb, yo.” Maybe if you are a hispanic who is stuck in a series of lawn mower jobs, you should have ‘immigrated here legally essaye,” and “not impregnated your 19 year old girlfriend and been saddled with the crushing burden of parenthood before you had any viable means to support a chld.” Why does a government of a White country – and please tell me which Founding Father was a Mexican or Black – pander so much to the votes of the lazy, entitled, and/or stupid? Why do non-landowners even have the right to vote? Why do I pay about $100k in taxes a year combined between my house, my business, my income, my car, etc., all while my medical practice creates about 4 full time and 2 part time jobs, but my vote counts the same as Welfare Shaniqua’s, who has NEVER met a condomless dick she didn’t like, and who has never held a job other than full-time breeder? That’s disgraceful to me. And instead of getting, oh, maybe a “thank you” card from our government, I get told how I am no longer responsible for my own success, how the “government did that for me,” and subsequently demonized to the point i’m tempted into embracing my gay status since it’s the only thing that seems it could protect me from being considered an evil well-off, industrious, intelligent, and harder-working-than-hell asshole.

    We whites, straight or otherwise, rich and poor, religious or not, really need to realize we are committing cultural suicide with the weapon of political correctness.

  • That’s not clever at all. That’s something a low IQ sociopath would do.

  • All the best technicians were eaten for their programming juju

  • refocus

    There is a very very interesting interview with Idi Amin on you tube.  Not quite the unsophisticated lout…

  • Ed_NY

    I prefer my own kind but in I had to choose which minority group I had to associate with, it would be east Asians.