The TRUE Africa 100 is our list of innovators, opinion-formers, game-changers, pioneers, dreamers and mavericks who we feel are shaping the Africa of today and tomorrow. We’re featuring them over 100 days and we’ve asked them all three questions.
While doing his PhD in electrical and computer engineering at the Johns Hopkins University in the US, Ndubuisi Ekekwe founded the African Institution of Technology (AFRIT). AFRIT is a strategic advisory non-profit which provides practical educational support, enables technology policies and facilitates bottom-up creative technology diffusion in Africa.
As well as his two doctoral and four masters degrees, he currently holds a US patent on a micro-chip used in minimally invasive surgical robots. He has other patents pending.
Ndubuisi is a TED Fellow, an IBM Global Entrepreneur and World Economic Forum’s Young Global Leader. He is also a selection board member of the $100 Million Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship Program.
Which upcoming innovations do you bet young Africans won’t be able to live without in the near future?
Because of the challenges we face due to our legacy infrastructures, innovations in mobile and cloud will continue to drive how young Africans consume and use technology. Mobile enables portability and cloud drives affordability. But I am hoping that our young ones will transition from being users of technology to creators. Across the continent – with the exception of Kenya and South Africa – we are not doing a great job in that area.
We are not reshaping technology yet. We are only adapting technology.
Regarding the consumption of technology, watch out for videos, wearables, and other intelligent systems all powered by smartphones with smart analytics. But creating technology empires of the future here in Africa will need more effort: we need roadmaps on electronics, nanotechnology, computational biology.
You’ve spoken about intellectual property in Africa. What’s your advice for young entrepreneurs who want to protect their ideas while making money from them?
Most of the ideas coming out of the African technology ecosystem are not really that valuable. They are not worth spending $30,000 on them to obtain a patent, particularly in US which has the largest enforceable market.
We are not reshaping technology yet. We are only adapting technology. In other words, we apply tested business models from Western Europe and the US to African challenges.
We do not have an IP problem in Africa because we are not pioneering anything. We are simply adapting tools and technologies to fix local problems.
The name of the company may sound new but I do not think we really generate new ideas. We are basically winning because of locality advantage but not because we are creating transformative ideas which can be protected. Selling things online is fine but thinking you can patent it because you are the first in your village to do so is a waste of scarce resources. Making apps on Android and thinking that that was the first application to a local problem and wanting to patent it, misses the point.
I am hoping inventions will begin to emerge soon. But at this time, our real challenge is to build solid business models. We do not have an IP problem in Africa because we are not pioneering anything. We are simply adapting tools and technologies to fix local problems. Few of those are patentable or can be protected.
Yet, I acknowledge that Africa has local arts and herbal methods, etc. which we have to protect. Interestingly, those are the ideas we pioneered and some of the few things which are actually important.
We’ve asked all of our TRUE Africa 100 this last question. Who’s your African of the year?
I would say the Nigerian president, Mr Muhammadu Buhari; he has already demonstrated that leadership is about who is on top. The improvement in electricity in the country – before he even puts forward a plan – has been surprising. There isn’t anyone having more impact on more Africans at this moment than Mr Buhari. For that reason, and because he defeated an incumbent president, he is my African of the year.
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