Mobile Web West Africa 2012 – A Ghanaian Developer’s Perspective

The Mobile Web West Africa 2012 Conference took place in Lagos, Nigeria from 25th to 27th April and was, in short, phenomenal. The sheer amount of rising young leaders, deep insight, and innovative ideas flowing from all over the African continent hit me like a tidal wave.  I was somewhat dismayed by the limited Ghanaian representation, but overall, I couldn’t have asked for a better experience.
I left with ideas for new applications, ideas for how to monetize my existing applications, ideas for apps that are relevant for the economic, social and political climate in our country, ideas on scaling, ideas for entering into new markets, ideas for improving and strengthening the mobile ecosystem in Ghana.  I met dozens of influential tech leaders who’ve achieved many successes, and shared tons of insight.  I was sitting at a table with executives from Blackberry, Rancard Solutions, InMobi, Eskimi, Etisalat;  for those I didn’t get the chance to speak with, I have their cards now so I can just shoot them an email and jump-start a good relationship.
Exposure to mobile advertising networks like InMobi, VServe and Twinpine suddenly opened up vast opportunities for marketing my apps – through advertising.  It suddenly brought to mind brilliant new ideas for content generation and made a solid case for creating more unique content and working more on mobile web and native applications which in themselves were powerful machines for creating value and wealth.
In fact, the conference was so inspiring watching young Africans making presentations on simple but valuable innovations they were working on – it was encouraging to see that we weren’t alone – there were thousands of developers all over Africa doing amazing things. I unearthed new opportunities for collaboration across countries – opportunities to share knowledge, resources, ideas with counterparts in Nigeria, South Africa , Ivory Coast, Senegal.  It was also inspiring to see Ghanaian based companies like Rancard Solutions having such a strong presence at the conference – that gave us a lot of hope – it was possible to grow my company into a great company.

What was saddening for me though was the fact that there weren’t younger Ghanaian tech entrepreneurs at the conference – in fact, Rancard Solutions was the only Ghanaian based company – and apart from the Mobile Web Team, the only other Ghanaian I met was a sales executive from Unilever – a non-techy exploring opportunities for reaching more customers through mobile advertising.  I resolved to work hard and, at least, have an innovative application that I can present at the next conference.  There was an apparent lack of vibrancy in the Ghanaian Tech Industry from the international perspective – I know there’s a lot going on in Ghana, but I think we have the potential to do so much more.  Countries like Kenya, South-Africa and Nigeria kept coming up and I heard very little about Ghana – that spurred me to start looking at ways to stir up the developer/ entrepreneur community in Ghana, share what I know and encourage more developers, in my own small way, to share more about what they are working on – in a way, encourage them to do more and attain more visibility in the international developer community.
One country I need to comment on is Nigeria.  I was not previously aware of the vastness of its tech successes.  For instance, the Co-Creation Hub in Nigeria.  It is just seven months in existence and extremely active and influential — organizing over 20 events including hackathons and already securing funding for start-ups.  They also have retained support from the likes of Indigo Trust and Blackberry which was setting up a devices testing lab for developers of Blackberry apps.  CCHub is meeting a deep need by providing physical space, reliable power and connectivity in a developing country bedevilled by the lack of good infrastructure.  It is also serving as a great catalyst in firing up the developer community in Nigeria – one interesting account was a developer’s testimony, “my application would still have been on my localhost had it not been for the CCHub”.  I want to help create an environment like that in Ghana, where developers can always hang out, learn from each other, interact with various stakeholders of the mobile ecosystem, receive validation for projects they were working on, get mentorship, funding, challenge each other to go higher, and get inspired to do more.
Many Nigerian developers I met are also seeing amazing opportunities in Ghana – opportunities that we ourselves are not aware of.  They envied our infrastructure in terms of internet and power which we take for granted and even complain about;  their challenges with infrastructure were 10 times more, and yet they were still coming up with innovative applications.  Without going into too much details, I found out that Nigerians had practically exhausted their short codes — an indication of the number of Value Added Services that had been deployed and how competitive the terrain was.  And now, they were looking to come to Ghana!! Ghana has so much going for her.  If we don’t take advantage of our opportunities, other nationals – although commendably strategic and ambitious – will come and take them.
Come next year, I want to see more young Ghanaian start-ups being represented, even sponsoring the conference.   I want to hear more about a great vibrant mobile apps community in Ghana, and I want to see lives in other less fortunate African countries (like Liberia) also being transformed through transfer of knowledge and skills on mobile development.
The Mobile Web West Africa Conference is an experience that will benefit all attendees and leave them with the motivation and connections to start something new!

Written By Alfred Anyan.