Pangyo, Zhong Guan Cun, and even Bangalore may not be widely-known names to the average person. However, Silicon Valley is an entirely different story. The San Francisco based technology hub is revered round the world, for its role in driving the neo-digital economy of the western world. Information and Communication Technology (ICT) has completely obliterated traditional economic norms. Without the Internet of Things (IoT), Blockchain Technology, Big Data, Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence, it is difficult to envision how a modern economy can thrive in the new digitized global marketplace. In keeping pace, nations like Canada, India, China, and South Korea have taken bold steps to ensure that they remain competitive and independent in the ICT industry; despite seeming technological 'monopolies' in other countries. Conversely, Nigeria and Africa in general, are yet to devote sufficient attention to developing local capacity in ICT, to enable the 'dark continent' compete globally in the marketplace of the future.
Embracing software development and technology, by developing the vastly talented local tech entrepreneurial community, makes sense from a pragmatic standpoint. It is important to note that all the successful tech start-up ecosystems in the world, like Silicon Valley, Bangalore, and Pangyo, have a series of common elements that connects them. These elements are: a rich human capital base comprising bold and innovative entrepreneurs and inventors; a bountiful bouquet of support services, from funding, to infrastructure, training, management support; and powerfully protective government support such as intellectual property protections, tariffs on imported technology, etc.
Andrew Fasnidge, the inventor of the gas powered pressing iron, puts it succinctly thus: "the perfect ecosystem is a dynamic interplay of inventors, funding, education; and a host of companies built around that." The importance of a local "Silicon Valley model" in Nigeria and Africa therefore, cannot be overemphasized. To achieve this however, there is a tried and tested blue print which must be heeded. It involves the interplay of a number of elements.
Public Private Partnership: The role of an effective Public Private Partnership (PPP), is indispensable in developing a regional technology hub on the African continent. A visionary government, in partnership with industry stakeholders, will have a key role to play in this regard. In January 2016, the South Korean Government set out a plan to develop a local "Silicon Valley" in Pangyo, South of Seoul. The plan was estimated to cost about 80 trillion Won ($65.9 billion (using the foreign exchange rate of ), with the objective of creating start-ups and stimulating promising businesses. Of note, to complement the government's efforts, local conglomerates such as Samsung and LG, partnered with South Korea's Ministry of Science, ICT and Future Planning, to facilitate the operation of the Ministry's Centre of Creative Economy and Innovation (CCEI) program, which runs start-up incubators.1 The result: today, Pangyo is home to over 1000 tech companies, and boasts a GDP of 77 trillion Won (US$72 billion (using current foreign exchange rates).
Education: This is one of the bedrocks to building a lasting technology ecosystem. Tech education must be increasingly emphasised in schools from an early age. Research has shown that today's tech leaders all started from very tender ages. Not to be outdone, in China, children are now being taught programming languages, alongside other languages taught at school such as English or Mandarin. Often, the exposure to coding in that country starts as early as preschool. Many parts of the western world are also witnessing growing campaigns for STEM education (a curriculum based on science, technology, engineering and mathematics), as a policy of economic security. The pervasiveness of technology in everyday life, makes it inevitable that the countries who will occupy the forefront of the global economic community, will be those not necessarily with the largest arsenal of warships, but with the most impressive fleet of technological innovations in its arsenal.
In Nigeria, software development and other facets of ICT training, are not yet included in our primary or secondary school curricula. ICT is not even a subject tested by the West African Examination Council (WAEC). Consequently, to achieve a viable technological ecosystem, there must be a deliberate shift towards prioritizing technology in the curricula and administration of our educational institutions – to the highest levels. At the pinnacle of tertiary institutions, embodying the marriage between ICT and higher learning, is the renowned ivy league institution, Stanford University. In Nigeria and Africa, our tertiary curricula, at the very least, must be structured towards tech, if the dream of developing a local regional technology ecosystem is to become a reality.
Legislation: Perhaps most importantly, relevant laws should be put in place to both encourage and protect technological developments. Software development is a field that interacts with the law on many levels. It encompasses intellectual property, privacy, data security, jurisdiction, extent of programmer liability for tortious acts made by or aided by programs, and even crossover issues (such as regulations affecting other sectors being serviced by software developers). No industry can flourish while being unregulated, and no industry can maintain itself while the rules that govern it are antiquated. The lack of a proper framework is a major hinderance to the progress of software development in Nigeria. The software development industry is in a state of constant flux. Today's breakthrough is tomorrows artefact. When the rapid advancement of software development is contrasted with the long-winded pace of legislative action, it becomes clear that the government must seek the input of industry stakeholders to drive the creation of a more competitive and structured legal environment, to keep pace with the rate of technological evolution.
The adoption of the Silicon Valley model is not only an economic necessity, but also a very achievable vision for Nigeria. The potential of Nigeria's greatest asset- its human capital, can only be unlocked through a concerted effort involving the relevant stakeholders in the ICT industry. The journey to secure the future of Nigeria, and even Africa, must begin with the synergy of the Government and ICT private corporations.
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