On Cassava Technologies and Africa.
Cassava Technologies owns and operates “Africa’s digital railroad,” the only broadband network that extends across the continent. Thirty years in the building, Cassava’s network and its unique digital solutions are driving commerce and elevating quality of life across the continent. President and CEO Hardy Pemhiwa, a more than 20-year telecommunications veteran in Africa, talks with Brunswick Partner Carol Roos, about the potential for Cassava Technologies to help transform the continent.
In your recent Fortune interview, you said, "For people who have capital to deploy, Africa is ready." What's the argument for investing in Africa?
India has 1.4 billion people. Africa has 1.3 billion people. India's GDP is around $3 trillion. Africa's GDP is around $3 trillion. Yet look at the level of investment that has gone into India versus Africa. When you look at the size of Africa, at the pivot to democracy across the continent, at the literate young population, at the voracious appetite for new technologies, at the need for healthcare—I don’t mean to sound disrespectful, but I think it would be foolish for any business leader not to be taking a hard look at Africa, and asking, "Why am I not here?"
By 2050, 90 cities in Africa will have more than a million people. In terms of the world’s mega cities—those with more than 10 million people—six are going to be in Africa by 2050. And 17 others will have more than five million people living in them. There will be a strong need to serve that young urban population. Right now our median age is 19. In 2050, it will be below 25. That's why I say to anybody with dollars to deploy, Africa is ready.
Does the Russian invasion of Ukraine have implications for Africa? For Cassava?
Any time you hear of war, you know that innocent people are the ones who will suffer. And it’s particularly tragic given the peace dividends going back to the Second World War are there for everybody to see. I would dare say some of the progress in our industry, the tech industry, may not have been possible if we had not had such a long period where spending could be redirected to productive sectors rather than to any kind of military effort.
That’s at a global level. From an African standpoint, the impact is likely to be one of awareness. Africa is constantly competing for attention. On a good, calm day, Africa needs to shout a few decibels higher than others in order to be noticed, particularly around the area of investment. Any kind of noise that distracts the rest of the world moves Africa even further down the agenda, which is unfortunate.
In terms of Cassava Technologies specifically, we will continue to do what we have always done. We can't wait for perfect conditions to continue to deliver on our vision of a digitally connected future that leaves no African behind. We started our journey when conditions were far from perfect. For any business leader, dealing with volatility, uncertainty and complexity is a daily thing now.