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· Aug 28, 2018

An infographic of Kenya’s white tech startups executives sparks rage

tech startups white

An infographic of white executives at some of Kenya’s leading tech startups has sparked rage and conflict on several social media platforms. The picture has a couple of high profile individuals in the Kenyan startup scene.

Jese Moore, CEO of M-KOPA, Joel Jackson, CEO of Mobius Motors, Johnni Kjelsgaard, CEO of Growth Africa, Daniel Goldfarb, CEO of Lendable, Claire Mongeau, CEO of M-Shule, Audrey Cheng, CEO of Moringa School, Alastair Sussock, CEO of SafeBoda and more are among those featured on the list of at least 30 executives.

“Silicon Savannah 2018 or should we call it [a] business community?” Muthuri Kinyamu tweeted a caption of the infographic.

While Robert Alai tweeted that he started complaining about the issue as far back as 2010. Adding that these – in the picture he captioned – were using Kenya’s resources selfishly and would never benefit the country.

“Kenyan Startup scene. What I started complaining about in 2010. Every idle white person using Nairobi selfishly and will never benefit this economy in any way. All the tech cons in one picture,” Robert Alai tweeted.

On Facebook, Ian Bradley Wanjau doubted if Kenya is in fact among the leading African countries when it comes to tech. “Leading tech startups in Kenya. You tell me! I don’t know…Where are your startups?” he captioned the image.

TMS Ruge, the founder of Hive Colab, and known critique of the lack of diversity in the African tech scene, mockingly described the Kenyan startup scene as “model” for diversity.

Also read: Hive Colab’s TMS Ruge appointed to Andela’s Global Advisory Council

“The Kenyan tech scene is such a model of tech diversity it’s blinding,” he tweeted the caption. Adding that “technology empowers those with [the] power to disempower those without.”

Though some, like Ugandan journalist Timothy Kalyegira, didn’t seem surprised. He noted that “both in Europe and in the United States tech tends to be dominated by White developers, so hardly surprising if it is so in Nairobi too.”

While others thought that the person who came up with the infographic was merely biased and the sample they selected was just a fraction of what the tech scene in Kenya has to offer.

“Where’s ?!! The list is fronting a skewed view of the ecosystem which frankly is just pointless,” David Okwii tweeted. Adding that “anyone irrespective of their race shld [sic] be able to make it wherever opportunity collides with their personal dreams and ambitions.”

While another person on Facebook commented on Ian’s post saying “I saw this and decided not to comment coz it ain’t accurate.”

Others also believe that the tech scene in Kenya is still dominated by Kenyans. “The biggest Tech startups in Kenya have been founded by Kenyans,” Josiah Otieno commented on Ian’s shared post.

“The difference is that the above companies have attracted some juicy funding but None is profitable. Companies like Cellulant, Mode, seven seas, JamboPay and many other local companies are much bigger, operate in several countries and highly profitable than all the above-named companies all of whom I know intimately.”

While on Jamii Forums – in an East African forum dubbed Kenya Startup Barley – a one Kennedy wondered why only a few tens were selected out of the tens of thousands of startups in the country.

“There are like 10,000 startups in Kenya. Where are the pictures of the remaining ones?” he wrote.

Kambala Nick also wondered why the infographic hadn’t stated all the tech companies in Kenya and their executives. “How many ICT companies are in Kenya. Why couldn’t you show all the companies and their CEOs,” he wrote.

The issue of diversity in technology is a global issue with roots from as far as Silicon Valley. Companies like Facebook, Google and the alike still have challenges maintaining a diverse workplace. Despite the benefits of having one.

Yet, for the case of Africa, it takes a different shape given the history of colonialism on the continent. Perhaps, many – when they look at it – what comes to mind is ‘this race is coming back to recolonize us’.

A couple of whites in Africa know that they are at an advantage compared to the indigenous founders. This is because where the funding comes from as well as the formula used to dish it out are in their favor as per this report from Village Capital.

Though, talking about diversity, when you look at the complaints and where they came from, one couldn’t fail to notice that the majority – if not all – were men. This also exposes another issue of lack of diversity on the side of women in tech scene in Africa.

Perhaps, this is also an opportunity for the men who complained to place themselves in the shoes of the women.

Africa's early stage and technology companies recorded 454 deals last year worth $1.19 Billion. Get the Digest Africa Index to find out more.

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  1. I don’t think it’s a race issue. It’s a culture that we as Africans have to learn and start to invest in our founders. The question bis why don’t we do that. We should give whites the credit for spotting problems and investing to solving such challenges. Issues like lack of power have been here before the whites came and what did we do about it. Nothing. In Uganda the youth meant to help the youtb start business asks for security and this is not the only challenge. Whether we like it or not we as Africans have not made a concious decision to change when. It comes to supporting and growing our own startups. May be one needs to ask how many of these startups come from incubation hubs. One other thing a friend of my Raymond who happens to be a legal consultant in the technology scene. You can check this out on bytelexhq.com once pointed out that most startups by Africans are not investor worthy. They have no proper accountability standards and the right formal structures. I think if we look at race we trying to solve the wrong problem.

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