Two years ago, I moved back from London to Lagos for good. I arrived with mixed feelings and ideas of what to expect. Neither the media or social media had portrayed an accurate picture of what life in Nigeria is like, and I was blinded to so many things; however, what I did not foresee was the huge cultural shock that awaited me.
While I knew that things were changing in the country, both politically and economically, the scope and nature of the changes seemed foreign to me. My bi-annual visits to the country had somewhat prepared me, but there is a big difference between visiting Lagos and living here.
Take clothes shopping as an example. At first, it was impossible to find a fashion store that offered a one-stop shop, which is unlike many UK retailers. Rather, I would visit several smaller shops to find what I was looking for. These stores were using their social media platforms to promote themselves, with their major source of promotion coming from influencers or through word-of-mouth.
Paying was another overly complicated process that I previously thought little of as a tourist. When you buy products from individual sellers, you often pay to the seller’s personal account and then wait for them to receive the payment. Sometimes this process can take hours, even days, and you have to wait until the transaction is settled before receiving the product.
Similarly, I was able to order a taxi through an app but paying for the trip was also complicated. In Nigeria, Uber and Bolt drivers prefer cash or bank transfers, even if you have opted for the card option on the app. I was surprised to discover that so many people are still reliant on cash payments. To get around on an average day, you need to have a few thousand Naira.
In a country renowned for its tech entrepreneurs, why is the simple task of buying something or going somewhere so complicated?
Change is coming. Nigerian companies like Flutterwave and Interswitch are bringing digital payments into the mainstream by collaborating with major companies like Uber as well as hundreds of SMEs across Africa to enable instant and seamless transactions.
From Lagos’ Co-Creation Hub (CcHub) to Nigeria’s shopping and delivery giant Konga, to startups like IROKO—often referred to as ‘Nigerian’s Netflix’—our tech industry is shaping the future of the continent. It is time more recognition was given to the technological advances developed in Africa, and Nigeria more specifically.
Even Facebook has opened its very first tech-hub in the city. Importantly, these are innovations developed by Africans for Africans, bridging the gaps between continents, and crossing hurdles one leap at a time.
The ability to complete a trade from start to finish in the comfort of your home, like buying groceries without leaving your sofa or making payments without going to the bank, is game-changing for millions across Africa. Although some gaps remain, Africa’s incredibly ingenious pool of talent is demonstrating its ability to close gaps in ever more innovative ways.
Perhaps I needed to undergo a reverse culture shock and update myself on what I had missed out on instead of what I was not seeing. What seemed at first glance to be chaos increasingly began to clarify into a picture of steady but sure technological development. It was not long after I arrived that I had my first experience with PiggyVest, a savings and expense management application that simplifies and democratises access to basic financial planning and advice. I found out I could use Bamboo to invest and trade US and Nigerian stocks.
There have been significant developments taking place across the country, and slowly but surely, tech is starting to make a real difference in the lives of people here. Yes, things operate differently, but I am reminded everywhere I look that different is not necessarily bad. Africans and Nigerians are catching up in their own way by using technology to improve lives and create access to opportunities.
I believe there is an opportunity for local and international media to better portray how far Africa and Nigeria have come. Of course, that is also down to businesses themselves to communicate compelling and transformational narratives to the media.
Africa is certainly far from the finished product, and I think these entrepreneurs will be the first to tell you that. But the important takeaway is that we are seeing the roots of true homegrown innovation – solutions developed by Africans, for Africans – and this is where real progress lies for the continent.
Written by Nelly Akpaka