Africa has a rich history of trade that we should celebrate and learn from.

As Africans eager to do business across the continent, we stand on the shoulders of our ancestors who perfected trade across the region and the continent, like Mirambo of the Nyamwezi of Tanzania, and King Kaleb of Aksum of Ethiopia and Eritrea leading well-known trading civilisations that transacted with their neighbours as well as foreigners. 

Think of our ancient and famous trading cities such as Kilwa Kisiwani and Sofala off the Eastern coastline. Indeed, the art and practice of trade that is rooted in African genius and history, influenced the whole world. From the Mutapa kingdom’s trade, that stretched from Zimbabwe across to Mozambique, to the city of Gao in West Africa whose trade routes reached Cairo in North Africa, Africans traversed deserts, rivers, forests and oceans in pursuit of business solutions for Africa and the world – think of the Sahara trade route that was part of the original silk road – reaching ancient Afghanistan, Iraq and China! 

“We must tell these stories because this is where we will find ourselves. And to know that we are descendants of innovative, successful, culturally shrewd business people.. from craftspeople to diplomats, to engineers to doctors to philosophers, to educationalists. Colonialism robbed us of these stories, it robbed us of our dignity and we only get this dignity back by realising that our history began long before the scramble for Africa”. Mona Nya

Our organisation, infrastructure, communication and ability to regulate how we traded, what we traded and with whom we traded were key centuries ago. This enabled us to successfully manufacture goods at production centres that we built, and trade them within our communities and with traders from China, Europe and so on. This was our trade genius. We always understood the value of intra African and global trade and for a long time, we did it effectively. However,  there were failures along the way, which saw Africa lose her raw materials, put up boundaries and lose trust in her own people. 

AfriLabs, Mozilla and Omidyar Network were honoured to host Brian Kagoro, Mona Nya, Adetola Onayemi, Bismark Addo and José Luis Tavares Semedo for a conversation that reflected on this rich history and shared ideas for how we could collectively ensure successful modern-day intra African trade.  Watch Brian Kagoro’s keynote here. We concluded that to set us up on the right path to successful intra-African trade, one of the more important issues to determine was our larger ‘WHY’ to keep us on mission and educate our movement,  interactions and decisions.

“We are in a generation where hundreds of years of miseducation and schooling have taught our people that when they approach the global market they do so from a point of inferiority, or catch up or trying to mimic that external world. So in the absence of a larger WHY, a purpose that drives us, a consciousness, a self-belief and self-confidence, we are likely to be caught up in what we are seeing as Europe and American myths”.  – Brian Kagoro

The future of intra African trade is in our hands and its success is dependent on the actions of Pan Africans from all spheres from financial and development institutions, to civil society, corporates, innovators, entrepreneurs, storytellers, historians, national governments and so on working towards Africa’s economic development, self-sufficiency and dignity.

For their part, Africa’s innovators continue to show their capacity to innovate world-class products and services and build world-class businesses. Acquisitions, taking companies public, successful fundraises, improved livelihoods, digitalisation across African entities, demand for skill and knowledge, regional and Pan African scale of businesses and steady increase of local funders for local businesses are a testament to the fact that the African innovation ecosystem has been gearing up for Pan African domination and is ready for a new wave of exponential growth fueled in part by the supportive structure that AU member states have now promised to provide through the African Continental Free Trade Area.

Historically, we are a people willing to put in the work to contribute to long term development whether technological or economical. At AfriLabs we showcase this in the way our member hubs and partners preserve our history, protect our innovations, produce new innovations continuously and provide holistic support to innovators across the continent. 

Members like the Media Innovation Network that is supporting creative storytellers and Baraza Media Lab that’s working to strengthen Kenya’s media ecosystem are ensuring that innovation stories are told well and preserved.

Association of Startup and SME Enablers of Kenya, Ghana Hubs Network and Innovation Support Network have been at the forefront of leading policy agendas by ensuring that the needs and rights of the innovator are top of mind when crafting national innovation policies. These networks are also amplifying the voices of their hub members to increase national collaborations and catalyse sustainable growth of their national innovation ecosystems.

Hubs across the continent are supporting manufacturing processes and connecting customers to hardware, engineering and manufacturing companies to increase Africa’s capacity to produce finished goods. Check out this Nigeria Hardware Ecosystem Map championed by Clintonel Innovation Centre among others. Gearbox on its part offers  prototyping facilities, training in manufacturing, fabrication and design as well as mentorship, investment opportunities and community development. 

Our partners Liquid Technologies are working with hubs like Innovation Village, Bongo Hive and others by offering critical infrastructures like high-speed connectivity and cloud services, and supporting gaming and IOT as avenues for African innovators to create. 

AfriLabs member hubs across the continent are providing holistic support to innovators across the continent by offering open, safe spaces for community-led innovation, mentorship, care to ensure mental health, programs to develop entrepreneurship skills and grow businesses, and connections to private and public sector actors. Our hubs are now working towards facilitating cross border trade by creating amongst them a masterpass that gives entrepreneurs business support in 347 hubs spread across 52 African countries, and this network continues to grow. We’re excited about our AfriPass product which we continue to iterate to meet the ever-growing needs of  Africa’s scale-ups.

Partnerships across the continent are crucial in realising visions and we are also happy to engage with global players who share our vision for economic prosperity and the dignity of Africans. This post is a part of the Powering Local Innovation initiative, a project of Mozilla’s Africa Mradi. Africa Mradi is a programme that seeks to foster an ecosystem of allies working toward a healthier internet, and promoting innovation grounded in the unique needs of users in the African region. 

Mozilla has built a thriving business centred on building diverse communities on a foundation of civil discourse, human dignity, and individual expression. With our shared principles, we believe that it is possible to have our community at the centre of the work we do and do it sustainably.

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