Across Africa, governments are converting abandoned public buildings into technology makerspaces and hubs. There is nothing wrong doing just that. I support them. But when they add the statement – “We’ll create Silicon Valley here”- in different fashions to those initiatives, I get very concerned for the lack of basic understanding of what it would take to have a Silicon Valley.
Pursuing the vision of creating Silicon Valley is noble. Everyone needs one, from Nairobi to Kigali, Kampala to Lagos, it would help, as we strive to diversify the African economy. But the plan by Lagos State to actually create Silicon Valley within “18 months” in Sabo Industrial Estate got me laughing.
The Lagos State Government said on Friday that it had concluded plans to transform the Sabo Industrial Estate in Yaba into a technology hub and a silicon valley within 18 monhs.
The state Commissioner for Science and Technology, Mr Hakeem Fahm, made the disclosure at the 2018 Ministerial Press Briefing in commemoration of the third year of the administration of Gov. Akinwunmi Ambode.
Fahm said that the transformation meant that a new set of entrepreneurs and innovators would be raised to address the challenges confronting the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) sector.
Mr. Commissioner, you cannot create Silicon Valley in Lagos within 18 months because there is really no formal zip code called Silicon Valley. Silicon Valley means 24/7 electricity, better schools, good roads, excellent teachers in schools, smart regulations, healthcare systems, security and those things no one wants to deal with in Nigeria.
Once you can produce those, Silicon Valley would evolve. No refurbishing of abandoned buildings or building useless fancy offices will create Silicon Valley if you do not have electricity, pay health workers to avoid strikes, etc. In Silicon Valley, their leaders visit hospitals in Silicon Valley and not those in London, Paris and Baltimore. That means, the hospitals in Silicon Valley work, and they pay workers, preventing strikes.
I do not want to discourage you, but remember that the Federal Ministry of Science & Technology has many “Silicon Valleys” in nearly all states in Nigeria. Yes, find abandoned government buildings, ask a contractor to supply computers, get some young people to go there daily, and magically you have a Silicon Valley. It is irrelevant if those young people have electricity to power those computers.
Of course, go ahead and re-build Sabo but there is no need to add “Silicon Valley” to the initiative. Adding Silicon Valley complicates a noble vision which is to add facilities which any decent community should have. Let us just focus on such before we begin the unhelpful comparison which adds no value.
Sabo will be fine to be Sabo (Lagos State) in 18 months. It does not need to be Silicon Valley. It simply needs to be a community with good roads, constant power, decent schools, solid security, good hospital, etc. If you make such happen, you have done all you need. The rest belongs to the promise of the future – no one knows. Possibly, Sabo could be Silicon Mars because it makes better sense than a Valley. Yes, Sabo boys and girls can go to Mars but it may not be in 18 months.
Politicians and their acolytes, they have once again activated the ‘reverse thinking’ or ‘inverted thinking’ mode, with one clear feature always present: lack of understanding about that is being copied or mimicked.
We have a Nollywood, with no physical address, but trying to mimic Hollywood; this time, it’s about renaming enclaves to ‘Silicon Valleys’, as if a name suddenly makes magical transformation, without the hardwork therein.
The fact that many of those in public service only see and understand tech innovations through the lens of ‘ICT’, says a lot about how knowledgeable they really are. Until they first learn to appreciate technology from the wider lens of knowledge economy, and do away with the already stale and mundane use of ‘ICT’ to convey their ineptitude about what tech innovation truly demands, in order to thrive; we may be stuck in this regurgitation for ages.
Sabo doesn’t need a ‘Silicon Valley’ emblazoned on its forehead in order to thrive, rather it needs just a change of mentality: knowing what needs to be done first, and then going ahead to do those things.
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