Yesterday, International Business Machines Corp. (IBM) launched its first research laboratory in Africa.
The laboratory situated at Catholic University just outside the country’s capital, is IBM’s twelfth research lab in the world and its first commercial lab and represents an investment of more than $10 million in the first two years, with the Kenyan Government pledging a further $10 million over the first five years.
The lab will be a centre of creating IT solutions and taking them to market based on research and data on different sectors generated from around Africa.
During the official opening of the laboratory at the Catholic University of Eastern Africa, President Uhuru Kenyatta underscored the role of Information, Communication and Technology as a key driver to the country’s targeted economic growth prospective of 10 per cent annually.
Key areas the lab would focus on include smarter cities, medical healthcare, education, water, agriculture and transport.
The facility reflects IBM’s interest in a continent where smartphones are becoming commonplace, even though only a decade ago many Africans had no access to telephones. Kenya itself has become a world leader in payment by mobile phone, stirring hope here that Africa can use technology to leapfrog over more established economies.
IBM isn’t the only tech giant to venture into Africa. Microsoft Corp. announced a partnership with three African technology incubation hubs last month to develop businesses based on cloud-computing systems. Google Inc. has funded startup hubs in Nigeria, Kenya and South Africa as part of a push to invest in innovation in Africa.
According to IBM representatives, the lab not just as an opportunity to drive innovation in Africa, but to use the technological solutions they find there to create products for other markets. It’s a major shift from even 10 years ago, when most technology research in Africa was about simplifying products from the West to work on undependable power grids or with slower Internet speeds.