Apparently Arrington thought I was kidding when I told him this. But he should know by now, I don’t need a lot of arm twisting to visit a country of 150 million people chaotically surging into modernity. Where there’s that much opportunity, there’s always entrepreneurship.
Nigeria has fascinated me for the last few years: It has the largest population of any country in Africa. It has abundant natural resources, most notably oil. And it has a ton of potential outside of oil. According to the World Bank the non-oil economy has grown at 8% per year for most of the last decade.
The problem is employment hasn’t budged and the country has fifty million unemployed young people. Those are the official figures, but people in the country tell me it’s actually much higher than that. That helps explain why Nigeria is more known in the West for 419 email scams than its vast economic potential.
Simply put: Nigeria is a nation desperate for more entrepreneurship, but there are some significant challenges for local entrepreneurs and foreign investors. More on the good and the bad in a future post. A lot more. One story includes guys with machetes. But let’s talk about Nigeria’s tech appetite first. Like anyone else they lust for that new, new thing, and many of them go to a place called “Computer Village” to find it.
It’s the Nigerian answer to Shenzhen’s SEG Electronics Market, a crammed, multistory building that holds booths and booths of nearly any component and hardware knock-off you can imagine. SEG is simultaneously thrilling and horrifying for techies, summing up why China is so central to the Valley’s modern gadget boom and why its low-cost, copy-cat goods are such a threat at the same time. You know you are getting close to SEG, because the street hawkers stop pitching you massages and start offering up illicit copies of Windows.
In Lagos, we could tell we were getting close to Computer Village because of the rows of parked trucks of busted out boom-boxes, televisions and other has-been electronics being fixed and rehabed for parts. Hawkers try to get your attention with a sound that’s a combination of a kissing-noise and a hissing noise. It surrounds you as you walk through Computer Village, making you feel like you’re either walking past a rowdy construction site or a den of snake charmers. That’s a good way to describe the sales tactics too.
Nigerian tech entrepreneurs I’ve spoken with this week have complained that many of the developers who apply for jobs are too book-trained; that they lack that raw creative problem solving or “jugaad” as the Indians call it. Jugaad is core to what makes startups able to thrive within constraints and outperform giants. And as you’ll see from the photos below, it’s on full-display in Computer Village.
Printer cartridge refills:
And the app store: