Interview by Chief Editor
May 2019 6 min read
Chris Uwaje is a Technology leader and accomplished business professional based in Lagos, Nigeria. He has championed nationwide hackathons. He once served as president of the Institute of Software Practitioners of Nigeria and presently sits as advisory on a number of boards. As one of our main features in the Voyager interview series, we discuss his outlook on the West African economy, advise for young entrepreneurs and insights to what the future may bring.
(VC) According to some media coverage the technology ecosystem in Nigeria seems to be shaping up at a good pace. Is it all hype or you would say this is an actuality?
(Mr Uwaje) Yes and No. Yes because there are observatory interests from external investors are investors or venture capitalists on the recent developments in the Nigerian ICT Ecosystem – especially in the Software sector. No, because going by the data from global e- readiness index per country, Nigeria is ranked 119 out of 139 nations. Going by her large population estimated at 200 million and projected to be about 400 million by 2050 (making her the third most populous country), and by extension, her traditionally educated workforce, this leaves a wedge of critical concern.
Particularly, this concern is fundamental in the sense that there is immense ICT knowledge flight/drain and critical local skill and IP mining by the so-called external investors who run to the bank with patentable innovation at the deficit of accelerated development of local content (indigenous software). We seem to be swimming in the global digital ocean without a life-vest. If this trend is allowed to continue without constrictive interventions and establishment of sustainable incentives and linkages with the Diaspora ICT landscape, we may further harm the under-development environment of the country and consequently edge into a digital colony.
(VC) You have won numerous awards during your technology career. What do you tell the young aspiring woman or man entrepreneur about success and risk and does gender really make a difference?
(Mr Uwaje) Knowledge does not know gender. Go out there and disrupt the Innovation Ecosystem. Learn to read all you see, find and encounter in the new world with new economic agenda with insightful interpretation and follow your dream. Entrepreneurs out-of-African should question and re-define some technology nomenclatures that steer them in the face and re-invent themselves. For example: They should tell the world that indeed, we are not expecting to experience the emergence of the 4th Industrial Revolution, but rather, we are poised to compete and win in the 4th Data Revolution. After all, there can be do industry without Data. The so-called first Industrial Revolution was about the right thinking, information and data that leads to the ‘Intelligence-of- Things’ (IoT). Data was at the center of both the 2nd and 3rd industrial revolutions.
African entrepreneurs must dismantle this illusion by understanding and arguing that there can be no smart city in Africa unless you first of all develop ‘Smart Communities’
They were all Data-driven Revolutions and lessons learned is that Africa amazing developments during the 1st – 3rd Data revolutions had a deficit on properly documented written data and information system. This lack of critical attention to data-of-things in life constituted to the unsustainable model of Africa’s development now translated into under-development. Another example is the Smart-City nomenclature. African entrepreneurs must dismantle this illusion by understanding and arguing that there can be no smart city in Africa unless you first of all develop ‘Smart Communities’. Homing into the smart city peradventure will create more urban migration and slums in our cities and also deepen poverty levels in our rural areas. Do we need smart cities, yes, we do, but not until the Rural communities are digitally networked. Africa is a very huge market. Therefore, the entrepreneur youth should concentrate in solving the African problem first, because they have better domain knowledge to engage the challenges, opportunities and benefits. Disrupt it. Just do it.
(VC) Transhumanism could be a downside of Big data and its in efficiency. In a mixed bag of adoption, cultures might get overridden and superstitions expelled. Some may argue that free speech in a third world state would be in jeopardy. From your vantage point what benefits could come from Big data and Artificial Intelligence despite all of these concerns?
(Mr Uwaje) The extraordinary factor of humanity is that change is a socio-continuum. There is no ultimate change. Where one change stops, innovation takes over. Imagine that it took humanity 100 years to decipher what Albert Einstein decoded about the Black Hole at that time. What we failed to understand is that Einstein cumulated valuable Big Data during his life span. Not only that; the most important is that he understands how to mine and use it to create knowledge wealth. Big data and AI are inevitable and Africa should not be left behind.
(VC) Lagos Nigeria is not known as a quiet place for the most part. In your quiet or noisy moments how do you get inspired. What makes you be of service and work the way you do. Do you seek religion or get spiritual like many others in your country?
(Mr Uwaje) You are very right. However, I will call it a character. The character of Lagos is unique to that environment – a typical rat-race. My take is that Lagos is a Mega city in search of a 3-shift work Ecosystem in pursuit of building a 24/7 economy. What we have currently is an undefined stampede better classified as an “Okada Economy”. With over 20million resident population, Lagos can be magical and stupid at the same time. It has an embedded centrifugal force that takes Lagosian on perpetual nanosecond flights – with short-waves in-between – within the context of vehicular holdups and speed that leads to nowhere? Oshodi, Badiya and Okokomaiko are typical examples. All said, Lagos can do more on exponentially improving the attitude to the quality of life for all.
In expressing life, we can’t express one part that is perhaps beautiful and leave the others. Its about the good, the bad and the ugly. You can’t choose birth without death.
(VC) Some mention the renaissance as an art period they admire. If you can time-warp back to any era what time would it be and why?
(Mr Uwaje) Can’t roll back generations? Life is a story in Art form. The changes and perhaps similarities we see are better understood by mother-nature than humans. In expressing life, we can’t express one part that is perhaps beautiful and leave the others. Its about the good, the bad and the ugly. You can’t choose birth without death. All are beautiful in their interpretations – depends on who delivers the judgment and music says it all. Life is life.
(VC) Digital paintings and unusual mediums with data projection and statistics could become the norm in policy making to structure society in the future. Do you agree with this probability of datascience or is it too early to make this kind of claim?
(Mr Uwaje) I think you are on point. Yaba is gradually transforming into a future digital business Corridor and Tech destination. Zuckerberg was there and others would come.
(VC) At this stage of your professional career and accomplishments, If you could collaborate with any other brand or public figure in business who would it be and why?
(Mr Uwaje) Digital Game Developers to tell the true and lasting African story as a strategic imperative for the 4th Data revolution.
(VC) Is there anything else you would like to add?
(Mr Uwaje) Oh yes! Thank you for the time in visioning and dreaming big for our continent and the world.