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Silicon Savannah Swagger

Forget Silicon Valley in the States—the rising Tandaa Generation is clicking towards a fortune in Kenya.

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From a distance, Kariuki Gathitu looks like just another kid you would pass on the street without blinking. He wears jeans, sneakers and a backpack; he sips milkshake and hangs with his friends. But in Gathitu’s backpack are big dreams and a business plan aimed at making him one of Kenya’s first tech billionaires within five years.

Gathitu, a 28-year-old systems architect, is one of East Africa’s new breed of technopreneurs—the hip ones with big ideas who make their fathers’ generation sit up and take notice. They are the whiz kids who command respect. Never before has it been this cool to be a geek. After the international success of Safaricom’s M-PESA, more and more technologists under 35 are mushrooming in Kenya’s large cities. Backed by government-sponsored training, these computer geeks are emerging by the score to build a sunrise industry in what is being called the Silicon Savannah.

Kariuki Gathitu

“The world has changed and so has technology. These youngsters see the world from a different perspective and they are constantly seeking ways to make life easier,” says Soud Hyder, an independent technologist based in Nairobi. The recent Pivot 25 conference saw the cream of the IT crop from Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and Tanzania come together for two days in Nairobi. Few delegates were over 30. Gathitu’s company, Zege Technologies (Zege Tech), was among them with its M-PAYER application. On the company’s first anniversary in July, it was raking in tens of thousands of Kenyan shillings and aims to increase its annual turnover to $2 million in the next five years. The company has prospered through a gap in the mobile money system. Often you have to wait up to 72 hours for money to reflect—a major cause of frustration when paying bills. M-PAYER, however, pays in real time. It took Zege Tech three months to come up with the application and another eight months to tailor it for the business market.

In a highly competitive market, Safaricom and Airtel, Kenya’s largest mobile networks, were quick to buy in. Zege Tech won Best Product in the Young Innovators category at the AITEC banking and technology conference in Nairobi in March and visits to the company’s website increased 400%. Gathitu is one of the few young geeks around the world to turn down a job at Google. “In June, I received a call from their office in Switzerland and was flattered as it has been my dream job for a long time. They said I could choose at which office in the world I would want to work. Unfortunately, I had to turn down the offer as there are still a few projects I am working on that will enable many young people to have an easier chance at doing business,” he says. Gathitu is as humble as he is influential. He has just returned from a trip to Malabo in Equatorial Guinea, where he addressed the heads of state at an African Union summit on youth leadership. “It was a great moment when I could speak to Africa’s big leaders. I wanted to give the older generation goose bumps through what the youth is doing. I hope I succeeded with that.

Afterwards I received many invitations to speak at conferences in Angola and Zambia and Mozambique… I’m starting to wonder when I will find time to work,” he laughs. Gathitu hoped to study aeronautical engineering in Britain, but ended up with a degree in Computer Science from the Kenyatta University in Nairobi. He has been fiddling with computers since he was seven. “It became my default career, but now it feels like a fit.” The mobile money transfer system, M-PESA, has put Kenya on the technology map. It allows the user to over come the headaches of sending money internationally, as well as pay bills and purchase goods and airtime through a mobile phone. It is made for Kenya, a country where fewer than 10 million people out of a population of 39 million have a bank account. According to Q2 2011 data released by the Communications Commission of Kenya, there are more than twice as many mobile subscribers—nearly 25 million— as there are bank account holders.

With the support of the government’s ICT Board andinnovation hubs in Nairobi like iHub, young innovators have a chance. It is part of Vision 2030, the Kenyan government’s plan to transform into a middle income country. Paul Kakubo, CEO of the Kenya ICT Board, calls the young techno warriors the Tandaa Generation (‘Tandaa’ is a Swahili word for ‘spread’). In one of his blogs Kakubo writes: “…the Tandaa Generation is what will deliver a lot of the goodies we are looking for as a country. They can create, they are intellectually curious, they are driven, very exposed thanks to technologically delivered media, they are non-tribal, they are good thinkers; they like to be independent. Technology provides them with the tools. What they now need is capital.” Gathitu is riding the wave. He is sharp and ambitious. His company is eyeing South Africa, Nigeria and French speaking West Africa. It hasn’t always been easy.

“One mistake I have made is to over-value a product based on its technological superiority as opposed to market traction. I now believe that a business needs customers more than cash flow,” he says. The time is ripe and the demand is high. Gathitu believes he is well on his way to becoming a tech billionaire before the age of 35. Like many, he trained hard in the years since the first M-PESA transaction in March 2007, and like the rest of the Tandaa Generation, he is ready to rumble.

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30 under 30

Applications Open for FORBES AFRICA 30 Under 30 class of 2020

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FORBES AFRICA is on the hunt for Africans under the age of 30, who are building brands, creating jobs and transforming the continent, to join our Under 30 community for 2020.


JOHANNESBURG, 07 January 2020: Attention entrepreneurs, creatives, sport stars and technology geeks — the 2020 FORBES AFRICA Under 30 nominations are now officially open.

The FORBES AFRICA 30 Under 30 list is the most-anticipated list of game-changers on the continent and this year, we are on the hunt for 30 of Africa’s brightest achievers under the age of 30 spanning these categories: Business, Technology, Creatives and Sport.

Each year, FORBES AFRICA looks for resilient self-starters, innovators, entrepreneurs and disruptors who have the acumen to stay the course in their chosen field, come what may.

Past honorees include Sho Madjozi, Bruce Diale, Karabo Poppy, Kwesta, Nomzamo Mbatha, Burna Boy, Nthabiseng Mosia, Busi Mkhumbuzi Pooe, Henrich Akomolafe, Davido, Yemi Alade, Vere Shaba, Nasty C and WizKid.

What’s different this year is that we have whittled down the list to just 30 finalists, making the competition stiff and the vetting process even more rigorous. 

Says FORBES AFRICA’s Managing Editor, Renuka Methil: “The start of a new decade means the unraveling of fresh talent on the African continent. I can’t wait to see the potential billionaires who will land up on our desks. Our coveted sixth annual Under 30 list will herald some of the decade’s biggest names in business and life.”

If you think you have what it takes to be on this year’s list or know an entrepreneur, creative, technology entrepreneur or sports star under 30 with a proven track-record on the continent – introduce them to FORBES AFRICA by applying or submitting your nomination.

NOMINATIONS AND APPLICATIONS CRITERIA:

Business and Technology categories

  1. Must be an entrepreneur/founder aged 29 or younger on 31 March 2020
  2. Should have a legitimate REGISTERED business on the continent
  3. Business/businesses should be two years or older
  4. Nominees must have risked own money and have a social impact
  5. Must be profit generating
  6. Must employ people in Africa
  7. All applications must be in English
  8. Should be available and prepared to participate in the Under 30 Meet-Up

Sports category

  1. Must be a sports person aged 29 or younger on 31 March 2020
  2. Must be representing an African team
  3. Should have a proven track record of no less than two years
  4. Should be making significant earnings
  5. Should have some endorsement deals
  6. Entrepreneurship and social impact is a plus
  7. All applications must be in English
  8. Should be available and prepared to participate in the Under 30 Meet-Up

Creatives category

  1. Must be a creative aged 29 or younger on 31 March 2020
  2. Must be from or based in Africa
  3. Should be making significant earnings
  4. Should have a proven creative record of no less than two years
  5. Must have social influence
  6. Entrepreneurship and social impact is a plus
  7. All applications must be in English
  8. Should be available and prepared to participate in the Under 30 Meet-Up

Your entry should include:

  • Country
  • Full Names
  • Company name/Team you are applying with
  • A short motivation on why you should be on the list
  • A short profile on self and company
  • Links to published material / news clippings about nominee
  • All social media handles
  • Contact information
  • High-res images of yourself

Applications and nominations must be sent via email to FORBES AFRICA journalist and curator of the list, Karen Mwendera, on [email protected]

Nominations close on 3 February 2020.

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30 under 30

Making Of The 2019 Forbes Africa #30Under30 Cover

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This year marks the fifth milestone annual FORBES AFRICA 30 under 30 list, and we have introduced a new category of game-changers. Together, they are 120 in total across four sectors: business, technology, creatives and sport. Meet the class of 2019, a stellar collection of entrepreneurs and innovators rewriting rules and taking bold new risks to take Africa to the future.

#30Under30: Business Category 2019
#30Under30: Creatives Category 2019
#30Under30: Technology Category 2019
#30Under30: Sport Category 2019
  • Words: Karen Mwendera    
  • Edited by: Unathi Shologu
  •  Assistant: Garreth Mtuwa  
  • Creative direction by: Lucy Nkosi  
  • Lead photography by: Motlabana Monnakgotla
  • Co-photography by: Gypseenia Lion   

Judges of the 30 Under 30 class of 2019

The category experts whose role it was to survey all finalists of the 2019 30 Under 30 list, rank them and provide commentary on each candidate:

  • Business: Anthea Gardner, Founder and Managing Partner at Cartesian Capital
  • Technology: Professor Tshilidzi Marwala, Vice-Chancellor and Principal at University of Johannesburg; he also deputises President Cyril Ramaphosa on the South African Presidential Commission on the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
  • Creatives: Yasmin Furmie, creative and business partner of fashion brand SiSi The Collection, South Africa
  • Sport: Nick Said, the Africa sports correspondent for Thomson Reuters
  • Audit partner: SNG Grant Thornton

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30 under 30

Forbes Africa #30Under30 list: Business, Technology, Creatives and Sport

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THE FORBES AFRICA 30 UNDER 30 LIST IS THE most-anticipated list of game-changers on the continent and this year, we bring you 120 of Africa’s brightest achievers under the age of 30 and for the first time, four categories featuring 30 in each: Business, Technology, Creatives and Sport.

From elevator manufacturing, solar energy design, to under-30s conquering the Alps and selling out the Apollo Theatre,  this year’s list demonstrates how enterprising and extraordinary the African youth is.

This list celebrates these pioneers who are building brands, creating jobs, and innovating, leading, transforming and contributing to new industries, in turn, changing the continent. 

“The future belongs to Africa and the future belongs to its youth,” says Jason Pau, Chief of Staff for International to billionaire Jack Ma, co-founder of Alibaba. He says the journey for young entrepreneurs, especially in Africa, is not always easy. Many startups fall by the wayside due to a lack of resources. In South Africa, it is estimated that the small enterprise failure rate is at almost 80% within the first three years.

Chances at success are very slim, yet Africans continue to see opportunity where many do not. The select few celebrated in this list represent those individuals who continue to persevere against the odds. It also serves as a reminder that it is possible.

“People don’t really give enough time or spend enough time in providing the right environment for entrepreneurs to grow,” Pau tells FORBES AFRICA.

So if entrepreneurship is the answer, ensuring that an environment is conducive for business sustainability is imperative.

Together with our audit partner for this list, SNG Grant Thornton, the senior editorial team worked night and day scrutinizing each candidate. For entrepreneurs, we delved into how profitable their businesses were and if they showed signs of potential growth and sustainability.

However, not only does the list look at the financial impact of each candidate, but also their reputation, resilience and ability to be role models to other young Africans.

For FORBES AFRICA, this meant endless background checks, fact-checks, emails, phone calls and research, sifting through over 1,000 nominations that poured in over the last few months. Lastly, the one factor that also played a role in the determination of the candidates was their online presence. Followers are a valuable new currency, and today’s achievers have found a way to leverage off them. This year, when FORBES named Kylie Jenner the world’s youngest self-made billionaire, it observed that her business was built mainly because of her social media and fan following. Many on our list have also been able to build on this in their own way. The creatives and sport stars lead in this regard.

This year, Sport is the newest category, opening up the list to the game-changers who are also Africa’s next generation of leaders. They have won awards, broken records, made social investments and pushed the boundaries by challenging the status quo on policies in sports. However, some of the challenges they still face include lack of resources, a gender pay gap, and an immense pool of untapped talent not yet given a chance to be in the limelight.

But no matter where they are from, these 120 list-makers share one common goal, and that is to build a better Africa.

Being an under-30 myself, I am proud to have curated the FORBES AFRICA 30 Under 30 class of 2019. At the time of going to press, all facts on the following pages were verified to be correct.

The list is in no particular order:


This year marks the fifth milestone annual FORBES AFRICA 30 under 30 list, and we have introduced a new category of game-changers. Together, they are 120 in total across four sectors: business, technology, creatives and sport. Meet the class of 2019, a stellar collection of entrepreneurs and innovators rewriting rules and taking bold new risks to take Africa to the future.

#30Under30: Business Category 2019
#30Under30: Creatives Category 2019
#30Under30: Technology Category 2019
#30Under30: Sport Category 2019
  • Words: Karen Mwendera    
  • Edited by: Unathi Shologu
  •  Assistant: Garreth Mtuwa  
  • Creative direction by: Lucy Nkosi  
  • Lead photography by: Motlabana Monnakgotla
  • Co-photography by: Gypseenia Lion   

Judges of the 30 Under 30 class of 2019

The category experts whose role it was to survey all finalists of the 2019 30 Under 30 list, rank them and provide commentary on each candidate:

  • Business: Anthea Gardner, Founder and Managing Partner at Cartesian Capital
  • Technology: Professor Tshilidzi Marwala, Vice-Chancellor and Principal at University of Johannesburg; he also deputises President Cyril Ramaphosa on the South African Presidential Commission on the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
  • Creatives: Yasmin Furmie, creative and business partner of fashion brand SiSi The Collection, South Africa
  • Sport: Nick Said, the Africa sports correspondent for Thomson Reuters
  • Audit partner: SNG Grant Thornton

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