Africa’s Top 50 digital champions: 30 leaders at start-ups, telcos and tech giants

In depth
This article is part of the dossier: Top 50 tech champions

By Julien Clémençot
Posted on Tuesday, 26 April 2022 02:05, updated on Friday, 29 April 2022 16:06

Tech rankings © Arrangement by The Africa Report: Jemal Countess/Getty via AFP ; Waldo Swiegers/Bloomberg via Getty ; Pascal Perich pour JA ; Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg via Getty ; Ehab Farouk/REUTERS ; Francois Grivelet for The Africa Report.

They run Chipper Cash, Opay, Wave, TradeDepot, Andela, MTN, Vodacom, Orange, Google, Amazon, Terraco and Huawei. The African tech industry’s 30 most important bosses feature in our exclusive ranking.

This is part 2 of an 11-part series.

Our 2022 tech champions ranking shows the growth of the sector, which was boosted by the health crisis. After a record year for fundraising – $5bn – African start-ups are continuing with their momentum in 2022, as $1.8bn was raised during the first quarter.

Fintechs were again among the most prominent start-ups over the last year as a whole, particularly in Nigeria, whose huge market is a major asset.

Club of unicorns

Already high in the 2021 ranking, Olugbenga Agboola, co-founder and CEO of the payment platform Flutterwave, is in first place this year after raising $250m in February. His company is now valued at $3.2bn. But the recent revelations surrounding his governance, even though they have just arisen from a journalistic investigation for the moment, have made us cautious.

We are therefore highlighting the trajectories of OPay and Chipper Cash, both of which are also members of the club of African unicorns. They illustrate how enthusiastic foreign investors are about new financial services on the continent, where 80% of the population remains unbanked.

Uganda’s Ham Serunjogi and Ghana’s Maijid Moujaled (ranked 1st), co-founders of Chipper Cash, have, among others, done business with the US investment company SVB Capital and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos.

For his part, Yahui Zhou (2nd), head of OPay, has convinced the Japanese company Softbank to take part in its financing round.

Innovators

In the French-speaking zone, Wave, with Carine Coura Sene at the helm (6th), has made a rapid ascent. The Senegalese woman is one of eight female leaders that made the ranking, which demonstrates that more and more women are taking up positions of responsibility in this sector.

After successfully completing a $200m first round of financing, Wave, which is now valued at $1.7bn, is now trying to export its Senegalese success to Côte d’Ivoire, Benin and Guinea.

This is enough to make Alioune Ndiaye (16th), CEO of Orange Middle East and Africa, break out into a cold sweat. The operator has managed to remain the region’s historical leader in the mobile-money market. Although they do sometimes have trouble keeping up with start-ups, telco operators nevertheless remain forces to be reckoned with. This year, they have managed to expand their networks, profoundly transform their models and develop new services which – tomorrow – could be extended to countries where they do not have a telecoms licence.

South Africa’s Ralph Mupita (4th), who was promoted to CEO of MTN last September, is benefiting from the excellent results of his group, which posted an almost 25% increase in its net profit and invested almost $2bn during the year. MTN’s data services are booming (+30%) and the group continues to expand its 100,000km fibre-optic network.

Ranked 4th, Nigeria’s Segun Ogunsanya, Airtel Africa’s new boss, is also benefiting from exceptional results (+24% growth in revenue over the first nine months of its 2021/2022 financial year), and from the growth of its data and mobile-money activities (+37.2%).

Big tech’s involvement

Although they have long been content to offer their services on the continent without making investments, big global tech firms are gradually changing their policies. We have welcomed Google’s growing involvement by ranking the managing director of its sub-Saharan Africa operations, Nitin Gajria (8th), in the top third of our list. Last year, the company announced that it was planning to invest $1bn in the continent over the next five years. This is reflected in the construction of the Equiano cable, which will link South Africa to Portugal and serve Togo and Nigeria, in particular. And this is likely just the beginning.

Facebook, led in Africa by South Africa’s Nunu Ntshingila (24th), is following the same trend, although its 2Africa cable project, which plans to circle the continent, is less advanced. Amazon Web Services (AWS), piloted in sub-Saharan Africa by Ethiopia’s Amrote Abdella (19th), Microsoft’s former regional director, has also continued to strengthen its presence on the continent ever since it announced in 2020 that it would be operating its African services from Cape Town, where it already employs more than 4,000 people.

Just like with the start-ups, this ranking also highlights investors’ interest in the potential of African infrastructure operators. At the head of Teraco Data Environments, South African Jan Hnizdo (15th) is expected to see his company accelerate its growth thanks to the US company Digital Reality’s takeover. Announced at the beginning of January, the deal, which values the African leader in data centres at $3.5bn, is due to be approved by the end of June.

This operation comes a few months after MainOne, a leader in connectivity services in West Africa, was acquired by another US company, Equinix, for $320m. By keeping Nigeria’s Funke Opeke (17th) as CEO of its new subsidiary, the buyer confirms the reputation of the manager who has profoundly changed her company, which was originally created to manage a submarine cable.

The rise of e-commerce

We also wanted to highlight the rise of African e-commerce. Alongside Jumia pioneers Jeremy Hodara and Sacha Poignonnec (23rd), Nigeria’s Onyekachi Izukanne (21st), a co-founder of TradeDepot, joined the ranking after buying out his Ghanaian competitor Green Lion in February and announced a fundraising round of $110m last year.

South Africa’s Mamongae Mahlare, who was appointed CEO of Takealot in October, is benefiting (23rd) from the performance of the Naspers subsidiary, which could be the first player in the sector to reach its break-even point.

Finally, the diversity of start-ups that have managed to raise funds should also be highlighted. Although fintech representatives dominate the top of the list, the past 12 months have confirmed the interest shown in education specialist Andela, whose co-founder is ranked 10th, as well as the breakthrough of start-ups in the health, logistics and even video games sectors. For instance, Lucy Hoffman (29th), co-founder of Carry1st, has received a $20m round of financing, which marks a first for African video game and app publishers.

Africa’s top 30 digital champions

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