"Do you drive in Nairobi?"

'Yes, I do," came the quick reply.

That surprised me, because I won't drive in the Philippines, where I spend about half of my time. At least they drive on the right-hand side of the road in Manila, unlike in the former British colony of Kenya.

I was talking to Adam Nelson, an American who has set up shop in Nairobi to deliver public cloud services. His company is called Kili (www.Kili.io) I wrote a short article about him the other day for Cloud Computing Journal, and branded his firm "The AWS of Africa." To be sure, Adam would like to expand much more deeply into the potential user base in Kenya, he told me, and extend his service throughout East Africa and the continent. 

But one key element is missing: venture capital. Actually, serious financing of any kind is simply not present in one of Africa's best-known countries, and one that according to our Tau Institute research, is dynamic. 

Beyond Kenya
As we talked, Adam told me of some great IT-related projects going on in neighboring Rwanda, and I told him about how we've found Tanzania, Uganda, and Ethiopia to score well in our rankings of potential--or "instantaneous dynamism" as we term it.

Indeed, there is much to like about East Africa's economic prospects in general and its IT future in particular. Kenya and its functional neighbors have a combined population of about 230 million people (including more than 80 million in Ethiopia). 

The size of its combined regional economy is still significantly less than that of developed New Zealand or developing Vietnam. But our research, which looks at relative progress--how well countries are doing given the economic resources they have--shows the region to be on the upswing quickly.

Then there's the problem of Somalia, and also of South Sudan. These two troubled nations border Kenya. Though South Sudan may, by fits and starts, eventually emerge as a viable nation, the situation in Somalia appears to remain dire--in failed-state status. Add to this the recent terrorist violence at an upscale shopping mall in Nairobi, and other violent acts in recent years, and you have a nation that can be a tough sell to investors.

I'd Live There
Although there are many venture funds operating in Africa, and Kenya is among the best-known of African nations, total outside investment in Kenya currently runs at around $3 billion per year, with a small fraction of that devoted to venture funding. Compare this, again, to Vietnam, which receives more than $70 billion annually in outside investment, despite its rigidly Communist government leadership. 

I don't know if I would drive in Nairobi, but I would feel as comfortable living there as in any developing nation. Living in the developing world, based on my experience, requires patience and the ability to make and keep friends. Business districts seem no different from those in the developed world. All of modern life has arrived in most nations. 

I have spent some time living deep in the provincial Philippines, and can report that life there does remain very hard. You don't want to get sick or break a bone, because medical care may be unavailable or a long boat ride away. Forget anything fancy like movies, fast food, or enough clothes for a closet. 

Yet entrepreneurs such as Adam and his team at Kili continue to fight the fight. He sees a need for a service--Amazon can provision cloud services to be sure, but from datacenters far, far away--and a viable market for that service. The majority of Kenyans don't yet have Internet service, let alone fast connections, but our research shows things are headed in the right direction. Most of the big technology vendors have a presence there.

Kili, by the way, uses OpenStack to design and deploy his service. He believes in it. He thinks the big-vendor support behind it means it will succeed over the long haul.

My question is, can we encourage OpenStack's big members to come to Kenya and East Africa? Can we organize a summit in Nairobi in 2015? Can we attract potential investors to such a summit? Anyone who has an interest, please let me know!



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