Microsoft wakes up to new Africa, reacts with youth empowerment initiative

L.S.M Kabweza Avatar

MicrosoftTo Microsoft Africa has traditionally been a place to sell its enterprise software products. Through local partners yes, but the continent was primarily a place to push products to. I imagine they were not making much owing chiefly to the piracy of its products on the market and so far it looks their concern about this was just as low. Whatever volume of products they were pushing sufficed. In that era Microsoft ruled computing both in the enterprise and at home and could take its sweet time postponing understanding and helping its market grow.

But the business environment on the continent is fast changing. Enterprise software doesn’t rule computing as dominantly as it did 10 years ago. Granted, the company’s software still rules the office. But its once tight software grip on everything computing is weakening. As the number of Africans buying computing devices balloons in Africa, the choice of device, platform and applications is no more limited to PC, Windows and Microsoft Office. There’s a whole mobile market that has been established, and its a market Microsoft wasn’t playing in seriously. The immediate threat, one the company is waking up to now, is that a new generation of computer and internet users – one many times larger than the small market of yesteryear – is getting introduced to computing on devices, platforms and through apps far removed from its enterprise domain.

In Africa, it’s a generation that recognises and identifies with the Google, BlackBerry, Apple and Facebook brands more than they do Microsoft. It’s a new generation that, coming from non-Windows smartphones, will be open to trying Google’s Chromebooks and Chromeboxes (Macbooks if they are loaded) before they try a Windows PC. Some of them will have all their needs met. Some that will not will of course try Windows and maybe even prefer it, but again yesteryear if you wanted to connect to the internet or do some office work stuff, you’d get a Compaq PC, Microsoft 2000, Office and Outlook Express.

This new and much larger generation of computer users understandably scares the hell of out Microsoft and the company is reacting.

Google’s already on the continent working with internet providers to improve connectivity, with startup incubators and hubs helping startups create solutions, with local university departments translating Google services to local languages, with small businesses getting them online. On the side, its Android open source mobile operating system has also lowered the cost of entry into the smartphones for many on the continent; cheap just-good-enough Chinese Android devices are awash on the market and the utility of apps like WhatsApp is pulling new mobile phone buyers to them.

In short, while Microsoft was concerned with selling more licenses through its corporate channel partners, unconcerned about the punitive pricing (which had many resorting to pirate copies), Google was making money in a different way; it was sending Adsense cheques to publishers on the continent. Small Adsense amounts yes but enough to demonstrate what computing and the internet is; lowered barriers and new opportunity.

Microsoft is reacting. Throwing money and promises that smell like a politician’s. And strange in-your-face names like 4Afrika.

A press release sent out by the company this week goes: 

“YouthSpark forms part of this 4Afrika vision and through YouthSpark, we are paying specific attention to the next generation of our ecosystem through our work with schools, students, start-ups and the developer community to drive skills and ICT integration which will in turn trigger growth.

Through our partnerships with governments, non-profit organizations and businesses, Microsoft YouthSpark aims to empower youth to imagine and realize their full potential.

By 2016, the Microsoft 4Afrika Initiative plans to help place tens of millions of smart devices in the hands of African youth, bring 1 million African small and medium enterprises (SMEs) online, up-skill 100,000 members of Africa’s existing workforce, and help an additional 100,000 recent graduates develop skills for employability, 75 percent of which Microsoft will help place in jobs”

Read the full release here.


It’s never too late of course and I hope it works. Sincerely I do. Companies like Microsoft that are in it for viable business – theirs and by extension the businesses they work with – are best placed to do the work that’s so far been largely left to NGOs on the continent. The company makes great software too.


  1. macdchip

    Microsoft is not empowering anybody else bt their pockets. What they are are doing is fighting future wars by grooming young generation to get tied to there expensive program softwares. Tell me how you are empowering someone when you are charging them $350 for licensing there products?

    What all of us dont realise is that Microsoft has been losing big in Europe, the Germany government and some Nordic countries have made it a mandatory law that every goverment department must use Opensource software which is leaving them in red and most countries and big corporates has been following. They already lost the server wars to Linux (Redhat).

    What they are now doing is stalking the virgin lands of Africa and the unintiated IT mind of African generation. They have been beaten once and l dont see them losing this lightely. lf they are so concerned with African young empowerment and young generation, who killed One Laptop per Child project in its infants? its only those who dont know and understand Microsoft dirty plays who will welcome them with open hands.

    1. kthaker

      i think you’ve hit the nail on the head right there dude. i was just about to say that with the whole economic meltdown happening overseas.. these big corporate companies now “all of a sudden” see alot of potential in africa. i.e they just see Africa as un-tapped market of $$ for them, because things are so difficult in their domestic markets at the moment.

      and i dont think its just Microsoft who is guilty.. take GM in South Africa, notice anything suspicious about Chevrolet in Africa in the last 3 years? Also, lets put it this way, at the recent MS launch at HICC.. the MD of Microsoft for Southern Africa mentioned that Microsoft has been in business almost 40 years now..yet realistically, only now, in the last few years have they seen the “tremendous” potential in African youths, and how they now want to help economies grow in Africa. It is ironic..because during the difficult times in Zimbabwe.. Microsoft offices were one of the first to leave…so yes..sorry Author, but i dont buy this either.

    2. Culprit

      I take it you own several apple products because I don’t see you making a
      scathing attack on the company that makes the BEST computers, wouldn’t
      you want to use the best? or try something new. Microsoft is the biggest
      software maker they can price as they please and invest money in
      projects they see as worthwhile and as the adage goes if have to ask for
      the price you cant afford it.

      Electronics are overpriced in this country yet there is no out cry for price controls seriously you need to get a life

      1. macdchip

        Microsoft doesnt make computers, they make software, get your facts straight! Unfortunately for you l have never owned any Apple product in my who life, bcoz any company which grows by wall gardening there products is not my cuppa.

        1. Culprit

          FYI Microsoft makes xbox and surface tablets plus there they have assorted hardware although they are not the companies cash cows like software. What have you committed to for your fellow citizen in promoting ICT culture… Nothing but you are quick to criticize Mr. Kabweza and his team for getting knowledge from relevant people in the industry. I’m sorry but that doesn’t sit well with me disqus comments can and should be used in a better fashion

          1. macdchip

            This is not personal, its facts. And l guess you read my respond quick, my respond was geared towards MS.

            And if l was targeting him, he doesnt need to be baby sited by you.

            Xbox can be the greatest hardware to you bt to me and most pple it scores well below nitendo. The tablet market is dominated by asus, the transformer line.

            I have the opportunity of of testing all major and latest products rather than reading them online and paper, including MS products.

            1. Culprit

              I played xbox 360 and used windows 8 on touch I have over 100gig in bandwidth monthly data at my dispoal plus I follow Mr. Kabweza on twitter

              1. macdchip

                100gig in bandwidth monthly….!! are you sure of what you are talking about??

              2. chanyane

                Microsoft is helping youth in Africa based on their business model. I would rather have my kids grow up in asociety where there is choice of proprietary and open source. They can then choose what they want (and pay for it) rather than be subjected to a fascist one party state model of open source only.

              3. macdchip

                Microsoft killed One Laptop per child, how is that for helping your kids??

              4. Chanyane

                One Laptop per child had enough sponsors to stand on its own. Microsoft did not agree with the direction it was taking so they pulled out to continue with initiatives they understand. If one laptop per child is dead, it was not killed by microsoft. it had no clout/vision to stand by itself! that is free market conditions and it helps my child to understand the forces of free market, which is where he/she will compete.

              5. macdchip

                lt looks like you are writing from informed position, bt what you are failing to grasp or not ready to tell is that One Laptop per child was not going to use windows as an operating system bt Linux which really angered micro$oft because they were not gong to get an cash out of it. They were not going in to help poor children in Africa, they were going in for money.

                They couldnt just stand aside and watch there profits being drained away or not getting anything out of the project, and yes, they did something about it. They offered netbook manufacturers deals they couldnt resist to sway them away from supporting manufacturing of those laptops, and them being profit chasing lot, who cares about starving poor kids in Africa??

              6. Chanyane

                The starving poor kids in Africa is complicated one my friend. Lets not hate the rest of the world for things we can do for ourselves. I am sure you are aware that Africa has enough resources to create food security for all. It is poor leadership by us Africans that creates hungry African children, But that’s another argument all together, I would not link hungry children to Microsoft’s refusal to push Linux only. Why did the consortia not accept that windows be part of the deal? Microsoft was willing to put money to come up with a much more powerful child laptop that would run linux and windows depending on stakeholder choices. The other group refused and microsoft puled out. Now you say the project is dead. I thought it was still limping along.

    3. L.S.M. Kabweza

      welcoming with open hands, negotiating sustainable deals/models, or just chasing them out of the market for me is is besides the point. I just find that a company that openly has a commercial agenda is much better to partner with than a patronising NGO that feeds inferiority complexes leaving Africans dependent on their help and feeling they don’t have the capacity to build solutions and successful companies.

      and sorry for the late response 😉

      1. macdchip

        That will be true if we can have a visionary ministry which understands the implications of decisions they make.

      2. Chanyane

        I agree with you on the first point. I however do not fully agree with you on the NGO argument. NGOs are just another channel of stakeholders in the development landscape. They need to be managed, negotiated with and understood. NGOs have played a big part in funding kenyan innovation hubs. There is a whole market of funded tech projects through resources like . East African guys are harvesting these and their humanitarian and tech industries are benefiting from that. Just like every partner, NGOs, governments and private companies have agendas, The point is to understand the agenda and manage the risk when engaging a partner. Keep up the good work that gets techies from Zim engaging in the wide subject of technology.

        1. L.S.M. Kabweza

          Not hating NGOs. they are clearly seeing and doing more than we are for ourselves. However, given a choice, I prefer commercial guys to NGOs. I’d love NGOs to focus on emergency aid situations like floods, famine etc… For stuff we can plan business wise, education and capacity building, commercial arrangements yield more in the long run

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