This initiative is all about helping African startups collaborate with Europe, get Zim on this

Leonard Sengere Avatar

I am one of those people that loves being independent. I hate having to rely on anyone for anything and yet life keeps humbling me, showing me just how much I need others. I believe I am not alone in this but as Zimbabweans we have to swallow our pride and go out into the world.

Not with a begging bowl, although we might need to whip that out as people are struggling out here, but we need to seek out partnerships and collaborations.

The man in the scarf was right in declaring Zimbabwe open for business but his govt was let down by disastrous policies that made the economy a hard sell to potential investors. Unfortunately, this led to the govt realising its only path to revenue was from overtaxing its struggling citizens.

The central bank governor admitted as much, saying something like “There is no money out there and so we have to squeeze it out of the people resident here.”

I mean, the govt’s own statistics agency, Zimstat, says 61% of formally employed people in the country earn less than ZW$100,000 (just over US$10) a month. Yet that didn’t stop them from slapping a tax on soft drinks.

Now, with tax policies straight out of hell, it’s going to be even harder to convince investors to come. Do we just give up then? Do we just hold a going-out-of-business sale of the country? No, we soldier on and somehow find a way on tables like the one we are talking about today.

Emerging Valley

It is an international summit and ecosystem dedicated to promoting and supporting innovation and entrepreneurship in emerging markets, particularly in Africa and the Mediterranean region. It focuses on collaboration between Europe and Africa.

The 2023 edition has just concluded and here are the highlights:

  • Over 2100 attendees from 5 continents – incubators, investors, and representatives of African and European communities and 118 African startups,
  • 135 international speakers spread across 3 stages
  • Presence of 5 official national delegations from Togo, Rwanda, Tunisia, Morocco, and Kenya
  • Launch of the Soft Landing Provence Africa Connect initiative, which aims to attract and support African innovative companies wishing to internationalise in Europe

There were no Zimbabwean startups or national delegates in attendance, which was obviously a mistake, something we need to rectify at next year’s edition.

You will have noted the last point, with a small and let’s face it, poor local population, Zimbabwean startups need to internationalise. So, we will have to really look into this “Soft Landing Provence Africa Connect initiative.”

The Metropolitan Councilor delegated to Foreign Trade of the Aix-Marseille-Provence Metropolis and Mayor of Le Tholonet talked about how “the territory is putting everything in place to be the Hub of Europe-Africa Innovation” through, in particular, the launch of the Soft Landing Provence Africa Connect initiative.

The initiative aims to attract and support African innovative companies wishing to internationalise in Europe. He says Emerging Valley was created in this territory around an ambition to create sustainable innovation links between Europe and Africa.

Startups will have to dig into all this.

What was discussed?

Artificial Intelligence (AI)

The transformative potential of AI in various sectors in Africa was discussed. Experts presented practical applications of AI, ranging from water resource management to optimizing exports of Moroccan tomatoes, distributing vaccines in remote areas, improving the employability of young people through digital HR, and accessing education and services via Chatbots in local languages. Senegal developed national strategies to exploit AI for development.

Zimbabwe would benefit from such initiatives. All we have for now is a plea by the Speaker of Parliament for the government to establish a Committee of the Future to research how to best use AI. Who knows when (if?) Parliament will adopt that.

Food Sovereignty and 2.0 Water Management

Listen, it’s getting increasingly harder to deny the impact of climate change. Right now the heat in Zimbabwe is unbearable, even in historically temperate places. We have to start actively trying to tackle these problems.

At Emerging Valley 2023, highlighted were Agritech solutions that aim to tackle the problem. Dialogue was had between startups, investors, and funders on ways to respond to new climate challenges. For startups looking to get in on the action, this was through the SAIS program of GIZ.

A startup called Seabex presented a precise AI-assisted irrigation, already in use in France and Tunisia.

Co-Innovation LAB

The Co-Innovation Lab is a dedicated program within the larger EMERGING Valley summit, focusing on fostering collaborative innovation between European and African stakeholders.

France

Listen, I know how France’s relationship with Africa is “questionable” to say the least. So, some may have qualms about France taking a leading role in Emerging Valley.

However, are we in a position to snub Zim-Europe collaboration? I don’t think so. This is not to say we sell our souls but we might have to kiss some behinds.

Zimbabwean startups need this and so we have to make it happen. Startups on their end should know they will have to sell their ideas like Apple sells phones because it will be an uphill challenge.

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