A young Ghanaian entrepreneur, Andrew Takyi-Appiah, has proposed the intensified use of technology to facilitate trade and develop the continent.
He stated that the next step for Africa was the realisation of the true Pan-African dream through a borderless future that resonated with the once borderless past.
“Our continent was interrupted, arrested in development, but the power to move, trade and develop is now in our own hands,” Mr Takyi-Appiah, who is the Founder and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Zeepay, told the Daily Graphic.
He further stated that while the continent still struggled with poverty, the future development of Africa hinged on the ability to adopt the technology that was at people’s fingertips, stressing, “it allows the world to come to us long before we have the ability or resources to come to it”.
The technology entrepreneur pointed out that expansion of mobile payments throughout Africa had done just that and also created a whole generation of burgeoning young entrepreneurs who were ready and eager for the next step for their small businesses.
Layingout the context on why Africa must leapfrog technology to push the frontiers of trade and development, Mr Takyi-Appiah asserted that although he was a businessman, he equally had a goal loftier than profits.
“I want to expand trans-African trade and make entrepreneurship an engine in the economic development of our continent,” the entrepreneur, who for the past nine years had built Zeepay and expanded it into 33 markets, including 25 in Africa, the entrepreneur who is under 50 years said.
As of this year, there are about 600 million mobile money accounts registered around the world, with transactions valued at $600 billion.
The numbers translate into tremendous business opportunities, with a multiplying effect beyond money, which includes a basis for huge societal transformation.
There are massive amounts of transnational trade taking place across Africa, most of it through small to medium businesses, made possible by technological payment solutions.
According to a 2023 report from the World Economic Forum, the three largest hurdles facing small business owners in sub-Saharan Africa today were difficulty raising funds, lack of staff with sufficient digital skills and a tough regulatory climate.
Premised on that report, Mr Takyi-Appiah stated that given the massive potential being stifled through those challenges, addressing them needed to be top priority, both as a nation and continent.
“The real challenge now is how to harvest and capitalise on that, how to turn Africa into the innovation and startup hub it should and could be,” he argued.
He regretted that the conversation surrounding the nation’s youth had been marred with negativity, focusing on the burden they represented rather than the saving grace they would turn out to be for present and future generations.
“Never before have we had this young a population, and never before have they been as connected to the outside world, allowing them to build and earn, despite the limitations their immediate surroundings may be putting on them,” Mr Takyi-Appiah posited.
Without belittling the hardship many Ghanaians were living through, the Zeepay founder stressed the need to view technology as a shortcut to the middle-class, as well as an eradicator of a class system, since it levelled the playing field in which only few political reforms could achieve on that massive scale and timeline.
“If we have learned anything in these past few decades it is that government and establishment can never, through legislation and committee, duplicate the type of ingenuity that the youthful mind concocts,” Mr Takyi-Appiah averred.
He said the best gift the current generation could give its youth was to stay out of their way and allow them to show what was possible, to not tax and bureaucratise their dreams to death but rather lift them up and offer guidance and support.
The founder of Zeepay said lowering taxes and levies on small and medium-size businesses would incentivise them to enter the official market and provide active financial aid to youth entrepreneurs, helping them to stay there.
Mr Takyi-Appiah also emphasised that the trans-national cooperation between financial technology firms (fintechs), as well as government financial institutions, was also crucial in order to create youth entrepreneurs.
He added that lowering thresholds for transferring funds across borders would create the long sought-after trade incentives, but with much more ease than previous generations could ever have imagined.
Finally, the Zeepay CEO said mentorship should be taken seriously and therefore urged those who had built and succeeded in the fintech space to participate actively in the creation of a knowledge and skills base which could be drawn upon and used by those who would come after them.
“It is no longer about making it big and cashing out, but about building it broad and leaning in,” he stated.
Mr Takyi-Appiah urged all entrepreneurs whom he described as “makers, inventors and builders” to roll up their sleeves and do what they did best – “create solutions and force the world to move forward when everyone else says it can’t be done.”
Mr Takyi-Appiah, who previously worked with defunct UT Bank Ghana, PwC Ghana, PwC UK, Ecobank Transnational Incorporated, and GTBank, co-founded Zeepay in 2016.
With an annual turnover of about $900 million, Zeepay has established itself as the largest cross-border remittance aggregator in Africa.