Digging Into Andela/Flutterwave Co-Founder’s Moonshot Plans To Pull Off A Shenzhen In Nigeria

By  |  January 17, 2020

What Building The Future Looks Like

With back-to-back hits in Andela and Flutterwave under his belt, Iyinoluwa “E” Aboyeji has already established himself as one of the leaders of the African tech ecosystem and perhaps the “king of exits” at just 28 years of age.

And he earned every bit of that top player status. From co-founding Bookneto.com before his 20th birthday (the social learning platform was eventually acquired by the Canadian Innovation Centre in 2013), to playing a huge role in the synthesis of Andela from another platform of his known as Fora, and combining with Olugbenga “GB” Agboola to create the fintech juggernaut that is known as Flutterwave, it’s been a remarkable journey for the young entrepreneur.

Since exiting Andela, and later, Flutterwave, E has remained visible in the ecosystem, supporting and advising local startups even while on sabbaticals. Well, not everyone knows how to have a ‘do-nothing’ holiday.

Since coming out of his sabbatical, E has tasked himself with the daunting task of building Africa’s future. But if anyone can pull this off, it would be the progressive, forward-thinking personality that is E.

His current venture, Future Africa, was kickstarted in March 2019, with assistance from Olabinjo Adeniran and Adenike Sheriff, and the mission is to bridge the incredible socio-economic gaps that exist on the African continent through the provision of three C’s: capital, community, and coaching.

Just recently, he announced the Future Africa Fund; the capital arm of Future Africa. It’s an angel fund created to back 20 founders with up to USD 50 K each year.

As a matter of fact, E and fellow founding partner of the Future Africa Fund, Nadayar Enegesi (also a co-founder of Andela), have spent the last 10 months writing cheques of between USD 10 K and USD 20 K. In all, they have invested in 15 African startups.

In his quest to play an active role in building Africa’s Future, E is looking to take on what would undoubtedly be his most challenging endeavour yet.

On Thursday, January 16, he announced that he and his team are building something futuristic — Talent City: a charter city focused on attracting the talent that drives technology, innovation, and the digital economy.

Why The Charter City Play?

Charter cities are new cities with special jurisdiction that grants them (the city and the economic participants within it) a blank slate in commercial law.

E and his team are looking to take advantage of Nigeria’s free trade zone laws which he says serve up “a blank canvas to develop policies that are data-driven and evidence-based – free of complex socio-political or economically-protectionist considerations.”

E’s charter city play is an effort to solve the urbanisation crisis that is imminent given that Africa, just like other parts of the developing world, is undergoing rapid urbanisation despite industrialisation being at its slowest pace in years.

As Mark Lutter, Founder and Executive Director, of the Chartered Cities Institute writes; “Historically, urbanization has led to improvements in productivity and economic growth, but regions such as sub-Saharan Africa, though rapidly urbanizing, are yet to experience these gains. 

He adds; “Soon, countries across the subcontinent will have to face the growing possibility that their cities will urbanize without also industrializing, a threat to critical poverty alleviation efforts. 

“For instance, projections show that Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo, will reach 35 million residents by 2050. Without the productivity gains that typically accompany urbanization, the residents will likely remain in impoverished slums.”

Africa’s population, which currently stands at 1.2 billion, is expected to hit 4.5 billion in the next 80 years. By that time, Africa’s most populous country, Nigeria, will be home to up to nearly half a million people — more than two times the number of people who live there at the moment. And over 60 percent of these people will be city-dwellers or urbanites.

With a population of 200 million, it’s somewhat bizarre that Nigeria has only 7 cities accommodating more than a million people each. And this becomes all the more bizarre when thought is given to the fact that one of Nigeria’s smallest cities (Lagos; a mere 110 square kilometre coastal city) has a population of 17 million.

The lure of Lagos is attributed to the fact that the city is relatively more urban and ‘open’ than any other city in Nigeria. But as urbanisation continues to outstrip industrialisation in cities like Lagos and Kinshasa, an implosion is imminent — we’re pretty much sitting on a tinderbox.

What To Expect From Charter Cities?

E’s vision is to solve the urbanization problem by executing charter cities. By his reckoning, Africa has an opportunity to build more sustainable cities for exponential population growth.

The charter city will be focused on creating technology-enabled jobs and managed within a free trade zone with its own productivity-focused, entrepreneurial-centred regulations, and bye-laws.

“It’s this model that enabled Shenzhen and Dalian to emerge as manufacturing capitals of the world, and Bangalore and Hyderabad to become the outsourcing capital of the world,” says E in a post on the official website of Future Africa.  

“This charter city model, already applied to good effect in cities around the world from Dubai to Kigali, will enable governance innovation that will unlock the potential of the continent. 

He adds; “In the end, our hope is that by doing this we can build prototype homes for a future where at the turn of the century Africa’s 4.5 billion people can lead lives where purpose and prosperity is within everyone’s reach.”

In a nutshell, E wants to take advantage of Nigeria’s free trade zones to build a charter city known as Talent City which could help unlock Africa’s digital economy.

Doing this, he hopes, will ensure the appropriate policy environment for the best of African technology and innovation to emerge and flourish in this zone.

What Is The Ultimate Goal?

Charter cities can be thought of as the next generation of special economic zone. Both charter cities and special economic zones are legal reforms that apply to a limited geographic area. 

However, charter cities include key elements that ensure they have a larger impact on economic growth than most special economic zones have had.

Lutter of Chartered Cities Institute says; “The goal of charter cities is to raise the per capita income of its residents by two or more percentage points annually over several decades. 

“Ideally, the success of a charter city will also inspire the host country and the surrounding region to adopt similar reforms. 

“For instance, China lifted 850 million people out of poverty with a strategy of special economic zones combined with urbanization, which was prompted by the success of the Shenzhen Special Economic Zone. Charter cities provide an opportunity for equally aspirational countries and regions to achieve similar success.”

E’s Talent City play can, thus, be thought of as a move that is straight from that playbook, though not without some modifications.

No definite timeline has been laid out for this new development but knowing E and what he stands for, this moonshot startup project might eventually be pulled off. So, we keep our fingers crossed and wait for time to tell.

Featured Image Courtesy: InnovationVillage

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