Move over, PayPal Mafia. Enter: African Tech Mafia

The Untrod Chronicles Of The On Song But Unsung ‘African Tech Mafia’

By  |  July 20, 2021

As the story goes, Mitchell Elegbe - born to a single mother following his father’s unfortunate demise - used to dub cassettes borrowed from friends and sell the dubbed copies to support himself while studying Electrical Engineering at the University of Benin in South-South Nigeria.

That’s the tale of humble beginnings behind the man who created the Lagos-based payments company known as Interswitch, Africa’s leading digital payments provider and fintech pioneer currently valued at over a billion dollars. But clearly, this mammoth venture couldn’t have been “voila’d!” into existence.

When Elegbe landed his first real job after school, it was a ‘business developer’ role at a little-known local ICT engineering and consultancy firm known as Telnet. It turns out that was actually the first of Elegbe’s two stints at Telnet with a short spell in Scotland sandwiched in-between.

And somehow, it often goes largely unacknowledged that Telnet sort of incubated what eventually became Interswitch. There’s more - Telnet also happens to be the unassuming and uncelebrated parent that birthed OPay, now one of Nigeria’s leading mobile money platforms.

In the same vein, unmistakable traces of the Interswitch DNA can be found in growing tech startups like OnePipe, WeMove, GladePay, and TeamApt (The latter is a 'soonicorn' reportedly, that was famously set up by six ex-Interswitch Engineers). But these aren’t even the most prominent representations of former executives or employees of notable startups going on to make further dent with newer pursuits in African tech.

Move over, PayPal Mafia. Enter: African Tech Mafia. It turns out that there’s been a quiet emergence of distinct ‘tech mafias’ in the African startup and venture capital ecosystem that has largely gone undocumented, even as their footprints appear to be expanding continuously.

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