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Tuesday, December 12, 2023

Algeria wants to drive tech investments, but it must first open up

Bracing 10-degree  weather, 10,000 investors, innovators, and regulators gathered at CIC Algiers, Africa’s biggest international conference center, for the second edition of the African Startup Conference. The three-day event, which kicked off on December 5, was put together by the Algerian Ministry of Knowledge, Economy, startups, and Micro-enterprises. 

The conference marks the North African nation’s growing ambition to become a key player in Africa’s tech ecosystem.

Algeria has a lot to sell itself on. It sits at the crossroads of Africa, Europe, and the Middle East, offering access to a vast market and investment potential. Also, 30% of its population is young, and its literacy rate is high, giving it the basic ingredients to grow its tech ecosystem ranked 7th in Foreign Direct Investment reception in Africa.

As it dreams of becoming a tech hub, it must open up what has historically been a closed country; hosting key stakeholders from other parts of Africa is the beginning of changing the perception. 

A significant highlight of the African Startup Conference was a Ministerial Summit, which featured ministers of technology and their representatives from South Africa, Tunisia, Botswana, and Nigeria to discuss driving innovation on the continent. The outcome of that deliberation is a plan to launch negotiations for an African Charter on Brain Drain and a Pan-African startup strategy. The ministers are also looking at introducing startup visas.

One thing is clear: Algeria wants to be the tech confluence of the continent.

“We are going to do everything to achieve this ambitious objective of making our ecosystem the place for African startups [to build],” Yacine El-Mahdi Oualid, the country’s minister of knowledge, economy, startups, and micro-enterprises, said during the closing ceremony.

The government is backing this plan to spur technological progress. The state-backed Algeria Startup Fund manages $411 million in state funding ↗

While this is a good start, some believe that there is a need for more private capital in the country’s tech ecosystem. One Abu Dhabi-based investor of Algerian descent described Algeria Venture as “the only game in town.”

His characterisation is not entirely accurate. Some external venture funding has flowed into Algeria’s tech ecosystem. Yassir, the YC-backed ride-hailing and food delivery startup, closed 2022 with a $150 million Series B funding ↗. But Algeria is still some way off compared to the continent’s Big Four.

Catching up to the continent’s biggest players will take time, and Algeria insists it’s ready to do the work. Already, the country is considering taking next year’s edition of the Startup Conference on the road, and it is taking a pan-African approach to its thinking. A startup visa and an agreement to share innovative thinking and approaches will potentially be the actionable steps for this year’s conference.

But there’s still work to be done. Algeria will need to rethink its restrictions on foreign investments and introduce friendly and open policies to show that it is serious about a push into technology.

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Michael Maren
Michael Maren
Former marine biologist who likes to spend as much time in the tropics as possible, due to a horrible time I once had in Alaska. Brrrr.

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