Your website describes you as a “speaker”, “author” and “entrepreneur”.  For those who don’t already know you, could tell This Is Africa readers a little about yourself?

I am a person that is fascinated by the internet and how Africans adopt it and use it. So I am curious about the herdsman by the Kenya and Tanzania border who five years ago, thought to have somebody watch over their flock just long enough for them to go into a cybercafé. I want to know what did he do and what is he doing now?

I am intrigued by the nineteen-year-old in Accra who hasn’t experienced a day in their life without technology and media – electricity notwithstanding. So long as (the person) is on the African continent, my team and I are, infinitely curious to know more about them and what they do online.

I run a consultancy firm called Nendo and we absorb ourselves within the realms of connectivity, commerce, culture and community in so far as technology and the internet are concerned in Africa. Said differently, we create strategies, lead and conduct research projects and train leaders and teams focused on connected Africans.

We love what we do and I am glad to have an amazing team that I get to do it with.

Could you tell our readers a little bit about Nendo? 

At Nendo, what we are trying to do is fill a gap. If you Google the words “social media” or “mobile technology Africa”, you will find that a lot of the literature or published research is largely from the West. So we’re trying to fill that gap and publish meaningful content that’s attributed back to us: African minds, studying African audiences and publishing for the world.

Our strategy work is probably where we learn the most because we’re helping clients learn too. We help clients define their technology-driven advantage and advance positions in their markets towards their audiences and stakeholders.

Our research work helps us to find clients who match our ambitions to solve interesting and difficult challenges and opportunities  aided by technology. We help the businesses to firm up their positions and hypothesis about what the African customer of tomorrow, especially the connected customer, thinks and does.

Of course, there’s also constant learning and development which we offer. We equip leaders and teams around the continent in 13 countries and counting. Taking our experiences and creating workshops, courses and material that educates and spurs organisations into action.For example, right now we are really big on using online channels for customer service and customer care. In fact, I am glad to say we are pretty much Africa’s best programme to learn that with 124 people having attended from the region’s most respected organisations.

So long as (the person) is on the African continent, my team and I are, infinitely curious to know more about them and what they do online

Mark Kaigwa This Is Africa

Kaigwa has some advice for young African entrepreneurs: You have to be happy to play the long game because Africa is a grind. (Photo: Mark Kaigwa collection/Evernote)

What challenges have you faced in your business and what advice can you give to young Africans who may be facing similar obstacles?  

I think the most important thing is you have to be prepared to play the long game. That applies whether you’re in a startup, small business, a consulting company or anything scalable. You have to be happy to play the long game because Africa is a grind but the battle for the hearts, minds and wallets of African consumers is far from won.

As a watcher of online trends in Kenya and Africa, what’s been the biggest lesson you’ve learnt about what makes Africans online tick? 

The biggest lesson about what makes Africa tick? It has been said more times than we’re comfortable to keep repeating but Africa is not a country. I’ve been to Spanish-speaking Africa and been humbled by how limited I am in terms of my language and ability to contribute. The continent’s not even divided along the lines we may believe it is, rather along language as we know it. It is  hard to dissect the whole continent and give any generic answers.You can’t know what makes Africans tick until you genuinely spend time with the people. The same goes for cyberspace and it is why we’re focused on acquiring data on different countries to better understand online audiences.

On social media, there’s so much length and breadth to go through to learn about the different African countries. We even attempted to create a Africa’s first digital dictionary using Kenyans on Twitter. Of course you have many different social media platforms but it’s on Twitter where the continent seems “flattest”. It has been interesting to watch trending topics creates safe online spaces for reflection on the collective African consciousness such as #AfricanNationsInHighSchooll and more recently #IfAfricaWasABar. We incur a cost to chronicle these trends it but it’s worth it because we know we’re preserving African cyberculture for posterity.

You’ve written about the transformative effect the introduction of the fibre-optic cable in 2009 has had in Kenya. Do you think there are any lessons other African countries can draw from Kenya in terms of how to harness the full potential of the internet?

I think, if anything, Kenya has a lot to learn from other African countries. Each country brings something to the table. Just as an example, 25% of Zimbabwe’s internet traffic is entirely attributable to WhatsApp. That just shows that for them that is the default social media network, instant messenger, content-forwarding and picture-taking platform. It’s intriguing to see the amount of content that they consume and to know that it is all thanks to weekly bundles that are available through Econet, one of their mobile network operators. .

Kenya can also learn from South Africa and Nigeria too. South Africa is home to MXit, at one time, Africa’s largest local mobile social network with over ten million users. Nigeria meanwhile, is head and shoulders above everyone else if you look at venture capital and market sizes. Thanks to their sheer numbers they have the advantage on social media. One in every ten Africans on Facebook is Nigerian. You can’t hear numbers like that and not be impressed.

You can’t know what makes Africans tick until you genuinely spend time with the people. The same goes for cyberspace and it is why we’re focused on acquiring data on different countries to better understand online audiences

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Mark is a proud Pan-African and says he’s been glad to meet many young Africans with a similar outlook on his travels around Africa. (Photo: Mark Kaigwa collection/Evernote)

Do you think of yourself as a Pan-African?

I am definitely Pan-African in spirit. I’ve had the good fortune of travelling to various parts of the continent and I’ve taken nothing more than an open mind and a curious eye to the various places I’ve had the chance to see. When I travel in Africa, a lot of people have shown me love and hospitality even when they’ve yet to know me. Some it has been through Twitter and I am indebted to my network there. I’ve made a lot of business and social contacts in Africa because of keeping an open heart and mind and asking plenty of questions.

Some say because of social media and the reach of the internet in general, there’s never been a better time to be a Pan-African. Do you agree?  

That’s a loaded statement to be honest. I feel people are defining Pan-Africanism in their own terms. You could say that with 591 million people on the continent lack access to electricity. So if they’re not “on the grid” what does Pan-Africanism mean to them? Is it any less than the twenty-something in Harare who is tweeting constantly? I definitely appreciate the safe spaces that have come up over time and reserve the right to homogenise it as there’s respect for all concerned.

Pan-Africanism does carry the weight of the socio-political ideals of the past and I am not yet sure if what we see is a full manifestation of it. Perhaps a modern interpretation of the concept. We still need more women online as well as sustainable access for young people to connectivity. I’m encouraged by what’s happening in Tshwane in this regard with projects such as Isizwe. I’m curious what will come to be defined as the “common African digital experience is”.

You don’t need to leave your country to know there are commonalities between us and the way we are perceived globally though. This is something that increasingly unites us. When we get behind #FeesMustFall or #ThisFlag or #BringBackOurGirls or  I think when you say Pan-African, it could mean a hundred different things to different people so I don’t know if I agree with the statement. Is it Kwame Nkrumah’s Pan-Africanism or Muammar Gaddafi’s? I think people just make of it what they will.

When I travel in Africa, a lot of people have shown me love and hospitality even when they’ve yet to know me. Some it has been through Twitter and I am indebted to my network there

Are you excited about the This Is Africa launch? 

I am very excited about the This Is Africa launch, I’ve been a fan, a follower, a participant and an admirer of the vision, the leadership and the growing base of contributors. It gives me great pleasure to be involved in the launch and to welcome the This Is Africa team to my city of Nairobi. I hope we can have a thoughtful and provocative discussion about what it means to be part of the continent in way that moves the needle forward. This is important to me.