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Gitex plans first venture outside Gulf: a 2023 show in Morocco

Graduate recruits at Flutterwave. The Nigerian fintech company is one of Africa's unicorns
  • Organiser of world’s largest tech show to run event in Marrakech
  • Africa’s digital economy is set to grow from $115bn to $712bn by 2050
  • Similarities in tech trends and demographics will help Middle East firms

Gitex Global, the world’s largest tech show, is expanding into Africa. Its first event on the continent will be held in Marrakech from May 31 to June 2 next year. 

Gitex – short for Gulf information technology exhibition – was established in Dubai in 1981. The African event, its first overseas venture, will seek to “explore new ventures in the world’s rising tech continent”, in partnership with Morocco’s Digital Development Agency.

Gitex Global said Africa’s digital economy is forecast to grow from $115 billion today to $712 billion by 2050. The continent had zero unicorns in 2016. Today it is home to seven, including e-commerce and fintech businesses. 

“Morocco is a hub and a gateway not only to Africa, but also to Europe,” Taher Alami, CEO of Abweb Consulting, told AGBI. “Bringing Gitex and its entire ecosystem to Morocco will not only help Moroccans but will help the entire African region, as well as other regions.”

Morocco is Africa’s fifth-largest economy, the second-biggest African investor in Sub-Saharan Africa and the largest African investor in West Africa. It ranks third of all African countries in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business index. 

“Africa is a vast continent – the second most populated in the world – and individual countries alone such as Nigeria offer vast potential,” added Alami, who is based in Dubai. 

“Africa has tech accelerators, venture capitalists, business angels and government involvement – it just doesn’t have the same exposure.

“The main difference is the scale of the funding from VCs towards African startups, compared to what we find in the Middle East and the US.” 

Alami added that the key tech trends in the continent are the same as those in the Middle East, which presents good opportunities for Gulf startups to localise their offerings to African markets. 

“If you launch a startup from the Middle East in Africa then I think it has a better chance of succeeding than it would in the US because there are a lot of similarities in the mindset and culture,” said Alami. 

For starters, both the Middle East and Africa have young and tech-savvy populations. More than 28 percent of the population of the Middle East is aged between 15 and 29; representing over 108 million young people.

The number of mobile internet users in the Middle East and North Africa exceeded 300 million in 2021, with penetration due to reach 50 percent of the population by the end of 2022.

Africa also has a youthful population that is accelerating the growth of its digital economy, as is the continent’s rapid urbanisation. Some 70 percent of the Sub-Saharan African population is under 30 years of age and 45 percent of Africans are set to live in cities by 2025. Forty percent of Africa’s population now has internet access – equivalent to 522.8 million people. 

A signing ceremony for Gitex’s 2023 show. Trixie LohMirmand (centre) said the Marrakech event could help to dispel the misconception that African nations are “very low tech”

“I think the African market is often overlooked,” said Trixie LohMirmand, CEO of events company Kaoun International and executive vice president of Dubai World Trade Centre, organiser of Gitex. 

“It is not given the respect, focus and spotlight it deserves and that’s where an event like Gitex can play a key role in helping to amplify it and put it on the global map because Gitex is a multiplier and it’s a super-connector. 

“Of course, there are tech events in Africa but with the support and collaboration of the global community, we can really scale it up.”

LohMirmand added that Gitex could also help to dispel common misconceptions about Africa’s tech industries. 

“When we speak to people who are not operating in the region or in close proximity to it, they think it’s a very low-tech society,” she said. 

“But Africa’s tech sector is phenomenal – it just doesn’t have the funding priorities, media reach, advocacy and influencers, so it comes in lower down the agenda. 

“I think Dubai and this region was at one stage going through the same thing so we now want to bring Gitex to Africa. Most people don’t know about the talent there – they have a great number of coders, data scientists and a full flourishing ecosystem.” 

According to LohMirmand, around 200 African companies are exhibiting at Gitex 2022 in Dubai. 

African talent development is currently experiencing rapid growth, with tech titans such as Microsoft and Google setting up billion-dollar innovation and talent hubs in Africa. 

Last year was a period of seismic growth in funding for African fintech. African startups raised about $5 billion in private markets, notably in venture capital, in 2021, according to data and estimates from the African Private Equity and Venture Capital Association and Briter Bridges, a research firm.

While that represented a fraction of the $600 billion raised worldwide, it was more fundraising than had been achieved on the continent in the previous seven years combined, according to the association.