Sheba Valley - The Making of Ethiopia's Tech Sector

The US has Silicon Valley, Nigeria its own Yabacon Valley and Kenya its Silicon Savannah. Well Ethiopia has Sheba Valley as its emerging tech space in the making. So writes Zekarias Amsalu.

Thinking of Silicon Valley and all the technology companies that transformed our lives from the way we communicate, to the way we bank to the way we shop come to mind. Today similar tech sector innovations are popping up not only in California but in emerging markets like Ethiopia, too.

Pause for a moment and see what tractions are being achieved in Ethiopia and read below for examples.

One of the investment portfolios of American Billionaire Tim Drapper is Nigeria’s fintech firm PAGA’s financial services. The platform was built, maintained and currently being supported by engineers of Apposit, a software engineering company based in Ethiopia.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) development including emotion detection & voice/facial recognition for the cognitive part of Chinese Humanoid Robots is being designed and made by AI experts of Icog-Labs in Ethiopia. Co-created with the help of the American researcher Ben Goertzel, Icog-labs is the first Ethiopian research and development laboratory specializing in AI.

Gebeya is building a-self-sustainable ecosystem that trains, hires, and incubates the best of African talent. Gebeya has its HQ and training Facility in Ethiopia and it has graduated 70 innovators from all over Africa last May and currently has a roster of 140 IT experts in its Platform. Gebeya is poised to release an amazing product from one of its incubated startups in the summer of 2017.

A technology that molds taxi hailing services through text messaging & app/online booking and e-payment solutions is developed and managed by a company dubbed an ‘African Uber’ - Zayride of Ethiopia. It has added Delivery services and account orders for corporates users. Zayride’s software is able to compress their application by 5 times so that it doesn't require fast internet connectivity when in use.

One of the world’s most cutting edge high technology firms, dVentus Technologies has several patented products and produces Smart power converters, Wind turbines, Propulsion systems for clean energy vehicles and exports to the US & Europe. It boasts a live advanced monitoring system managing smart grids, and related big data analytics, of global cities from its office in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

Ethiopia’s first online payment solution – YENEPAY – is designed, managed and run by young Engineers in Ethiopia unlocking ecommerce transaction possibilities.

Iceaddis –runs self-sufficient incubation and innovation community center aimed at supporting Ethiopia’s economic growth through technology in Addis Ababa. Iceaddis has incubated 25 start-ups to date. Two business ideas nurtured by Iceaddis, for example, are 50 Lomi (Developers of ERP system designed for unreliable internet connectivity and they have already implemented the ERP in the largest hospital in Ethiopia) and Flowius (A startup that provides radically affordable piped water system to rural homes and was accepted into the Silicon Valley-based water innovation accelerator ImagineH2O in March 2017).

A coincidence? Far from it. A second most populous nation in Africa of 100Million with a median age of 18 spends an average of 12% of its annual budget in education according to the World Bank report. Add to this the fact a recent Deloitte’s report called Ethiopia ‘A Growing Miracle’ having ‘over the last decade, investment in Ethiopia has ratcheted up and is now amongst the highest in the world, relative to GDP’, and one of the top countries for infrastructure investment. One particular infrastructure investment is the telecom sector crucial to the tech sector.


Standing on the Shoulder of the Giant

ETHIO TELECOM is the state owned telecom giant providing telecom and internet services in Ethiopia. The booming tech sector is relying on Ethio Telecom for enabling infrastructure and internet access. Ethio Telecom has launched a Fourth Generation (4G) Long-Term Evolution (LTE) service on March 2015 and has an infrastructure of 21,000km of fiber routes in the country and has invested some $1.6Billion in network infrastructure in 2016 alone and has a current capacity of 68 Million mobile phone services.

Ethio-Telecom is currently building it’s headquarter at the ICT Village in Addis Ababa that is expected to be ‘the premier IT hub of Africa’ and a few Technological companies have already moved to this village.

Is Ethio-Telecom capable of enabling Sheba Valley tech gurus with strong connectivity and access? As an example, Gebeya, receives a 15 mbps download and 18 upload speeds strong fiber optics internet access to Headquarters in Ethiopia while the satellite TV channel KANA TV that has facility in the same building receives atleast 40 mbps fiber optics internet speed for its live satellite TV transmission. Is this connection good enough for innovative businesses that heavily rely on superfast computing processing and connectivity? To answer this questions, let us consult the First Quarter, 2017 State of the Internet Report by the content delivery network Akamai last May 31, 2017 that ranked Kenya as a success story with internet connectivity speed. Quartz quotes the report saying ‘ 13.7 megabits per second, Kenya’s average data connection speed in the first quarter of 2017 was almost twice as fast as the global average.’ While the average data provided in the report is average data connectivity in Kenya, it is clear that when it comes to Fiber optics internet connectivity, Ethiopia has the infrastructure and the experience of supplying triple faster than the acclaimed 13.7 mbps internet speed in Kenya.

Does this mean, then, that all is rosy and the tech sector is taking-off for global competitiveness? While Ethiopia's tech space is developing rapidly there are challenges and hurdles innovators and investors need to overcome for global competitiveness. Related crucial infrastructural levels need to be strengthened and while Ethiopia has the talent pool, there is a gap in the form of resources, direction, mentorship, and personal/business skills that the ICT Government organs, associations and incubating firms like Gebeya, Iceaddis, Blue moon are trying to address in their own domain and modus operandi. ‘One or two big international investment into the local Tech sector, and possibly few successful exits of start-up seed funding, will be a turning point to put Sheba Valley in the global map for Tech space’ commented one seasoned Ethiopian Tech Investor. “Now is that time for early-movers’ advantage for Investors,” said Bereket Dubale who in 2016 moved back from his post-graduate studies in the U.K. and until recently was working as a freelance Researcher for Asoko Insight in Ethiopia. “I have daily interactions with these change-maker innovators and the constant theme is they are hungry for strategic partners who not only provide required forex funding but also technical and market know-how and international collaboration”. Given that few of these Tech companies are currently in seeding/’Series A’ funding round, and others in direct negotiations with international Tech investors, the time for Sheba Valley to herald new beginnings to the Ethiopian Tech space is just around the corner.


As in queen of Sheba’s gift to King Solomon, what ‘balsam oil’ and ‘precious metals’ are expected from Sheba Valley? While it is not yet time to publicize all innovative solutions and products in the pipeline, here are some of the products and innovations expected in the months ahead:-

KUKULU: An authentic African Mobile game of a run-away chicken – from characters’ dressing and hair style to locational scenery - is conceived, developed and on the verge of release by a startup tech company ‘composed of the most daring and outrageously visionary minds’ , Qene Technologies, in Ethiopia. Kukulu is currently being incubated by Gebeya. When the game is released in summer of 2017, the question will not be ‘why did the chicken cross the road?’, but ‘how fast can the escapee chicken run and elude its captors’ and ‘how many times the game is downloaded and played across the world’.

Waziup: A product applying based on IoT(Internet of things) technology the developers are working hard to apply to different sectors of Africa’s economy such as agriculture , aquaculture and the environment with big data analytics from weather pattern forecasting to smart farming ( to the point of detecting a hungry fish).

Mi-sika: Is a Fintech solution towards fluid money transfer between citizens of Africa and their diaspora counterparts and developed by Engineers in Ethiopia for clients in Ghana.

SEWE: is a real-time vitals monitoring system that checks-in hospital patients before even being seen by health care personnel that aims to revolutionize health care provision and provide vital big data analysis for proactive, predictive and preventative healthcare management system by Governments and Health institutions. It incorporates both a product (monitoring device) and a system (communication and big data analysis).

Arifpay: an online payment solution for taxi ride services developed by Zayride and integrated with banking services and smart phone applications in Ethiopia.


WHY the name SHEBA VALLEY for Ethiopia’s emerging Tech sector?

Sabean ( Sabaic) - the language of the kingdom of sheba/Saba, this South Arabic alphabet was used in Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti and Yemen beginning in the 8th century BC that later had some contributions to Ge’ez during the ancient Aksumite civilization.

Queen of Sheba (Amharic SABA) was a queen of the kingdom of Saba, ‘...a walled, royal city of Ethiopia that Cambyses II renamed as Meroë’, accordingly to first century historian Josephus in his book of The Antiquities of the Jews. The Bible describes Queen of Sheba (Saba) as one travelled to Jerusalem to hear the wisdom of King Solomon, arriving in a large caravan with precious stones, spices and gold, a gift that remained to be the largest quantity of balsam oil and precious stones gifted to King Solomon. Like Queen of Sheba’s gift, Sheba Valley in Ethiopia is poised to provide the world innovative solutions, products and technological advances.

Accordingly to BBC4’s episode here, the strange and ancient method of multiplication that Ethiopian merchants used for thousands of years has turned out to be linked to the way that modern computers do multiplication. “It is this system (methods of Ethiopian calculation) that powers today’s’ computers...... The solution they (Ethiopians) came up with is central to the way we live today. The ways they perform that calculation is almost exactly the same with the working method of a computer. Amazingly it seems centuries before the invention of computers Ethiopian traders crack the code that lies behind the modern the age”. Saba Valley innovators have this unique advantage of computational mathematics in their background giving them competitive advantage in software engineering and computational mathematics.


Africa’s largest Airlines, Ethiopian Airline’s frequent traveler rewards scheme is called Shebamiles.

Ethiopia’s 2014 debut 10-year ‘Eurobond’ for $1Billion that had attracted an initial order book worth more than US$2.6 billion was named Shebabond.

Zekarias Amsalu is an Investment Advisory expert and Founder & MD of London based IBEX Financial Consultancy Ltd that focuses on Emerging Markets and New Frontier Investment Advisory on opportunities in Ethiopia. Zekarias has brought the Pan-African Corporate Data Provider Asoko Insight to Ethiopia early 2017 with his in-depth knowledge of Ethiopia’s corporate world and its modus operandi. Zekarias provides advisory services for Ethiopian-focused International Investors and splits his time between Addis, London and Washington DC and helps Investors looking for bankable projects in Ethiopia.