Is Lagos Home to an African Tech Movement?

By Monty Munford from

The Lagos taxi driver roars across the biggest bridge in Africa at 110 mph. Buffeted by the night wind, it feels as if we’re riding a motorbike.

I am with two South Africans and a guy from Silicon Valley. We’re all swilling from a bottle of so-called whisky, including the man behind the wheel. (When your taxi driver says his name is “Success,” things can’t possibly go wrong.)

Lagos, Nigeria seems like an unlikely place for Africa’s major tech hub. The city’s estimated population is 21 million people, and 30,000 more Africans are arriving every day.

Ten years ago, architect and author Rem Koolhaas co-wrote Mutation. After studying Nigeria’s biggest city, he says, “Lagos is not catching up with us; rather, we may be catching up with Lagos.” He may have been right.

It seems fanciful to equate Lagos with a 21st century New York, as Koolhaas does. For all intents and purposes, the city should not operate at all. Its chaos outstrips that of Cairo or New Delhi.

But within the insanity, a new type of region is emerging.

In a city gridlocked by traffic after 6 a.m. and rampant with crime, Lagos offers non-mobile Internet. Wi-Fi is gut-wrenchingly slow. But despite its weak infrastructure, it stands because of its innovative residents and their hunger to succeed in the most competitive of environments.

May’s Mobile Web West Africa sold out its Lagos conference, bringing together companies, startups, inspiring investors and developers. The three-day event was the background to the emerging economic and inspired power of the region, and Lagos’s aspiration to be the city at the center of that universe.

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