Dubai’s GITEX marked 42 years as a world-renowned technology conference and trade show. Earlier this year, the first overseas version debuted in Morocco, North Africa, and an even bigger return is planned for May 2024. But to have a stake in Africa’s tech ecosystem and a potential digital economy Of $180 billion, the UAE will need to do more than fairs.
For many years it was called GITEX Technology Week or simply GITEX Dubai. After 42 years, the iconic technology fair, like the country that hosts it, is no longer content with being a regional technology power. As Kaoun International (universe, in Arabic), a newly formed event management company tests new markets, a deeper engagement strategy appears to be lacking, especially for growing technology markets in emerging economies.
After co-hosting the first GITEX overseas in Marrakech earlier this year, organizers of the 42-year-old GITEX fair announced the launch of preparations for a European version at this year’s edition of GITEX in Dubai. The first GITEX Berlin is being organized in collaboration with Messe Berlin, a German event management company, and is planned for May 2025.
To highlight technological innovation, GITEX organizers have expanded their selection of shared events. In this year’s investor and startup focused program, Expand NorthStar (previously called Northstar Dubai), several African startups found space for themselves. Nigerian social commerce startup Gifty was the only African finalist in Supernova, the Expand Northstar pitch competition. He also won the prize in the Africa Fast category plus a cash prize of $8,000. But beyond the launch events and competitions, it is unclear how the UAE intends to turn these annual sessions into something valuable to its ambitions.
For North Africa and the rest of the continent, GITEX Africa, which debuted in Marrakech last May, is the main event through which the UAE government hopes to endear itself to Africa’s tech players (and their government partners Moroccans). Organized in collaboration with the Moroccan Digital Development Agency (ADD), GITEX Africa was the first version of the fair organized outside of Dubai. Kaoun International is also planning a series of smaller yet-to-be-announced events in key cities across Africa, TechCabal has learned. At the same time, tours by African investors hoping to raise capital from the region’s wealthy are having mixed success.
An untapped opportunity
When the first Gulf Information Technology Expo was held in 1981, Dubai was not the global tourist destination it has since become. But it was already becoming an important sales center to reach the Middle East region.
Recently, as the renewable energy conversation gained momentum and public coffers swelled with windfall profits from fossil fuel sales, the UAE, along with its Gulf neighbors Saudi Arabia and Qatar, announced diversification agendas. similar economics. Videos from public agencies preach the virtues of each country’s vision for a technology-based economy. And public fund managers such as Mubadala Investment Company, Qatar Investment Authority (QIA) and Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) have become important sources of capital for global investment firms. Saudi Arabia’s PIF’s investment in Softbank’s Vision Fund is perhaps one of the most notable examples.
Perhaps nothing captures this fascination with technology better than Neom, the 26,500 km vehicle.2 high-tech city defended by the Saudi crown prince and prime minister, Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud.
State investors from Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates collectively control more than $4 trillion in assets, according to tracker GlobalSWF. The three countries have the ambition to become the technological power of the region, as well as to be recognized as important players on the global stage. Mubadala, QIA and PIF have all made large investments in Western technology companies, either directly or as LPs in Western venture capital funds. On the other hand, investments made in African companies tend to focus on traditional industries or as part of government aid. Due to their historical ties, much of these investments are concentrated in North Africa.
By expanding its flagship technology fair to Africa through a partnership with one of its long-standing allies (Morocco), the United Arab Emirates is demonstrating the contours of a still cautious African strategy. Outside of technology, the UAE is more aggressive. DP World, the majority state-owned port operator and shipping company, for example, has signed port management agreements with several African countries.
GITEX was originally a technology fair that focused on hardware and consumer devices. While it still retains some of this focus on hardware, it has evolved to incorporate the software solutions market. This follows much of how the tech ecosystem evolved after the boom years of software-as-a-service companies. Most importantly, however, GITEX retains much of the sales discovery event design that helped solidify the UAE’s position as a leading technology sales hub.
An overly cautious, largely North African corridor to Africa’s tech opportunities, based on tight trade show schedules, doesn’t cover what younger tech ecosystems need. Events are events and the jury is still out on how much influence a tech fair has in helping to create thriving tech ecosystems.
Dubai has become a major financial and business facilitation center for Africa’s wealthy. It is also attracting tech talent from Africa. Some African technology companies that primarily serve North African countries such as Egypt or West African markets such as Nigeria are headquartered in the city. During the recently concluded GITEX Global, Nigeria’s Paystack and the UAE-Africa Networking Group held separate events for African tech entrepreneurs in the city for GITEX. Despite the enthusiasm of African businessmen, what was conspicuously missing was the presence of local actors.
A windfall from oil revenues has made Gulf countries major global financiers, drawing the attention of Silicon Valley money managers. In the current financial crisis, with local African venture capitalists struggling to find capital partners, the opportunity for countries with big tech hub ambitions, like the UAE, to play a bigger role in the tech ecosystem of Africa could not be greater.