Ugandan youth behind digital innovation in Africa with “China experiences”

The first training camp of the Center of Innovation and Maritime Excellence, which Deliah participated in with the theme "Digital innovation and cross-border e-commerce," ended Wednesday in Djibouti City, the capital of Djibouti.

“When you are in China, you don’t realize how much you are absorbing and learning and how much you are adapting to a very fast-paced and high technological society,” Deliah Nalukwago, a young Ugandan entrepreneur, recalled her 11-year experience in China.

“I would say China helped awaken my entrepreneurial spirit. When you come back to Africa, for every problem you see a solution because you have that reference point from life in China,” said Nalukwago, who was among nearly 30 young African entrepreneurs from Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda that learned business operations and shared their entrepreneurial experiences during an eight-day training program supported by Chinese enterprises.

The first training camp of the Center of Innovation and Maritime Excellence, which Deliah participated in with the theme “Digital innovation and cross-border e-commerce,” ended Wednesday in Djibouti City, the capital of Djibouti.

After graduating from high school, Deliah applied for a scholarship in China, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in medicine and a master’s degree in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM).

She returned to Uganda after completing her studies and founded a healthcare technology startup in the capital city Kampala in 2019 called “My Musawo,” which means “my doctor” in Luganda, the main local language. The company’s eponymous mobile app, launched in May of this year, works with the Uganda Medical and Dental Practitioners Council to provide users with professional online consultation services and healthcare advice.

It was a Chinese doctor and TCM that set Deliah on her path to study medicine. “When I was 8 years old, my mother had a nerve disorder and all hopes with Western medicine failed. That’s when she met our family doctor, and the first TCM doctor in Uganda.” After acupuncture and massage therapy for a few months, her mother returned to normal, and the TCM doctor cured Deliah’s chronic asthma. “He was like a mentor to me and inspired me to enter the medical field, particularly in China to study TCM that helped my mother.”

After having gained her undergraduate degree, she took a year off to intern at a hospital in Uganda. This year-long experience allowed the young African, excited to live out her dream career, to realize that the local healthcare system was flawed in terms of efficiency and management.

“From then on, I wanted to be part of the solution to these problems,” Deliah said, adding that she saw in China how quickly people could get the medical information and advice they needed through the Internet and mobile apps, and the rapid growth of smartphone penetration in Uganda and across Africa inspired her to work with her partners to develop an app to help more Ugandans.

Another camp participant, Nael Hailemariam, is a young Ethiopian with entrepreneurial ties to China as well. After receiving a master’s degree from Tsinghua Shenzhen International Graduate School in China, he returned to his home country to start a digital finance company that provides online payment services.

Nael said that China’s culture of innovation and efficiency had a profound impact on his entrepreneurial endeavors and that he was inspired by China’s great success in e-commerce. He also organized a trip to Ethiopia in 2019 for Tsinghua University students from China for exchanges in science, innovation and culture with young local entrepreneurs. “I want to let Chinese students understand Africa, but more importantly, I want to let African youth understand Chinese development and Chinese speed.”

According to the participants, the camp helps entrepreneurs who lack technical and business backgrounds to learn relevant knowledge, and also creates a network for young African entrepreneurs so that they can interact with fellows from different backgrounds for their future cooperation. “We young people are the future of Africa, we have to seize all resources and opportunities to build Africa,” said Mahad Abdourazak, a participant from Djibouti, who expressed his happiness for the opportunities China has been providing for young entrepreneurs in Africa in recent years.

As a world leader in the digital innovation industry, China provides experience and technical support for Africa’s digital economy development from e-commerce, digital infrastructure, mobile application and payment. Inspired by their experiences in China, some African youth will be the main force behind their country’s leapfrogging digital economy and innovate with local needs in mind.

Talking about the cooperation between China and Africa in youth innovation, Deliah believes that “China is a very good partner for us compared to any other countries.” She said China not only funds many large-scale projects in Africa, but also reaches out to young African entrepreneurs. “African youth will be the future of the continent, and I am glad to see that they are willing to understand and help us grow.”

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