The first major leapfrog benefitting African consumers was the pre-paid mobile phone which has gone from zero users a few decades ago to today contributing 9% of Sub-Saharan Africa’s total GDP and employing 3.8 million people according to the GSMA1.
The second major leapfrog technology in Sub-Saharan Africa has been off-grid home systems which have also gone from zero customers a few years ago to supporting over two million homes with renewable energy lighting systems and providing customers up to a 29% increase in economic activity2 according to the Global Off-Grid Lighting Association.
Could “no-code” software platforms be the next big leapfrog creating massive impact across East Africa?
No-code platforms offer a visual interface where non-technical people can build technology solutions to common problems quickly, easily and affordably without technical knowledge of the bits and bytes underneath. In many cases websites and apps can be thought of, designed, built, and published in a week or less at a fraction of the cost of traditional software development methods.
The world’s most popular no-code system, WordPress, hosts 33%3 of all websites including websites owned by the BBC, CNN, Wall Street Journal, and The Exchange Magazine, but WordPress lacks the ability to easily do calculations, processing, storage of information in databases, or integration into business corporate systems.
In the developed world corporates have big IT budgets so software is built, bought, integrated into existing systems because skilled developers and software packages tailored to meet the needs of businesses are abundant as corporate spend on IT.
Throughout East Africa there are incredible inefficiencies in the SME business section all the way up to large corporates who struggle with limited budgets and limited skilled people to develop IT solutions and no-code platforms and tools mitigate these challenges by being both, affordable and easy for non-technical people to learn and use.
No-code platforms are also well-aligned with startups prototyping or using Lean Startup methodologies seeking product-market fit by lowering the cost of development dramatically to enable the founders to focus energies on their customers’ needs and the ability of their product to meet customer needs. No-code platforms are designed to be integrated into other technology systems and can begin to help non-technical people harness programming interfaces that use machine learning and artificial intelligence algorithms as inputs and outputs.
According to a NoCodeCensus.com study, 87% of developers of no-code apps were working for startups, freelance, or SMEs reflecting the entrepreneurial nature of this innovation. The study suggests that no-code solutions are almost five times faster, almost five times cheaper, and practically five times easier than traditional software development methods.
Whereas mobile phones were the communications layer, solar lights were the electricity layer, no-code perhaps can be the software layer that enables interconnection of people, places, things, and ideas.
There are presently hundreds of no-code platforms available including moves by big players in the global technology industry. One of the early companies to build a development platform for no-code applications, Appsheet was acquired by Google in January, 2020 and now integrated into the Google Suite of services and the Google Cloud.4 A few months later Amazon launched its own no-code platform, Amazon Honeycode in June of 20205 similarly tied to Amazon Web Services. In February 2021, SAP confirmed the acquisition of AppGyver6, a Helsinki based no-code web apps builder with a generous free tier. Not to be outdone, Microsoft has offered Power Apps, a low-code platform to enhance its Office 365 suite of apps since 2017.7
East Africa’s diversified economy and low use of legacy software apps or tools in agriculture, manufacturing, retail, and microfinance sectors make it ripe for no-code development opportunities.
For example, retail and wholesale traders could create a no-code system to manage their own inventory and payment that gives transparency to microfinance lenders who can develop a no-code platform that helps evaluate credit risk and identify new tailored products to better meet the needs of the market. Opportunities for building the “Airbnb of X” can be rolled out in a weekend with minimal startup or operating expense.
Leaders in building consumer or enterprise no-code systems to solve their own business challenges can package and sell their systems and apps to other non-competitive businesses or markets in neighboring countries.
Alternatively, no-code developers can license or resell their solutions to the over 300 managed service providers operating in East Africa serving thousands of business customers with network, systems, and software support.
Some people ask: will adoption of no-code replace skilled tech workers?
The answer is unclear, but mobile phones have all but killed the land line telephone and solar home systems have reported a drop in kerosene for lamps in the regions where they are prevalent.
As no-code platforms evolve, tech workers in East Africa will need to evolve as well. Opportunities will likely emerge for skilled professionals who can select the right platforms and use no-code and other tools to solve business and market problems. No-code frees up skilled technologists to enable them to devote their skills to more advanced challenges. Additionally, the need for integration, maintenance, and technology sales are not going away any time soon.
One could argue that no-code platforms create a new category of tech workers with a lower entry barrier; citizen developers.
To date the 93 tech hubs in the East African Community countries have not shown signs that they have woken up to the no-code potential, but that’s likely changing due to the advances of some key leaders in the no-code movement.
In Rwanda, Nadia Mutoni, co-author of this article, launched No Code Campus in 2020, a free no-code academy in Kigali with a vision to become a regional hub for no-code in Sub-Saharan Africa by creating a talent pool of citizen developers. In its first cohort of 50 people the Campus went from zero knowledge to 130 completed websites and apps in four months.
Hooza Media joined the no-code ecosystem in Rwanda earlier this year with the launch of its own podcast platform, “Hooza Podcast”.
In Kenya, Maureen Achieng is the founder of No Code Apps that teaches, mentors, and inspires non-technical entrepreneurs how to develop a good idea into a minimum viable application in a single day and into a business in a few short weeks.
Also Read: Digital Code lifting Africa out of poverty
Prior to being a no-code leader in East Africa, Maureen was a former human resources and auto sales professional and serves as a testament that no-code can be adopted by non-technical people.
She has four books on no-code topics in development sold in 10 countries, a no-code directory app that guides her mentees, and a track record of supporting 30 developers building apps in food, athletics, employment, and religious services industries. Maureen positively believes no-code is the way to empower citizen developers across the world to harness the power and promise of technology.
The adoption of mobile phones increased communications among East Africans exponentially. Solar lighting solutions enabled entire families to utilize more hours each and every day.
No-code has the potential to unlock hundreds of thousands of citizen software developers.
Will the no-code movement stand on the shoulders of the prior East African leapfrogs to reach its full potential?
Only time can tell.
To learn more about no-code developments in East Africa you can visit:
No Code Campus – https://www.nocodecampus.com/
Hooza Podcast – https://www.hooza.rw/tag/hooza-podcast/
No Code Apps – https://www.maureenestherachieng.com
No-code For Africa LinkedIn Group https://www.linkedin.com/groups/9033290/
If you’re doing something interesting in no-code please contact the organizations above and/or the authors below:
David L. Ross started his career developing software as a geeky Oracle database administrator 20 years ago before focusing on finance and technology in East Africa in 2009. David is the Founder and Managing Director of Stratera Capital, an investment and startup focused firm with 15 angel investments in East and Southern Africa and design of over $300 million USD of catalytic investment funds in renewable energy, water, and agriculture in Sub-Saharan Africa. David is a frequent contributor to The Exchange and co-author of The Indicator, a periodic column published by The Exchange since inception. David can be contacted at http://www.linkedin.com/in/davidlross1
Nadia Mutoni worked as a sales assistant in a pharmaceutical company before falling in love with no-code. She has since started a no-code program in Kigali for young adults between 18 and 30. As a non-technical person, she believes technology shouldn’t be a barrier to innovation and creativity. Nadia can be contacted at https://www.linkedin.com/in/nadia-mutoni-1b229520/