Wasoko to launch an innovation hub in Zanzibar

African ecommerce company Wasoko is launching an innovation hub in Zanzibar, with the aim of attracting engineers, designers, and product managers from Africa and beyond. Dubbed “Silicon Zanzibar,” the project aims to reduce the island’s dependence on the volatile tourism sector, which has been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic.

The ecommerce player is making it easier for shopkeepers to source products at affordable prices — increasing the availability of essential goods, in even the smallest outlet. Wasoko, which the Financial Times named Africa’s fastest-growing start-up last year, played a key role in the development of the hub. CEO Daniel Yu, who considered other locations such as Kigali, Nairobi, and Dubai, ultimately convinced Zanzibar’s government of the potential benefits of the project.

The wider Silicon Zanzibar initiative is led by Zanzibar’s Ministry of Investment and Economic Development, while the real estate developer CPS is responsible for developing Fumba Town. Companies that relocate to the island will receive incentives under a pre-existing free economic zone program, including 10 years of corporate tax exemptions and easy access to work visas. However, a joint task force is in the process of formulating specific tech-friendly policies that are set to be unveiled in the coming months.

Zanzibar has been more successful in attracting foreign investment than the Tanzanian mainland and boasts a desirable climate and scenery that have already attracted “digital nomads,” or freelance workers who settled on the island during the pandemic.

For Zanzibar’s government, Silicon Zanzibar represents an effort to diversify beyond its historically strong tourism sector, which accounts for 27% of the island’s GDP and 80% of its foreign exchange earnings. Officials hope that the hub will attract tech companies and global talent, bringing in additional purchasing power and boosting the economy.

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