CAN entrepreneurs make up for a lack of roads? In Rwanda, where most of the population live in cut-off villages, the government wants to skip straight to drones. Encouraged by Paul Kagame, the president and a darling of the development industry (if not of human-rights activists), some of Silicon Valley’s most prominent venture-capital firms, including Sequoia Capital and the investment arm of Google’s parent company, Alphabet, have bet that tiny, unmanned aircraft carrying medical supplies can simply hop over the rolling green hills and the mud tracks that barely connect people now.

It is the latest example of what businesspeople working across Africa call “leapfrogging”. Usually married to an almost evangelical belief in the power of startups, this is the notion that, having failed to adopt now-outdated technology, Africa can simply jump straight over it and go right to the latest thing. Just as drones can make up for poor roads, the theory goes, mobile phones can overcome a lack of well-functioning banks, portable solar panels can stand in for missing power stations and free learning apps can substitute for patchy education.

There is…Continue reading