Benin is set to open Sèmè One, a tech start-up incubator that is part of the larger Sèmè City, envisioned to be a high-tech regional innovation center. Located near the Nigerian border in the commune of Sèmè-Kpodji, this “smart city” was announced two years ago by President Patrice Talon as part of the Revealing Benin development program. The Beninese government aims to turn the country into a West African hub for advanced technology, akin to Paul Kagame’s efforts in Rwanda to transform the capital Kigali into the “Singapore of Africa.”
Planned to be fully operational by 2030, Sèmè City will welcome students and entrepreneurs from across West Africa, who will have access to research centers and laboratories.
Responding to COVID-19, twenty-nine-year-old Donald Tchaou and five friends approached the Sèmè City Development Agency with an idea to develop a mobile app to enforce social distancing and help with contact tracing. Not only were they given access to Sèmè City’s resources, but they also benefited from personalized coaching throughout the development process.
Sèmè City’s director is Claude Borna, a Beninese native who obtained degrees from the University of California, Los Angeles, and McGill University, and worked for Deloitte and Amazon, among other corporate groups, before returning to Benin in 2016.