Saudi Arabia doesn’t often come up in conversations about tech.
But the recent ambitions of the Saudi crown prince, Prince Mohammad bin Salman (MBS), are hard to ignore. MBS has pledged $500 billion (more than Nigeria’s 2022 GDP: $472 billion) to transform a tiny slice of the Arabian desert into a high-tech urban paradise. Neom, as the new city is called, will feature an urban spaceport, hydrogen-powered cars, and business-friendly policies.
Though much of Neom still exists as draft sketches on construction paper, this project demonstrates the potential that can be unlocked when the tech sector gets the government’s attention.
Of course, not all government attention is good for tech, especially when it puts a chokehold on business growth, like Kenya’s proposed 15% tax on content creators, Senegal’s internet shutdowns or Lagos State’s clampdown on bike-hailing startups.
Other times, the attention of a pro-tech government can be short-lived, lasting only the duration of a campaign season. We see this often with grand tech projects that initially draw much spotlight but never see the light of day. Consider the plans for a science park in Abuja which has taken ten years and two administrations just to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU).
The relationship between the tech industry and the government must fall somewhere in the middle, where the government is open enough to support innovations it may not fully understand but objective enough to call out bad behaviour. More importantly, engagement between tech operators and the government must be continuous because tech constantly evolves.