Ayisi Makatiani Founder, Africa Online
By Ayisi Makatiani

(FORTUNE Magazine) – Makatiani, who lives in Nairobi, Kenya, founded Africa's largest ISP, which has operations in ten countries. He recently started a venture capital firm to fund tech companies in the region.

How do you look at the U.S. right now?

The U.S. has built a humongous mansion in the middle of a world with a lot of slums. Total aid from the U.S. to sub-Saharan Africa is only about a billion dollars annually. Instead of spending money to build walls for its mansion, the U.S. should spend more on sustainable development. A little bit of money goes a long way.

What is it like running a business in Africa and the Middle East?

In Egypt, Syria, or West Africa there is a population of people just like you and me. They have traveled abroad, and know what entrepreneurship and business can do. As governments have liberalized and sold public assets, these people build businesses. The guy we're working with in Egypt went to school in Boston, returned to Egypt, and built its second-largest ISP. We met, we talked the same language. So we combined our businesses to build a pan-African, pan-Middle-Eastern Internet brand.

How can American business help that process?

The U.S. is the most entrepreneurial country in the world, and the center of capital. Come tell us how Nasdaq works. Set up programs to provide capital. The U.S. should not isolate itself. I love the U.S. I went to school there, and I have three siblings there. I would like to see the rest of the world be like it. But the U.S. needs to reach out a little bit more.

What's the role of the Internet in the future of Africa and the Middle East?

Through the Internet and cell phones, the educated mass is beginning to know more about the world. That's good. We need to get this into remote communities, and we're doing that with Internet cafes. The problem it introduces is that people who didn't know how poor they are now know. They also know that they are oppressed. Look at recent elections in Senegal and Ghana. Presidents who had been in power for many years were removed. It was the power of cell phones, the Internet, and the radio. You can't fake an election anymore. When you count a ballot, ten people with cell phones are calling remote command centers. People go to cybercafes and send back tallies. So before the ballots come back to the capital you know who has won. In the next ten years that will make Africa and the Middle East look very different. It will be difficult for ruling families and governments to keep a leash on the population.