Kenyan mobile money service M-Pesa has long been held up as a prime example of African innovation, and has made its owner Safaricom a leader in the Kenyan telecoms space.
However, it now has serious competition. The Kenya Bankers Association (KBA), the umbrella body of the banking industry, last month unveiled PesaLink, a digital payments platform it says will cut the cost of transactions and transform the way consumers interact with banks.
PesaLink enables customers to make payments between banks in real-time, without having to go through intermediaries like M-Pesa. Mobile money has a challenger.
Tech is being used in other ways in East Africa to increase efficiency. Revenue Authorities in Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda partnered to launch a Regional Electronic Cargo Tracking System (RECTS), which enables them to jointly track movement of goods from port to destination electronically.
Uber launched its mapping project in Johannesburg, having previously launched one in Cape Town. This came in the same month that South African company WhereIsMyTransport mapped the Cape Town public transport network, something already done by another local company, GoMetro.
Other big players active in Africa this month included Microsoft, which announced the launch of its productivity app Kaizala in Kenya. Chat app Kaizala has been customized to be used by businesses as opposed to the normal chat applications, and allows users to create action cards that will track different things from polls, surveys, business reminders, feedback forms and announcements.
Digital skills received a boost from IBM, which announced a US$70 million initiative to provide free digital skills training to 25 million African youth over five years. The aim is to create a tech-savvy workforce and nurture innovation on the continent.
Google, meanwhile, has launched its Launchpad Start event series in Africa, providing one-week problem-solving bootcamps for early-stage startups. The goal of LaunchPad Start is to provide startups with actionable, in-person mentoring to help them tackle critical growth and scale challenges.
Africa’s startups catch the eye
African tech startups continued to catch the eye of international investors and accelerators, with startups from Nigeria and Morocco amongst those selected for the latest Y Combinator programme in Silicon Valley. Another Nigerian company – Printivo – made it onto the 500 Startups programme.
There was also the usual bulk of funding rounds, the most impressive being for Kenya-based mobile technology and data science company Tala, which raised more than US$30 million in Series B financing. Tala is working to change the way credit scoring and financial services work.
Other notable rounds went to South African Internet of Things company IoT.nxt, which is also expanding to Europe, and Kenyan data collection startup Bamba Group. The aforementioned Safaricom used its Spark Venture Fund to back agri-tech company FarmDrive, while another agri-tech company – Ghana’s Landmapp – raised funding from Omidyar Network.