A stellar month for tech in Africa indeed, with developments in the Bitcoin, mobile money, e-commerce and taxi app industries, as well as a host of new accelerator programmes and funding rounds.
Bitcoin could find a home in Africa
Think of Bitcoin, and you probably think of price fluctuations, Silk Road, and stolen hoards. But the cryptocurrency could yet find a home in Africa, where the high cost of remittances could make it the ideal solution.
With over 30 million Africans in the diaspora sending home almost US$40 billion in 2014, an average of US$1,200 per migrant, the remittance market is huge. Yet the likes of Western Union and MoneyGram charge in excess of 10 percent, which is being undercut by Bitcoin remittance firms such as Beam and BitPesa (charging three per cent).
In March, Australia-based Bitcoin exchange Igot joined the party, launching in Kenya with the acquisition of local company TagPesa. With the remittance market ripe for disruption, there may be a few more newcomers yet to see if Bitcoin can find a significant user base on the continent.
Making money work better
Mobile money has long been Africa’s technological claim to fame, but the continent shows no sign of slowing down when it comes to innovation in the sector. All across Africa, there are new developments daily.
This month alone saw Zimbabwean operator Econet allow users of its mobile money platform EcoCash to buy and send groceries to their friends and relatives through a partnership with grocery manufacturer and wholeseller National Foods, while Verifone Mobile Money and MTN Group agreed to deliver retail payment devices to merchants across 16 of MTN’s operating countries.
In Nigeria, MasterCard has introduced electronic payment system technology to MSMEs, describing the e-payment system as Nigeria’s first MSME-focused acceptance development programme. It will extend the security and convenience of e-payments to merchants and their customers who previously depended on cash.
Not to be left behind, banks are also innovating. South African bank First National Bank (FNB) expanded its cardless cash withdrawal feature to its app, allowing customers to withdraw money at ATMs without using their bank cards.
A month in Africa would not be complete without efforts to increase the continent’s internet penetration.
TV white spaces technology – which enables the delivery of broadband using unused spectrum commonly used to deliver television channels is increasingly popular, especially with Microsoft. This month the company partnered incubator the Botswana Innovation Hub (BIH) to launch a telemedicine service over a TV white spaces network. Microsoft has launched similar pilots in Kenya, South Africa, Namibia, Tanzania and Ghana.
Ethiopia’s mobile operator Ethio Telecom, the only mobile provider in the country, has launched a 4G network in the capital Addis Ababa after three months of trials, while African fibre-based network service provider Workonline Communications is launching launch Africa’s first media exchange platform. The company believes the Africa Media Exchange (AMX) will revolutionise the industry by allowing broadcasters, content distribution networks and content producers to plug in and exchange information.
The road to automation
Kenya is leading the way with the automation of government and public services. The country’s Immigration Department will from April allow passport applications to done online, while the Kenyan High Education Loans Board (HELB) and Kenya Commercial Bank (KCB) have launched a student smart card to improve the efficiency of loan disbursements. An IMFIS e-procurement system is also being rolled out, while Kenyans can also buy lottery tickets via SMS.
Other African countries are making progress in the area too. Zambia this month launched a portal allowing citizens to pay taxes online, while the Nigerian government has digitised education for young male and female migrants from northern Nigeria, introducing an entry level tablet featuring an application that aids teaching the Quran.
Development in taxi apps, e-commerce, local phone manufacturing
Africa’s taxi-hailing app industry has got busier, with Maramoja launching in Kenya, extending the Uber-type model to other forms of transport while leveraging on social networks. Uber itself only launched in Kenya recently, joining Easy Taxi in a crowded market. Uber also launched in Nigeria in the last year. As if responding to the extra competition, Easy Taxi launched Easy Taxi Pay, an in-app cashless payment option that allows customers to pay for rides using their credit or debit cards.
There were also further developments in e-commerce, which has seen consolidation in South Africa. Naspers has been restructuring its online shopping ventures over the last year, most notably merging Kalahari with Takealot and closing a number of other sites. March saw online beauty subscription service Rubybox return to independence through a management buyout two years after receiving investment from Media24.
African mobile vendors have been popular of late, with attention lavished on the likes of South Africa’s Zest and Dream Mobile, Nigeria’s Nerve Mobile and the Republic of Congo’s VMK. These companies have traditionally had their products manufactured in China due to lower costs and a more skilled workforce, but VMK has now put the finishing touches to its own assembly plant at the cost of nearly US$2 million. The plant will be used to assemble Africa’s first smartwatch.
Boosting entrepreneurship, startups
The continent’s tech startup ecosystem took the usual steps forward during the month. The Kenyan government unveiled Enterprise Kenya, designed to encourage tech innovation in the country. A new partnership in Cape Town is teaching entrepreneurship for university graduates, while a number of African business schools have partnered to do the same across the continent.
Microsoft is active in this sector too, and has launched its CloudPreneur initiative in Nigeria designed to supporting innovators will cloud-based solutions. In Zambia, a business plan competition is looking to give away US$32,000 in support for innovative tech businesses. The Tony Elumelu Foundation has chosen the first 1,000 entrepreneurs to benefit from its US$100 million initiative to boost startups across Africa. Innotribe and Unreasonable East Africa have also chosen startups for their accelerator programmes.
Speaking of accelerator programmes, a host of new ones are joining the already numerous examples on the continent. The Entrepreneur’s Organisation has established its first African chapter in Johannesburg, Afribiz is launching programmes in South Africa, Kenya, Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and Spark is doing the same in South Africa. Not to be outdone, Cisco and Intel are launching an Internet of Things accelerator for African startups, and the Nigerian government has rolled out its own entrepreneurship development programme.
Finally, to funding. A quieter month than usual, but in South Africa Invenfin bought 20 per cent of social enterprise platform WyzeTalk, and Nigerian startup TopCheck raised funds for its financial services comparison platform.
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