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Digital innovation: Africa’s four MEGA TRENDS that are overcoming COVID19

Africa appears to have narrowly escaped the level of devastation that COVID19 is wrecking in the global north with China as its entry.[1]

As if the virus followed the global supply chain to destroy it.[2] The global supply chain links China to the global north before connecting to Africa[3] so by the time the virus got here African leaders shut the boarders – that is the saving grace despite the doom’s day prophecies of Bill Gates.[4] Africa got it right this time around without the help of the western saviors which begs George Ayittey’s famous quote “Africa is poor because she is not free”.[5]

According to the IMF[6] and WorldBank[7], Africa would experience her first recession in 25 years, but it would not be as severe as the global north.[8] Her recovery in my view could be fast tracked by four mega trends that are already in motion before COVID19 ever invaded the continent. The first of these trends has actually gained speed on the back of the virus – digitization. With the lockdowns in Africa many went online (in my previous post I alluded to how we are seeing this in our portfolio companies[9]). Virtualized services are doing very well, while mobility businesses are struggling to keep up. Semi-mobilized businesses that qualify as essential services like food and grocery delivery are going strong. The World Economic Forum has said “Diverse sourcing and digitization will be the key to building stronger, smarter supply chains and ensuring a lasting recovery.[10]

Digital Innovation

Digital innovative ventures that are software-based (and, in some cases hardware-based) businesses leveraging mobile web technology to solve pain points, fix bottlenecks and address market gaps that make financial returns and, in some cases, impact. The huge investment in telecom infrastructure like submarine and terrestrial fiber cables, satellite stations and mobile/wireless networks all over the continent, has enabled the leveraging of these new technologies.[11] The private sector has predominantly led these investments , while in some cases, public private partnerships (PPPs) have charted the course.

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These innovations are permeating all sectors of the economy like financial services, education, agriculture, health and energy creating “new” sectors like Fintech, Edtech, Agtech, Healthtech and Cleantech just to mention a few which make up the digital economy.

  • Fintechs are startups using mobile web and internet technology to disrupt the financial services industry, enabling and deepening financial inclusion with mobile money as the basis for electronic transactions like Zeepay, Finaccess, Hubtel, etc;
  • Cleantechs are the fusion of off-grid renewable energy generation and mobile web tools which produce a “mobile-sun” disruption that drive means of supplying power like Mkopa Solar, SolarLight, Freedom Won etc;
  • Edtechs are online platforms that make learning available, interactive and fun, breaking down traditional barriers and transforming education like eCampus, Eneza, Imano etc;
  • Healthtechs are scaleups developing technologies that make access and delivery of health services available through teleconsulting and telemedicine technologies like Serenity, mParma, Helium Health etc; and
  • Agtechs go beyond access to weather information and market prices provided by startups like Farmerline to those that disrupt and create value within the agriculture ecosystem like Complete Farmer, etc.

For a long time, Africa has arguably leapfrogged the west in terms of telecom infrastructure. Building on this, we can leapfrog our counterparts abroad in terms of business models that make both fiscal and impact returns.[12] Hubtel is an example of such business that is profitable. Africa’s digitizing economy can make real the concept of People, Planet and Profit rising together interdependently. Below is a picture of global tech giants who have visited Africa because of the digital innovation – before the lockdown began, Jack Dorsey of Twitter said he planned to come live in Africa for three months in 2020.[13]

[1] https://amp.ft.com/content/e9cf5ed0-a590-4bd6-8c00-b41d0c4ae6e0?fbclid=IwAR0K_MSHODHnfgY4d_GxjJyCTRM7j3Xy3PvymvDjxE0adVdXKyYdW0U9zIw
[2] https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/349229
[3] https://oxfordbusinessgroup.com/news/impact-covid-19-global-supply-chains
[4] https://www.pbs.org/newshour/show/bill-gates-on-outlook-for-a-covid-19-vaccine-and-where-pandemic-will-hurt-most
[5] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Ayittey
[6] https://www.imf.org/en/News/Articles/2020/04/15/tr041520-trancript-of-sub-saharan-africa-reo-press-briefing-april-2020
[7] https://www.worldbank.org/en/news/press-release/2020/04/09/covid-19-coronavirus-drives-sub-saharan-africa-toward-first-recession-in-25-years
[8] https://www.trtworld.com/business/pandemic-set-to-plunge-sub-saharan-africa-into-recession-imf-35409
[9] http://blogs.harvard.edu/eric/2020/04/13/covid-19-is-speeding-up-the-digital-economy-in-africa/
[10] https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/05/this-is-what-global-supply-chains-will-look-like-after-covid-19/
[11] https://manypossibilities.net
[12] https://www.worldbank.org/en/news/video/2019/04/12/a-digital-revolution-for-africa
[13] https://www.forbes.com/sites/tobyshapshak/2019/12/06/tech-ceos-visit-africa-as-source-of-innovation-and-talent/#2bf4e146a04e

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