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How the digital economy is improving lives in Africa?

Drones will be used by South African miners for mineral exploration. (Image source: Gabriel Garcia Marengo

Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) has made tangible progress in introducing new technologies, with mobile phone penetration reaching 44 per cent in 2017, with over 400 million subscribers. Mobile has effectively leapfrogged fixed-line telecoms infrastructure

Technology raises income levels and enhances the quality of people’s life. Over time, transportation and communication costs fall, logistics and regional supply chains become more effective and trading costs will decline. That, in turn, opens new markets and drive economic growth across Africa.

Various examples of advanced technologies being used by African governments, businesses and consumers cut across sectors. East Africa has led the development of mobile money (m-pesa) in Kenya, facilitating access to financial services to millions of ‘unbanked’ populations. New start-ups like EC CASH provide mobile money transfer and micro financing, while FarmDrive connects smallholder farmers with lenders and hello tractor links farmers with the nearest tractor owner. South Africa uses biometric data and payment cards to deliver social security across the country.

Rwanda boasts the worlds first cargo drone delivery service with Silicon Valley start-up Zipline, which delivers critical medical supplies to remote health centres thanks to recent regulations that gave drones the status of government flights. And in Malawi, a drone test corridor for humanitarian purposes was launched in 2017 in a partnership between the United Nations International Childrens Emergency Fund (Unicef) and the government. 

Drones are also deployed by South African miners for everything from mapping to mineral exploration to tracking stockpiles. Drones deliver samples from sites thus surveyors spend less time gathering data in the field and more time interpreting it. The use of drone mining helps track deposits in deep mines. 

Further examples of innovative local services include VULA Mobile (medical diagnosis app) in South Africa connecting health workers with specialists. Biscate is a mobile-recruitment service for blue-collar workers in Mozambique. In education, fundi bots offers science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) training in classrooms and communities and KYTABU has improved access to textbooks and audio books. More significantly, 3D printing can tackle Africa’s chronic housing deficit by building a house in 24-hours at a low cost. In Ghana, Global Positioning System (GPS) is used to establish addresses where street names and numbers or maps are incomplete.  

New technologies are vital to boost agricultural productivity - SSA is endowed with 60 per cent of globe’s uncultivated arable land. Farmerline, a Ghanaian agro-tech company uses cellphones to provide timely information to farmers on weather forecasts, market prices and financial services. iCOW advises farmers and herders on crop cycle, fertilising, seeding, poultry and best practices; FAMEWS collects data and maps the spread of fall armyworm infestation to protect crops and livestock.

By economist, Moin Siddiqi

*The full report: “Preparing the African Continent for the Fourth Industrial Revolution” will be published in African Review March 2019.


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