In Africa, data prices are becoming more competitive, smart and feature phones are more accessible to people across the continent, and more people have access to mobile internet. This increased usage of phones means there is space for more and more mobile phone applications, that solve problems specific to Africa. More and more developers in Africa are turning to build apps for their countries, in the hope that there creation will be the next best thing in the African tech world.
A lot of the innovations we are seeing in the mobile world within Africa are coming out of Easters and Southern Africa, but Earlier this month, the West Africa Mobile Awards unveiled this years 10 winners, seeking to bring the focus back to the tech excellence in West Africa. With over 1040 applicants from 14 countries, the awards were hotly contested. Awards were given in the areas of commerce and retail, Fintech, Mobile education, mobile innovation, mobile marketing campaign and social impact, social news and entertainment.
Last week I wrote a little about the incredible work the iSpace, a technology hub in Accra, Ghana are involved in. I spent a lot of time in the hub, taking in the atmosphere and talking to the inspiring young people learning, creating, innovating and aspiring out of the Labone office. One of those that I was introduced to was Emmanuel Mbalam, who has founded a startup called Lending Square. Emmanuel arrived at iSpace for an interview for a position at iSpace but ended up himself being supported by iSpace to develop his business, with funding, business support and event accommodation!
Emmanuel had an air of confidence about him when he began to tell me about his startup. It may have had something to do with being introduced as iSpace’s cash cow, or simply because he has a great idea, which promises to change the lives of many in Ghana.
Mobile phones have become an integral part of our life. When we have a question, we take out our phone and ask google, when we get lost, Google helps again with its maps. We job search, chat with friends, find a date, complete academic certificates and everything using our phones and the internet. Most of us in Europe walk around with our contract phones and either have either unlimited data or a set amount of per month that we can use almost without thinking about usage. In Africa, that is not the case.
Although payment methods are changing with the increased usage of mobile money, data plans in Africa are relatively unchanged. People top up their phones, and either use the basic price per megabit, or buy a bundle which will give a set amount of data to be used over the month. The bundles are the better and on the whole the cheaper option, but for some reason, that data runs away like water from a leaky pipe. These days phones are so dependent on data that they seem to slowly steal it behind your back when you are not looking! (or your phone is in your pocket minding its own business) This isn’t a problem for those with contracts, but when you have a limited about of data, it can be extremely frustrating.
Health as an on going trend, which has run throughout Inventive Africa from the beginning. Innovation and technology has the ability to change lives in many way and in the health sector it can improve them, and save them. Mobile phones are giving more people access to specialist treatment, Uber style ambulances are taking patients to hospital, and solar power is creating a more reliable and safe setting for patience to be treated.
Often, patients in Africa can not access treatment because of the sheer price of certain procedures.(although this problem is not exclusive to Africa!) It is not necessarily the price of the doctors time that is costly. Machinery, like MRI scanners come at a hefty price. In Uganda, just to use the MRI scanner, before all the treatment that may come after usage, costs more than Shs 700,000 (£156). For some, this is simply out of their reach. People who should be getting treatment, are not even going to the hospital. I here of shocking deaths in Africa, which come out of nowhere and inexplicable. Many of these, I can only assume, is because people didn’t recognise their symptoms, and/or didn’t want to go for treatment, because of expense.
But, like many instances in Africa, when there is a problem, a solution is just around the corner. Johnes Obungoloch, who lectures at Mbarara University of Science and Technology, found a way of bringing the cost down of MRI scanners, which will therefore pass on the saving to the patient. MRI scanners use strong magnetic fields and radio waves to produce detailed images of the inside of the body. They are expensive machinery due to the strong magnetic field, its technical and infrastructural requirements, and at 5 tonnes, their massive weight.
Have you ever been on your way to a job interview, or a friend’s place or even a local bar, and not been able to find your way? Usually you would pick up your phone, type in the address and then follow the arrow to your destination. Sounds pretty simple, but what if the place didn’t have an official address? This is the case in many places in Africa. You could ask the way, and people will certainly try to help you. But, with a lack of knowledge of street names you will be told to “turn right at the blue kiosk, go straight past the grey gate, turn left at ‘May the Lord protect us’ drinking spot, and enter the blue gate, next to the mango tree”. (Or something equally as complicated)
With mobile technology, GPS locations work, and maps work, but without an address, or at least a recognised address, it is still difficult to find your way. Enter SnooCODE. SnooCODE allows everybody to generate a 6 or 7 alphanumeric code a bit like a post code in the UK or Zip code in the US. Unlike the postcode and Zipcode, the SnooCODE is trackable by GPS to within 7 metres and enables represents the entire address. No need for street names or house numbers. When you type in the code, the map will show you directly to the door. They great thing is, it works in places that are very densely populated or in sparely populated village areas. It could lead you to a farm in the middle of the bush, or a drinking spot in the middle of a ‘slum’.
Africa’s power is found in its youth. Africa’s population is the most youthful on the planet and in the years to come, that will be the continent’s strength. Education is not only a right for the children of the world, but it is vital to Africa to drag the continent up and bolster its respect in the outside world.
Mobile and cloud technology has made major changes in the potential for delivering education to students of all ages. From tablets with pre loaded syllabi on wireless local area networks, to being able to learn how to code on mobile phones. It is even now possible to do a whole degree and hardly ever have to set foot inside a university. (Usually that is only needed when sitting exams)
As suggested in this article from Scidev.net , there are various methods to improve delivery of STEM (Science, Technology and Engineering and Mathematics) education, Which are extremely important to the development of African technology and innovation. They suggest that creating centres of excellence and improving links with tech hubs could make a big difference to STEM education. Airtel Ghana, under the guidance of CEO Lucy Quist, who is passionate about STEM education are working hard to achieve exactly this.
One of our predictions for this year is that there would be a lot of new technology around the agricultural sector. Agriculture is the backbone of African society. Currently, Africa is a net importer of food, leaving it vulnerable to international market prices and also making it difficult for farmers to compete against products that have often been subsidised. Crops like rice in many parts of the continent can not compete against American rice, even though it is far more nutritious.
Governments have a role to play in giving power back to the African farmer, but the likelihood is that this will be a slow process. So, building up the agric sector is a job for tech and innovation. Already, last year there were a number of technologies that are being aimed at small holder farmers to increase their capacity and capability. We wrote of the Tryctor, farm crowdfunding, #Cowfunding, Livestock insurance, mobile tech for agriculture and many many more over last year. And the trend is not about to stop now!