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Technology is driving the African innovation revolution


Kenya is connected internally and externally by four fibre optic cable systems

A few years ago, it was common for Africa to wait for the world to innovate so that it could borrow/copy, fast forward and things have changed considerably. Africa is innovating and so boldly that other countries are pausing long enough to copy its technologies.

A case in point is the brilliantly innovative mobile money transfer technology, M-PESA. Launched in Kenya in 2007, at a time when transferring money was majorly limited to bank account transactions and tedious processes. It now boasts almost 20 million subscribers and other countries are already adopting this platform as a viable money transfer option.

The journey towards innovation in Africa can be traced and attributed to various factors. Key among the technology factors is the proliferation of mobile phone use. In 2002, approximately one in ten Africans owned a mobile phone. Today mobile subscription penetration in Africa has grown with roughly nine out of ten Africans owning a mobile phone with smartphone use following closely behind.

Africa skipped the landline and went straight to the mobile phone which offers forward-thinking innovators the opportunity to utilize this platform. Currently, the mobile phone plays a critical part of service offering and information dissemination on the continent. Banks, in particular, have taken to the platform offered by the mobile phone to offer mobile banking services which are convenient to their customers.

The mobile phone is not the only innovation that is leading the way in Africa. Internet connectivity is another driving factor. Some years back, satellite was the only option for those seeking connectivity. The laying of undersea fibre optic cables around the continent has made connectivity available, reliable, faster and affordable for more end users.

On its own, Kenya is connected internally and externally by four fibre optic cable systems, namely the East African Submarine System (EASSy), The East African Marine System (TEAMS), SEACOM and Lower Indian Ocean Network-2 (LION-2). Now, many popular cyber cafes allow internet access at a much lower cost than was possible with satellite connectivity—a scenario replicated across the continent.

Most internet access is through mobile phones. According to PwC’s global Entertainment & Media Outlook research, internet access providers’ revenue in Kenya increased by a compound annual growth rate of over 20%, 2014 – 2019, and is projected to earn US$ 1.228 billion by 2019. The vast majority of that revenue (US$ 1.006 billion) is from mobile internet access.

Governments across the continent, public companies and even private entities have realized the need to tap into the very able platforms of mobile and internet. With Africans increasingly favouring the convenience offered by technology, government offices have moved from long queues to mobile and online service delivery. Meanwhile, individual innovators are coming up with apps that are changing lives with technology enthusiasts not just sharing space but ideas as well.

Digitization is key for survival in Africa’s current environment.

According to the CIO East Africa 2015 Mega Trends Report, there is increased emphasis by organizations to not just utilize technology in its most basic form but to innovate as well, and also customize it to meet unique needs. In fact, an increasing number of people in organizations are emerging as leaders of innovation as far as technology goes. This role that was previously and solely played by the CIO is becoming fragmented to include CEOs, COOs and CDOs as well.

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The wave of technology innovation in Africa will not forgive anyone who chooses to remain rooted in traditional methods that are not in tune with the digital environment. Disruption is the watchword in Africa’s technology space. Disruptive technologies are changing lives in Africa and innovation is driving this change.

Elizabeth Ndii is a consultant with PwC Kenya’s Technology Advisory Services

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