The African continent has certainly faced its fair share of challenges in recent decades. But with the trend for emerging economies helping to drive progress in many parts of the world, Africa is now embracing technological change that is transforming the continent, and even leading the way with innovation.
Traditionally, Africa has suffered from almost unbearable instability. But as the benefits of independence began to emerge, so an African economic boom began, which has been likened to the growth of Asia in the 1970s. This process had developed to such a degree by 2013 that Africa housed seven of the world’s fastest-growing economies.
To this day, the most prosperous nations in Africa are growing economically at a rate that outstrips virtually all other countries.
African tech start-ups received more than $560 million of investment in 2017, a new record, while in 2018 the number of internet users increased by more than 20%. The liberation of talent is also a key factor. The examples below provide some of the flavour of what is happening in Africa’s thriving start-up scene.
1. M-Pesa: the Kenyan money app that impressed Bill Gates
In 2015 The Economist was already asking, “Why does Kenya lead the world in mobile money?” The magazine was impressed with M-Pesa, a phone-based money transfer system launched in 2007 as a way to manage microloans. Now it is used for all sorts of transactions – and is spreading not only through Africa but also to eastern Europe, Afghanistan, India and beyond.
By its 10th anniversary M-Pesa processed 6 billion transactions for 30 million users worldwide. As Bill Gates wrote on Twitter: “Kenya’s M-Pesa proves that when people are empowered, they will use digital tech to innovate on their own behalf”.
2. SafeMotos: Rwanda’s answer to Uber
The “safe” in SafeMotos is not there by chance. Africa’s roads are the most dangerous in the world, with traffic accidents causing more deaths than malaria in many countries. In Rwanda, 80% of accidents involve the 20,000 “mototaxis” in the capital, Kigali. Moto accidents are the second leading cause of death in Rwanda after HIV/Aids.
To address this issue, in 2010 business partners Peter Kariuki and Barrett Nash came up with an app through which users could order taxis piloted by experienced drivers who have been screened and are then monitored for safe driving using data collected by telemetric sensors in their smartphones. More than 400,000 journeys have been arranged through SafeMotos in Kigali; the service is now launching in Kinshasa, Africa’s third largest city. SafeMotos was on the Royal Academy of Engineering’s 2018 shortlist for the Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation.
3. Tupuca: home delivery via app
An Angolan app, Tupuca began as a food delivery service, but it has now expanded beyond restaurants to include supermarkets and pharmacies. Founded in 2015 by four young Angolans, including CEO Erickson Mvezi, the company is now thriving. The app is reported to have more than 20,000 active users, an impressive figure for a market without a tradition of ordering delivery food and groceries.
4. Sun Exchange: making powerful connections
South African startup Sun Exchange is founded on a simple and effective idea. First, they and their partners identify suitable places for small-scale solar installations, notably locations that receive a lot of sun but would benefit from a cheap and regular power supply. This might be a small village. Then microinvestors are invited to buy a stake, and the necessary funds are raised. When the installation is completed, the villagers get affordable power and the investors get a steady return.
Given that sunshine is one of Africa’s natural resources, while regular electricity supply is not, it’s a great match. , Sun Exchange has attracted more than 14,000 members in 90 countries. Its potential was recognised this year when Alphabit, a US hedge fund, made a $500,000 seed investment. Through its micro-leasing platform it has organised funding for six operational solar projects in South Africa, benefitting schools, wildlife protection parks and small businesses.
Future expansions include a partnership with the United Nations Development Program to work on blockchain-based finance for solar power in Moldova and a partnership with Powerhive, backed by actor Leonardo DiCaprio, that aims to use the Sun Exchange platform to bring electricity to as many as 175,000 people in Kenya who currently have none.
5. MAMA-OPE: Uganda’s biomedical jacket
Pneumonia is a common illness that affects millions of people each year.Pneumonia is usually diagnosed by looking at the patient’s symptoms and past records.
It is commonly misdiagnosed with malaria, asthma and tuberculosis. These diseases have vital signs in common and there is need to clearly differentiate them. Lack of a clear differentiation between viral and bacterial pneumonia during diagnosis leads to wrong administration of drugs which creates resistance. Research shows that most lives are lost when the disease is under-estimated i.e. when its severity is not known.
MAMA-OPE is a biomedical application for early diagnosis and continuous monitoring of pneumonia patients. It derives its name from Olivia’s (team member) grandmother who lost the battle to pneumonia in June 2014. MAMA stands for mother and OPE denotes hope. The MAMA-OPE thus symbolizes “Hope for the Mother”. The vest specifically designed for children 0 to 5 years who are most prone to the disease.
6. Robots in Kinshasa
Like many major cities around the world, Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of Congo also has the same congestion problems. This is why a team of Congolese engineers at Kinshasa Higher Institute of Applied Technique have created human-like robots that can detect and record traffic flow. The info is then sent to the institution and analyzed and used to drive traffic.
7. 3D printing at Woelabs, Togo
Lalle Nadjagou from Dapaong in northern Togo, has always had a fascination with technology and design. It is no wonder that he is the mastermind behind Woelab’s 3D printing. They started making their own 3D printers using e-waste and have begun putting a machine in each school within 1km of the workshop. This could really revolutionise how our continent not only deals with e-waste and recycling but also new design technology.
We simply gave you 7 of our favourite innovations that hail from Africa but there are definitely more than what we have mentioned. If you have another product innovation created in African that you think should be in this list, tell us about it in our comments section.