Technology has the potential to change the world. Nowhere is this more prevalent than in Africa, as the continent is not held back by legacy systems like its western counterparts. Technology could change many facets of life for Africans as things such as Big Data, mobility, Agritech, Blockchain and many others could be used to solve Africa specific challenges.
Driving Access to Data
With the recent explosion of Big Data, and the ability to gain critical insights into human behaviours and patterns, businesses are now able to develop smart, customised solutions. Across Africa, as access to connectivity improves and the cost of data decreases, businesses now have the opportunity to begin to collect data that can drive solutions and offerings that are tailored to the unique needs of the African market. Within the growing sphere of fintech, for example, a US data analytics company has formed a partnership to start making loans over east Africa using credit scores derived from mobile phone data.
Commoditised, Cheaper Hardware Powering Mobility
In addition to data analytics tools and mobile apps, hardware which can empower the data revolution in Africa by providing low cost, low maintenance computing power at a fraction of the cost of most tower computers. This kind of hardware will arguably become increasingly important in African markets where the high cost of computing has been prohibitive, and where the ability to power mobile access will become business critical.
Mobile Technology Transforming Agriculture, Uplifting Rural Communities
In recent years, the emergence of mobile technology has created infinite opportunities to uplift rural communities in Africa while supporting more efficient farming and land use practices. For example, Esoko’s first initiative was to deliver market prices via SMS, in support of work that FoodNet and MTN were doing in Uganda. The company soon added weather alerts and crop advice – and also began linking buyers with sellers. Reports have found that this type of data can raise farmers’ incomes by as much as 10%!
Harnessing Blockchain to Create Transparency
The blockchain is essentially an open, decentralised database of every transaction involving value. Once data has been recorded inside the blockchain, it becomes extremely difficult to tamper with or change. As a result, the technology has massive potential to change the way that private and public organisations operate. Already, analysts and IT professionals are examining ways in which African governments can use blockchain to eliminate inefficiencies and combat fraud. Alan Watson, an innovation writer, has cited the example of using blockchain to secure a country’s land registry. “The same technology can be applied to medical records, court transcripts, evidence from police interviews, and in a myriad other ways to shore-up a government’s ability to store, and most importantly, protect information from tampering.”
Changing the Face of Ownership through Decentralisation
Given the decentralised, transparent and non-corruptible nature of blockchain, it could arguably change the way that industries in Africa function. Looking ahead, it has the potential to restructure conventional industries so that ownership becomes decentralised – thus empowering anyone who wishes to invest in service offerings. Take the energy sector, for example: blockchain has allowed the financing of renewable energy projects to be crowd-funded, thus allowing anyone, with any capital amount, to invest in energy projects. From there, via the blockchain, individuals can earn revenue off of the electricity produced. This not only stimulates investment into economically and environmentally beneficial projects, but it also benefits local people and communities – as opposed to centralised organisations under foreign ownership.
Combating Currency Volatility, Pushing Cross Border Trade
In addition, blockchain and cryptocurrencies can provide a solution to the currency instability that has plagued African markets such as Zimbabwe. By leveraging cryptocurrencies, businesses can benefit from a stable store of value – and also hedge against inflation. Notably, cryptocurrencies aren’t geographically restricted, and can thereby facilitate cross-border trade. Already, BitPesa is pioneering this process by hosting B2B payments and offering a real-time settlement at wholesale FX rates to emerging markets through mobile money networks.
Internet of Things (IoT) Bringing New Efficiencies to Industry
From agriculture to healthcare, the rise of IoT is undoubtedly set to change the face of African industry – although the process may be slower than in other markets. Artificial intelligence (AI) can bring solutions that modernise and improve the wellbeing of both workers and surrounding communities. It can also help to create sustainable business practices that protect the environment.
For example, in 2015, the Ethiopia Commodity Exchange (ECX) teamed up with IBM and IBM Business Partner Wavetec, to build a coffee-traceability solution based on analytic, mobile and Internet of things (IoT) technology. Today, the IoT solution tracks coffee through all stages of the supply chain. The complete traceability helps firms in the coffee business obtain Fairtrade and organic certification for their products.
By Brian Timperley, MD and co-founder of Turrito Networks