Mobile applications and devices in Africa are helping to boost some economic sectors and are making a significant social impact in some countries. Agriculture and farming are two sectors benefiting the opportunities that mobile devices bring them. Health and Education are inaccessible to part of the population, but technology is taking these services closer to the society. Banking is another sector that offers mobile money and small loans to the population.
However, these initiatives does not reach the whole continent. Nigeria and Ghana are leading the way on health applications. Kenya has a relevant role regarding banking application. Tanzania and South Africa are developing these technology opportunities. The rest of the countries are still catching up.
Mainly, this initiatives are government driven. The public sector receives help from the private sector. “The role of the private sector is to provide the mobile devices because that is actually very expensive for the government,” said Leonard Kore, analyst at IDC. “Most of the time, operators just provide the connectivity. The best they can do, in term of connectivity, is providing lower bandwidth cost,” noted Kore.
On the Health sector, applications, like Daktari1525 by Safaricom, are leading the way. “This application helps the ones who cannot access health care, which is very expensive. In the continent. With this applications, it takes $50 cents to talk to one of the doctors. The doctor give you a very quick diagnostic and if it is something serious they recommend the patient to go to a hospital. It is a Safaricom innovation. The main problem is that, in terms of application, they are very expensive because of the revenue sharing, the revenue doctors and the telecom providers. These are problems that are not picking up,” Kore said.
Other applications on the health sector are medAfrica, mama and EID.
He also points out that another issue is that most hospitals in Africa are owned by the government and they do not have budget for ICT or innovation.
“Some operators have shown their commitment with Africa and have launched initiatives or are part of different projects. We bring together our mobile operator members, the wider mobile industry and the development community to drive commercial mobile services for underserved people in emerging markets. We identify opportunities for social, economic and environmental impact and stimulate the development of scalable, life-enhancing mobile services,” said Craig Friderichs, Director of Health, GSMA, Mobile for Development, to CommsMEA.
“Mobile network operators are engaging with other institutions to identify and implement solutions that will successfully allow more mobile services to be delivered to a broader range of people across the region, while maintaining high service quality,” he added.
The GSMA mHealth programme launched the Pan-African mHealth Initiative (PAMI). PAMI is closely aligned to the UN’s Every Woman Every Child Initiative, Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) and the Global Nutrition for Growth Compact. The programme launched a new cross-ecosystem partnership designed to provide a range of mHealth services to women and children, with a particular focus on nutrition, across Sub-Saharan Africa. Gemalto, Hello Doctor, Lifesaver, Mobenzi, Mobilium, MTN, Omega Diagnostics and Samsung are the companies involved in this program.
The organisation highlights that a women’s maternal mortality risk is 1 in 30, in Sub-Saharan Africa. “This risk is 187 times greater than women in develop regions,” reports GSMA.
Education is another sector where ICT is driven improvements but analysts remind that this sector is “tricky”. “In Kenya you can find the Laptop school initiative. Each student on primary school get a lap top. The challenges is to launch the project with notebooks and laptops. The key problem is the digital content as nobody has nothing on digital format,” Kore said. EduMe, impulsed by Millicom, is another relevant app in the sector.
The applications developed for the Agriculture sector are mainly to access and see market information related to sellers, buyers and distributors.
iCow is an SMS and voice-based mobile phone application for small-scale dairy farmers in Kenya. Each text message costs about 10 Kenyan shillings, or $10 cents. iCow’s objective is to increase farmer productivity through access to knowledge and experts and to encourage the development of a younger generation of farmers. Another relevant one is M-Farm, which gives you up-to-date market information,
Jon Gosier, CEO at AppAfrica, has invest in 16 African companies in finance, health, education and entertainment as there is an opportunity for entrepreneurs in this field. Gosier highlighted that 12% of Kenyan GDP passes through mobile banking, giving an incredible boost to the economic activity in the market. “There are similar activities in other markets. In Uganda, e-Health solutions are becoming important and in South Africa you can find great solutions across sectors.”
On the Finance sector, the aim is to make private banking more accessible to more people. Camille Mendler, analyst at Ovum, also set Kenya as the example when providing money to the population through these applications. M-Pesa and M-Shawari are two main applications in this sector.