Africa’s tech ecosystem responds to COVID-19

Towards the end of February, the virus COVID-19 spread from European countries to Africa.

In early March, Africa COVID-19 cases were in single digits. Unfortunately, by the mid of the month the numbers shot up. This increase led the World Health Organization to sound an alarm.

 WHO Regional Director Dr Matshidiso Moeti speaking at a press conference on March 19 said, “About 10 days ago we had 5 countries affected, now we’ve got 30,” he further stated “It has been an extremely rapid…evolution.” 

By March 18 the World Health Organization’s stats stated that there were 3,671 COVID-19 cases in Sub-Saharan Africa. Its also stated that 87 were confirmed deaths related to the virus, up from 463 cases and 8 deaths.

As COVID-19 spiked, major organizations and startups in Africa began to take measures to move their transactions towards digital payment. This also came as a result of the World Health Organization flagging cash as a channel for the spread of the coronavirus.

Tech companies rise up to combat COVID-19

At the urging of the Central Bank, Kenya turned to mobile money as a public-health tool.

The country’s largest telecom, Safaricom, implemented a fee-waiver on East Africa’s leading mobile-money product, M-Pesa, to reduce exchange of cash.

Safaricom announced that all person-to-person (P2P) transactions under 1,000 Kenyan Schillings (≈ $10) would be free for three months.

According to Kenya’s Communications Authority, Kenya has one of the highest rates of digital finance adoption in the world. This is largely due to the dominance of M-Pesa  in the country. This comes with 32 million of its 53 million population subscribed to mobile-money accounts.

According to a March 18 Bank of Ghana release, Ghana’s monetary body also eased KYC requirements on mobile-money. This allowed citizens to use existing mobile phone registrations to open accounts with the major digital payment providers. 

Start ups rise to the occasion

Yoco, a small business payment startup in South Africa also issued a directive to clients to encourage customers to use the contactless payment option on its point of sales machine. 

In Nigeria, the growth of the COVID-19 cases also prompted one of the country’s largest digital payment startups to rise to the occasion.

Paga a Lagos based venture made fee adjustments, allowing its merchants accept payments from Paga customers for free. According to a company release, it is a measure “aimed to help slow the spread of the coronavirus by reducing cash handling in Nigeria.”

In March, CcHub, Africa’s largest innovation incubator, also announced funding and engineering support to tech projects. These tech projects aim at curbing COVID-19 and its social as well as economic impact.

The Lagos and Nairobi based organization posted an open application on its website to provide $5,000 to $100,000 funding blocks to companies with COVID-19 related projects.

Bosun Tijani, CcHub’s CEO expressed his concern for Africa’s ability to combat the coronavirus pandemic. “Quite a number of African countries, if they get to the level of Italy or the UK, I don’t think the system… is resilient enough to provide support to something like that,” Tijani said.

The Nigeria headquartered operation — with online goods and services verticals in 11 African countries — also said it would donate certified face masks to health ministries in Kenya, Ivory Coast, Morocco, Nigeria and Uganda, drawing on its supply networks outside Africa.

Jumia is also reviewing additional assets it can offer the public sector. “If governments find it helpful we’re willing to do it,” CEO Sacha Poignonnec  

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