Frontier Markets, Stocks

Can African Mobile Tech Innovation Transform American Business?

Africa InnovationOften, innovation and technology are viewed by many as a one way transfer, from the developed to the developing world. Yet, African innovators are forcing us to give pause to this notion. Even their governments are innovating

Here at Emerging Frontiers, registering our business involved a process that required us to fill out paperwork, consult lawyers, and await a response by a government bureaucrat. The entire process can take days or possibly weeks and cost thousands of American dollars.

In Kenya, setting up a business is as easy as dialing *271#. Seriously, it’s that easy.

Beginning this past summer the country instituted a new program whereby setting up a business or government services is available via a simple call from a mobile phone. The new system has been wildly successful by all accounts, placing the process of business registration on veritable light speed, but also reducing corruption which is endemic in Kenya, and allows those that are unbanked or in rural areas new access to government services and support.

While governments in developed markets can certainly learn a thing or two from Kenya, perhaps Africa’s most astonishing mobile innovations are occurring in the private sector.

Much has been made of mobile banking, and for good reason. Kenya-based Safaricom’s partnership with Vodaphone produced mobile banking product M-Pesa in 2007, which has spurred a revolution in the developing world. In Kenya, mobile financial services are used by 74 percent of the adult population and M-Pesa transactions alone account for an astounding 35 percent of the country’s entire GDP according to the IMF and the BBC. M-Pesa and its competitors in the payment via mobile are only growing, both in Africa and throughout the developing world.

Kenya-based startups like Totohealth found a niche in delivering cost effective healthcare to some of the most rural and underserved communities in Kenya by utilizing SMS and MMS and as the first means of contact between the patient and doctor.

Another mobile healthcare startup, Uganda-based Matibabu has developed a smartphone app that can diagnose a person infected with Malaria. The app developers were the first African team to win the Microsoft Imagine Cup.

Last month, we profiled South Africa-based Journey Apps Ebola App that utilizes process tracing to eradicate Ebola in entire communities.

In Nigeria, Irofit has developed the only technology available that allows vendors to process credit card payments immediately without internet connectivity through GSM technology.

As we detailed, mobile penetration in Africa is growing exponentially; it is the fastest growing region in the world in terms of adding new subscribers each year. By 2020, it is expected that the telecom industry will be valued at $104 billion, representing over six percent of the region’s economy. Africa’s mobile-based telecom innovators have a promising future on the continent.

But consider this:

About 30 million people in the United States aren’t using any financial services like savings accounts or credit/debit cards. And too many retail businesses lose a day or two of sales when the internet or power becomes disconnected. Additionally, the United States has millions of individuals that lack access to healthcare, and those that do often pay exorbitant sums for preventative healthcare visits.

While it is hard to say that African mobile tech innovation has “arrived”, solutions developed in Africa have profound potential not only in other developing states but also in developed markets like the United States.

Courtesy of Emerging Frontiers 

This material is reproduced with the consent of Emerging Frontiers (Baldwin Berges). For more information on Emerging Frontiers, visit

About ETFalpha

Chief ETF Strategist & Co-Founder at EMerging Equity


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