His discoveries of ancient human skulls and skeletons, including the famed “Turkana Boy,” helped cement Africa’s standing as the cradle of humanity.
Infections have more than doubled or tripled in many countries, prompting the authorities to reimpose curfews and quarantines and introduce vaccine mandates as the holiday season gets underway.
On a stop in Nigeria, the secretary of state said the U.S. would no longer treat African countries as pawns in a global game. But American competition with Beijing was hard to overlook.
Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken hoped to ease the turmoil engulfing Sudan and Ethiopia in his first trip to sub-Saharan Africa. Both worsened on his first full day.
The conflict between rebels and the country’s government has already featured numerous alleged atrocities, and experts say it threatens the stability of all of East Africa.
Agnes Jebet Tirop, 25, a rising running star, was stabbed to death in her home this month. Her husband has been arrested.
Agnes Jebet Tirop, 25, a rising running star, was stabbed to death in her home this month. Her husband has been arrested.
The two leaders are expected to discuss the situation in the Tigray region in northern Ethiopia, where fighters have been accused of atrocities against civilians.
Among roosting bats in parts of Africa, the inside of a drop toilet can be a lovely place to hang.
The arsenal of weapons to use against malaria, which kills hundreds of thousands of people annually, just grew bigger.
The loss of international tourism had decimated the livelihoods of thousands of travel and hospitality workers, who have had to take on odd jobs and borrow money to endure the pandemic.
Netflix said on Monday it is launching a free mobile plan in Kenya as the global streaming giant looks to tap the East African nation that is home to over 20 million internet users.
The free plan, which will be rolled out to all users in Kenya in the coming weeks, won’t require them to provide any payment information during the sign-up, the company said. The new plan is available to any user aged 18 or above with an Android phone, the company said. It will also not include ads.
Netflix, available in over 190 countries, has experimented with a range of plans in recent years to lure customers in developing markets. For instance, it began testing a $3 mobile-only plan in India in 2018 — before expanding it to users in several other countries.
This is also not the first time Netflix is offering its service for free — or at little to no price. The company has previously supported free trials in many markets, offered a tiny portion of its original movies and shows to non-subscribers, and has run at least one campaign in India when the service was available at no charge over the course of a weekend.
But its latest offering in Kenya is still remarkable. The company told Reuters that it is making about one quarter of its movies and television shows catalog available to users in the free plan in the East African nation.
“If you’ve never watched Netflix before — and many people in Kenya haven’t — this is a great way to experience our service,” Cathy Conk, Director of Product Innovation at Netflix, wrote in a blog post.
“And if you like what you see, it’s easy to upgrade to one of our paid plans so you can enjoy our full catalog on your TV or laptop as well.”
The company didn’t disclose how long it plans to offer this free tier in Kenya — and whether it is considering expanding this offering to other markets.
On its past earnings calls, Netflix executives have insisted that they study each market and explore ways to make their service more compelling to all. The ability to sign up without a payment information lends credibility to such claims. Many individuals in developed countries don’t have a credit or debit card, which renders services requiring such payment instruments at the sign-up inaccessible to them.
The new push to win customers comes as the company, which is also planning to add mobile games to its offering, added only 1.5 million net paying subscribers in the quarter that ended in June this year, lower than what it had forecast. Netflix, which has amassed over 209 million subscribers, as well as Amazon Prime Video and other streaming services are increasingly trying to win customers outside of the U.S. to maintain faster growth rates.
Earlier this year, Amazon introduced a free and ad-supported video streaming service within its shopping app in India to tap more customers.
In her memoir, “The Girls in the Wild Fig Tree,” Nice Leng’ete tells the story of her courageous fight against female genital mutilation.
Nigerian automotive tech company Autochek today is announcing the acquisition of Cheki Kenya and Uganda from Ringier One Africa Media (ROAM) for an undisclosed amount.
Per a statement, Autochek will finalize the deal in the coming weeks. With the acquisition, Autochek completes its expansion into East Africa and follows the first acquisition made almost a year ago when it acquired both Nigeria and Ghana businesses from Cheki.
In 2010, Cheki launched as an online car classified for dealers, importers, and private sellers in Nigeria. The startup, headquartered in Lagos, expanded operations to Kenya, Ghana, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.
Cheki got acquired by ROAM in 2017 and joined a list of online marketplaces and classifieds in its network like Jobberman.
Per ROAM’s website, Cheki still has operations in Tanzania, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. However, these markets are quite inactive so it is safe to say Autochek has fully acquired all of Cheki’s main operations.
Cheki Kenya is an exciting market for both parties. The subsidiary has 700,000 users and lists over 12,000 vehicles monthly. It also claims to have grown 80% year-on-year in the last two years, making it a valuable asset for Autochek’s plan for regional expansion.
“Cheki Kenya has always been sort of the crown jewel,” Autochek CEO Etop Ikpe said to TechCrunch. “At the time, when we completed the Nigeria and Ghana acquisition, it wasn’t a conscious effort to make this happen, but it’s great that it happened.”
Credit penetration in terms of vehicle financing is higher in Kenya than in Nigeria and Ghana. The East African country has a 27.5% penetration compared to the whole West African market at 5%. Therefore, it explains why Autochek is optimistic about the East African market. Before making the acquisition, the one-year-old company ran a stealthy pilot with some banks in Kenya — a similar strategy used in Ghana and Nigeria — to provide car owners with financing. So, the acquisition cements the company’s position in the market, Ikpe says.
The sale of Cheki operations in all of its major markets, which happened within a year, might lead some to ask if the four entities did poorly and forced the classifieds giant to find a suitable buyer quickly.
But CEO Ikpe refuted any claims of a distress sale when asked. He stated that the acquisition happened in quick succession because both parties understood that the classifieds model (run by Cheki) needed to make way for the more modern transactional model (employed by Autochek and leading automotive players in Africa). Therefore, ROAM Africa saw it as a needed transition for Cheki.
Building off Ikpe’s past relationship with Ringier (one arm of ROAM before the merger), where he ran DealDey, a classifieds deal company Ringier eventually bought, it wasn’t a tough decision to sell the company to Autochek, Ikpe tells TechCrunch.
“I think for them it’s really long term strategy and they believe in our business model. And there’s a lot of hope that we can do things in the future. It was also really about finding the right home for the business and their employees.”
From a statement, ROAM CEO Clemens Weitz said, “Across the world, we see a new evolution of digital automotive platforms, requiring deep specialization. Specifically in Africa, we believe that Autochek is the one player with the best team and expertise to truly create a game-changing consumer experience. For ROAM Africa, this deal is more than a very good transaction: It unleashes even more focus on our strategic playbook for our other businesses.”
Autochek’s expansion to East Africa is coming at a time when automotive tech companies like Moove, Planet42, and FlexClub are receiving attention from investors as the need for flexible vehicle financing keeps growing across the continent.
The most important car financing market on the continent is arguably South Africa. Other automotive companies have some form of presence in the market and for Autochek, the plan is to expand there too, and understandably why.
South Africa is the crème de la crème market and has the highest car financing penetration on the continent. Yet despite the seeming competition, Ikpe believes opportunities exist for the company to provide services tailored to the market different from what other companies have.
“The beauty of our platform is that we can be diverse; for instance, we can have a retail or B2B approach. There’s a lot of dynamic ways we can work. So I think it’s natural that our goal is to typically be in every region. We’ve made our inroads into East and West, and we’ll continue to work as we want to be in North and South Africa,” he said.
Autochek says a funding round is in the works to execute on this front and might close before the end of the year.
The UK government has named the person it wants to take over as its chief data protection watchdog, with sitting commissioner Elizabeth Denham overdue to vacate the post: The Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) today said its preferred replacement is New Zealand’s privacy commissioner, John Edwards.
Edwards, who has a legal background, has spent more than seven years heading up the Office of the Privacy Commissioner In New Zealand — in addition to other roles with public bodies in his home country.
He is perhaps best known to the wider world for his verbose Twitter presence and for taking a public dislike to Facebook: In the wake of the 2018 Cambridge Analytica data misuse scandal Edwards publicly announced that he was deleting his account with the social media — accusing Facebook of not complying with the country’s privacy laws.
An anti-‘Big Tech’ stance aligns with the UK government’s agenda to tame the tech giants as it works to bring in safety-focused legislation for digital platforms and reforms of competition rules that take account of platform power.
If confirmed in the role — the DCMS committee has to approve Edwards’ appointment; plus there’s a ceremonial nod needed from the Queen — he will be joining the regulatory body at a crucial moment as digital minister Oliver Dowden has signalled the beginnings of a planned divergence from the European Union’s data protection regime, post-Brexit, by Boris Johnson’s government.
Dial back the clock five years and prior digital minister, Matt Hancock, was defending the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) as a “decent piece of legislation” — and suggesting to parliament that there would be little room for the UK to diverge in data protection post-Brexit.
But Hancock is now out of government (aptly enough after a data leak showed him breaching social distancing rules by kissing his aide inside a government building), and the government mood music around data has changed key to something far more brash — with sitting digital minister Dowden framing unfettered (i.e. deregulated) data-mining as “a great opportunity” for the post-Brexit UK.
For months, now, ministers have been eyeing how to rework the UK’s current (legascy) EU-based data protection framework — to, essentially, reduce user rights in favor of soundbites heavy on claims of slashing ‘red tape’ and turbocharging data-driven ‘innovation’. Of course the government isn’t saying the quiet part out loud; its press releases talk about using “the power of data to drive growth and create jobs while keeping high data protection standards”. But those standards are being reframed as a fig leaf to enable a new era of data capture and sharing by default.
Dowden has said that the emergency data-sharing which was waived through during the pandemic — when the government used the pressing public health emergency to justify handing NHS data to a raft of tech giants — should be the ‘new normal’ for a post-Brexit UK. So, tl;dr, get used to living in a regulatory crisis.
A special taskforce, which was commissioned by the prime minister to investigate how the UK could reshape its data policies outside the EU, also issued a report this summer — in which it recommended scrapping some elements of the UK’s GDPR altogether — branding the regime “prescriptive and inflexible”; and advocating for changes to “free up data for innovation and in the public interest”, as it put it, including pushing for revisions related to AI and “growth sectors”.
The government is now preparing to reveal how it intends to act on its appetite to ‘reform’ (read: reduce) domestic privacy standards — with proposals for overhauling the data protection regime incoming next month.
Speaking to the Telegraph for a paywalled article published yesterday, Dowden trailed one change that he said he wants to make which appears to target consent requirements — with the minister suggesting the government will remove the legal requirement to gain consent to, for example, track and profile website visitors — all the while framing it as a pro-consumer move; a way to do away with “endless” cookie banners.
Only cookies that pose a ‘high risk’ to privacy would still require consent notices, per the report — whatever that means.
“There’s an awful lot of needless bureaucracy and box ticking and actually we should be looking at how we can focus on protecting people’s privacy but in as light a touch way as possible,” the digital minister also told the Telegraph.
The draft of this Great British ‘light touch’ data protection framework will emerge next month, so all the detail is still to be set out. But the overarching point is that the government intends to redefine UK citizens’ privacy rights, using meaningless soundbites — with Dowden touting a plan for “common sense” privacy rules — to cover up the fact that it intends to reduce the UK’s currently world class privacy standards and replace them with worse protections for data.
If you live in the UK, how much privacy and data protection you get will depend upon how much ‘innovation’ ministers want to ‘turbocharge’ today — so, yes, be afraid.
It will then fall to Edwards — once/if approved in post as head of the ICO — to nod any deregulation through in his capacity as the post-Brexit information commissioner.
We can speculate that the government hopes to slip through the devilish detail of how it will torch citizens’ privacy rights behind flashy, distraction rhetoric about ‘taking action against Big Tech’. But time will tell.
Data protection experts are already warning of a regulatory stooge.
While the Telegraph suggests Edwards is seen by government as an ideal candidate to ensure the ICO takes a “more open and transparent and collaborative approach” in its future dealings with business.
In a particularly eyebrow raising detail, the newspaper goes on to report that government is exploring the idea of requiring the ICO to carry out “economic impact assessments” — to, in the words of Dowden, ensure that “it understands what the cost is on business” before introducing new guidance or codes of practice.
All too soon, UK citizens may find that — in the ‘sunny post-Brexit uplands’ — they are afforded exactly as much privacy as the market deems acceptable to give them. And that Brexit actually means watching your fundamental rights being traded away.
In a statement responding to Edwards’ nomination, Denham, the outgoing information commissioner, appeared to offer some lightly coded words of warning for government, writing [emphasis ours]: “Data driven innovation stands to bring enormous benefits to the UK economy and to our society, but the digital opportunity before us today will only be realised where people continue to trust their data will be used fairly and transparently, both here in the UK and when shared overseas.”
The lurking iceberg for government is of course that if wades in and rips up a carefully balanced, gold standard privacy regime on a soundbite-centric whim — replacing a pan-European standard with ‘anything goes’ rules of its/the market’s choosing — it’s setting the UK up for a post-Brexit future of domestic data misuse scandals.
You only have to look at the dire parade of data breaches over in the US to glimpse what’s coming down the pipe if data protection standards are allowed to slip. The government publicly bashing the private sector for adhering to lax standards it deregulated could soon be the new ‘get popcorn’ moment for UK policy watchers…
UK citizens will surely soon learn of unfair and unethical uses of their data under the ‘light touch’ data protection regime — i.e. when they read about it in the newspaper.
Such an approach will indeed be setting the country on a path where mistrust of digital services becomes the new normal. And that of course will be horrible for digital business over the longer run. But Dowden appears to lack even a surface understanding of Internet basics.
The UK is also of course setting itself on a direct collision course with the EU if it goes ahead and lowers data protection standards.
This is because its current data adequacy deal with the bloc — which allows for EU citizens’ data to continue flowing freely to the UK — was granted only on the basis that the UK was, at the time it was inked, still aligned with the GDPR. So Dowden’s rush to rip up protections for people’s data presents a clear risk to the “significant safeguards” needed to maintain EU adequacy. Meaning the deal could topple.
Back in June, when the Commission signed off on the UK’s adequacy deal, it clearly warned that “if anything changes on the UK side, we will intervene”.
Add to that, the adequacy deal is also the first with a baked in sunset clause — meaning it will automatically expire in four years. So even if the Commission avoids taking proactive action over slipping privacy standards in the UK there is a hard deadline — in 2025 — when the EU’s executive will be bound to look again in detail at exactly what Dowden & Co. have wrought. And it probably won’t be pretty.
The longer term UK ‘plan’ (if we can put it that way) appears to be to replace domestic economic reliance on EU data flows — by seeking out other jurisdictions that may be friendly to a privacy-light regime governing what can be done with people’s information.
Hence — also today — DCMS trumpeted an intention to secure what it billed as “new multi-billion pound global data partnerships” — saying it will prioritize striking ‘data adequacy’ “partnerships” with the US, Australia, the Republic of Korea, Singapore, and the Dubai International Finance Centre and Colombia.
Future partnerships with India, Brazil, Kenya and Indonesia will also be prioritized, it added — with the government department cheerfully glossing over the fact it’s UK citizens’ own privacy that is being deprioritized here.
“Estimates suggest there is as much as £11 billion worth of trade that goes unrealised around the world due to barriers associated with data transfers,” DCMS writes in an ebullient press release.
As it stands, the EU is of course the UK’s largest trading partner. And statistics from the House of Commons library on the UK’s trade with the EU — which you won’t find cited in the DCMS release — underline quite how tiny this potential Brexit ‘data bonanza’ is, given that UK exports to the EU stood at £294 billion in 2019 (43% of all UK exports).
So even the government’s ‘economic’ case to water down citizens’ privacy rights looks to be puffed up with the same kind of misleadingly vacuous nonsense as ministers’ reframing of a post-Brexit UK as ‘Global Britain’.
Everyone hates cookies banners, sure, but that’s a case for strengthening not weakening people’s privacy — for making non-tracking the default setting online and outlawing manipulative dark patterns so that Internet users don’t constantly have to affirm they want their information protected. Instead the UK may be poised to get rid of annoying cookie consent ‘friction’ by allowing a free for all on citizens’ data.
Cairo and Dubai-based ride-sharing company Swvl plans to go public in a merger with special purpose acquisition company Queen’s Gambit Growth Capital, Swvl said Tuesday. The deal will see Swvl valued at roughly $1.5 billion.
Swvl was founded by Mostafa Kandil, Mahmoud Nouh and Ahmed Sabbah in 2017. The trio started the company as a bus-hailing service in Egypt and other ride-sharing services in emerging markets with fragmented public transportation.
Its services, mainly bus-hailing, enables users to make intra-state journeys by booking seats on buses running a fixed route. This is pocket-friendly for residents in these markets compared to single-rider options and helps reduce emissions (Swvl claims it has prevented over 240 million pounds of carbon emission since inception).
After its Egypt launch, Swvl expanded to Kenya, Pakistan, Jordan and Saudi Arabia. The company also moved its headquarters to Dubai as part of its strategy to become a global company.
Swvl offerings have expanded beyond bus-hailing services. Now, the company offers inter-city rides, car ride-sharing, and corporate services across the 10 cities it operates in across Africa and the Middle East.
Queen’s Gambit, the women-led SPAC in charge of the deal, raised $300 million in January and added $45 million via an underwriters’ overallotment option focusing on startups in clean energy, healthcare and mobility sectors.
The statement also mentions a group of investors — Agility, Luxor Capital and Zain Group — which will contribute $100 million through a private investment in public equity, or PIPE.
Per Crunchbase, Swvl has raised over $170 million. From an African perspective, Swvl features as one of the most venture-backed startups on the continent. The company has been touted to reach unicorn status in the past and will when this SPAC merger is completed.
The company will aptly trade under the ticker SWVL. The listing will make it the first Egyptian startup to go public outside Egypt and the second to go public after Fawry. It will also make the mobility company the largest African unicorn debut on any U.S.-listed exchange, beating Jumia’s debut of $1.1 billion on the NYSE. Swvl joins music-streaming platform Anghami as the second startup in the region to go public via a SPAC merger in the Middle East.
Swvl had annual gross revenue of $26 million in 2020, according to the statement, and the company expects its annual gross revenue to increase to $79 million this year and $1 billion by 2025 after expanding to 20 countries across five continents.
On why Queen’s Gambit picked Swvl for this deal, Victoria Grace, founder and CEO, said in a statement that the company fit the profile of what she was looking for: “a disruptive platform that solves complex challenges and empowers underserved populations.”
“Having established a leadership position in key emerging markets, we believe Swvl is ready to capitalize on a truly global market opportunity,” she added.
In May, TechCrunch wrote that SPACs didn’t target African startups for several reasons, including a lack of global appeal and private capital and market satisfaction. Judging by Grace’s comments, Swvl has that global appeal and is ready to venture into the public market despite being in operation for just four years.
Pharmacies in Africa struggle with access to finance, but inventory management is really what bogs them down. How do pharmaceutical retailers know how much stock they need? How do they know which products to stock at a given time? How do they know what products aren’t selling?
At the moment, there’s not enough data to answer these questions. Cash gets tied up; there are more or fewer products than are needed at a particular time. If it’s the former, they run a risk of selling expired products. If it’s the latter, patients can’t get what they need.
Field Intelligence is digitizing this supply-chain process to help African pharmacies sell better. The company, which started in 2015, was government-focused and tried to tackle the challenges facing the public health supply chain in Nigeria’s capital city, Abuja.
Co-founder and CEO Michael Moreland said he noticed that independent pharmacies in Abuja faced similar challenges to the government-owned ones. After building a SaaS platform to manage complex and large-scale pharmaceutical distribution for the government, the company decided to branch out into the private space.
In trying to solve that supply-chain problem, Field Intelligence shifted from strictly being a software company to become a pharmaceutical distributor using technology to reimagine how the value chain works.
Field Intelligence launched Shelf Life in 2017 as the standalone product to handle this transition. Up until now, they had operations in Abuja, Lagos and Nairobi. The product aims to solve the inventory problem across Africa’s $65 billion pharmaceutical market. Today, the company announced its expansion into 11 cities across Nigeria and Kenya. The seven cities in Nigeria include Delta, Edo, Enugu, Kaduna, Kano, Kwara and Rivers. In Kenya, it’s Eldoret, Kisumi, Mombasa and Naivasha. The expansion will build on Field Intelligence’s more than 700 existing pharmacies, which have served over 1.4 million patients so far.
Shelf Life takes the burden and risk of inventory off the pharmacies. It manages forecasting, quality assurance, fulfillment and inventory management via a subscription service. Pharmacies sell Shelf Life-supplied goods on consignment through a pay-as-you-sell program, avoiding expiry risk and accessing a cheaper alternative to working capital finance. The company claims that this model allowed pharmacies to grow an average of 25% CAGR.
“We launched Shelf Life in 2017 to allow pharmacies to outsource their supply chain to us. And it really just grew very organically from there,” Moreland said. “And as we built up, we expanded down to Lagos and eventually to Nairobi to see if it would work in East Africa in that context, and it did. We haven’t looked back since then. The future of the business is in the private pharmacy market.”
Field Intelligence concluded its first round of outside capital in March last year, a $3.6 million Series A. The money was raised for expansion, but the pandemic stalled that plan. Field Intelligence went back to work by the end of Q4 2020 and planted the initial seeds of what has grown until this moment.
Importance of data in Field Intelligence’s operations
This expansion comes a year after the company experienced rapid sales and Shelf Life membership subscriptions. Sales grew by 47% in Nigeria and 65% in Kenya, selling over 586,950 products in 63 different product categories.
By using data to optimize predictions and identify irregularities in the market, Field Intelligence met the demands for prescription and over-the-counter drugs. But how does it receive and aggregate this data?
“We see that as a math problem. And that starts with having really great data about what’s selling across a wide number of locations and different seasons, across a wide formulary of products,” the CEO said.
When Field Intelligence introduces Shelf Life to a pharmacy, it takes over its supply chain and inventory management processes. The company has fulfillment partners to manage the pharmacy’s stock counts, inventory management and merchandising.
Data about stock positions and movements at the retail level comes from a wide array of locations. Thus, the company can build a proprietary dataset that shows pharmacies in real-time, providing insights into demand. With that, Field Intelligence provides visibility and control of pharmaceutical procurement and inventory management. This eliminates frequent over- and understocking; pharmacies can change products or prices based on the information available.
The fulfillment partners operate an asset-light model, which Moreland said allowed the company “to build a scalable and intelligent distribution service that operates lean but yet creates a lot of value for the patients and retailers.”
“I can say that our level of the value chain here as sort of this tech-enabled distributor, there’s nobody that operates at this level of the supply chain in so many cities,” he added.
Shelf Life is currently being used in more than 700 pharmacies across Nigeria and Kenya. The company says Nigeria has more than 4,500 registered pharmacies and over 15,000 drugstores; while Kenya has 6,000 registered pharmacies. So there’s plenty of market share to capture. By next year, Field Intelligence plans to surpass 2,000 Shelf Life pharmacies and drugstores. By 2025, the company is targeting 12,000 pharmacies and drugstores.
Moreland said that the company has grown 5x in terms of recurring revenue, adding that Shelf Life has sold more drugs and served more patients in the last three months than its first three years of business.
While Field Intelligence is looking to tackle inventory management with Shelf Life, Moreland believes the company is also effectively solving a finance problem too because it provides an alternative to traditional financing options by lowering the cost of running a pharmacy.
“One of the big value propositions for us is that because we are selling on consignment, we free up a lot of working capital for the retailer. So in the market, we’re broadly seen as a financial services provider and a form of alternative finance for our pharmacies. And I think it’s a big part of our story because when you compare the cost of joining Shelf Life to accessing the equivalent amount of working capital from microfinance or traditional bank, even concessionary lenders, we can be 60 to 80% cheaper with far more value-added services,” he said.
A major attraction of Africa is its large population of 1.2 billion, which hints at a sizable addressable market. But what happens when your target audience is the governments of 54 countries?
In our situation, that was the case. We started Domineum Blockchain Solutions with the intention to help African governments solve problems with shipping and keeping records.
We knew it’d be hard work, but didn’t anticipate that getting our first customer would be the most difficult part.
It’s typical when entering Africa to want to focus on the big and popular markets like Nigeria, South Africa and Kenya. But what we’ve learned so far is that there’s a high probability that these countries might not be your first entry point.
Our first product was a cargo service that tracks shipment origin and movement and determines the contents of goods being imported or exported in any country. We built this to solve the problem of lost revenue due to shipments being passed through informal backdoor channels.
With our focus on sub-Saharan Africa, we approached four countries in 2019: our home country of Nigeria, plus Kenya, Gambia and Guinea-Conakry.
We started this conversation and didn’t get a substantial response from the four countries’ governments. They weren’t open to trying out our solution — it was new and they weren’t familiar with blockchain technology. Distraught, we decided to add a smaller country to our list: Sierra Leone.
The Freetown seaport, located in the country’s capital, is the main gateway for trade in and out of Sierra Leone, with 80% of trade passing through this port. The port has a long history as a trading hub and benefits from the country’s strategically important location midway between Europe and the Americas.
But Freetown isn’t one of the top ports in Africa or even sub-Saharan Africa; a fraction of a percentage point of the world’s trade shipment flows through its ports. The small African country, with about 0.1% of the world’s population, exports diamonds, cocoa and coffee and imports food, machinery and chemicals.
Notably, it faced big challenges in shipping these products in and out of the country. A Sierra Leonean supply chain manager described this situation, “We used to face big challenges during the export process. There would be long delays at the port. Our trucks would arrive before midnight and could be stuck in queue for hours, even days. The documentation process was so complicated.”
According to the World Bank, Sierra Leone’s “trade challenges can be attributed to several factors: lack of access to trade information; high levels of physical inspections; multiple fees, licenses, permits and certificates; manual processes; and the lack of coordination among agencies.” Domineum set out to solve this.
Our initial conversations with the Sierra Leone government went well. Fortunately, Sierra had developed a five-year plan (2018-2023), supported by the World Bank Group, to reduce the time and costs needed to move goods across its borders. The goal is to reduce trade costs by 10%. After three months of discussion, our cargo tracking system was implemented.
In late 2019, we started this partnership, and so far we’ve been able to capture $2 million in revenue that would have been lost. The business model is simple: We get a 40% commission out of extra revenue we’re able to capture for the Sierra Leone government via our cargo tracking system.
It’s typical when entering Africa to want to focus on the big and popular markets like Nigeria, South Africa and Kenya. But what we’ve learned so far is that there’s a high probability that these countries might not be your first entry point. A business-to-government model is a difficult one. There’s a lot of politicking that goes into working with the government.
What we’ve seen work is to approach other countries and gain a foothold, then use that as validation that the concept works. With the success of Sierra Leone, we’re hoping to return to other countries and get a better reception.
The success of Sierra Leone got us rethinking the services we were offering. The initial conversation started with a cargo tracking service, but then we wondered if we should offer a different service to countries that said no at first.
We identified that land registration was a common problem in Africa. More than 90% of rural land in Africa is undocumented and therefore vulnerable to land-grabbing. This hampers the growth of agriculture and other sectors because land is lost to other parties or taken forcefully by the government during times of conflict.
We returned to these countries, offering other services like land ownership registration via blockchain. We got a positive response from a state government in Nigeria to carry out a pilot program. We’re optimistic that once this pilot phase is over, we’ll be able to seal the next business deal.
What’s it like working with African governments? It’s a smaller addressable market. If you’re looking to pitch a product or service to governments in Africa, it’d be helpful to keep in mind that your first customer might be from a smaller country.
To seize other opportunities, we’ll keep looking to expand to other African countries with this mindset.
The pandemic’s effect on the global app market has not been hard to miss. In the first quarter and first half of this year, consumer spending in mobile apps hit new records at $32 billion and $64.9 billion, respectively.
In Africa, it can be tough to call out exact numbers on consumer spending because the continent gets hardly a mention in global app market reports. Yet, other metrics are worth looking at, and a new report from AppsFlyer in collaboration with Google has some important insights into how the African app market has fared since the pandemic broke out last year.
The report tracked mobile app activities across three of Africa’s largest app markets (Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa) between Q1 2020 and Q1 2021.
From the first half of 2020 to the first half of 2021, the African mobile app industry (which is predominantly Android) increased by 41% in overall installs. This was analyzed from 6,000 apps and 2 billion installs in the three markets. Nigeria registered the highest growth, with a 43% rise; South Africa’s market increased by 37% and Kenya increased 29%.
On March 22, 2020, Rwanda imposed Africa’s first lockdown. Subsequently, other countries followed; (those in the report) Kenya (March 25), South Africa (March 27), and Nigeria (March 30).
As more people spent time at home from Q2 2020, app installs increased by 20% across the three countries. South Africans were the quickest to take to their phones as the lockdowns hit with installs increasing by 17% from the previous quarter.
On the other hand, Nigerians and Kenyans recorded a 2% and 9% increase, respectively. The report attributes the disparity to the varying levels of restrictions each country faced; South Africa experienced the strictest and most frequent.
Per the report, gaming apps showed strong performance between Q1 and Q2 2020. The segment experienced a 50% growth compared to an 8% increase in nongaming apps pulled. It followed a global trend where gaming apps surged to a record high in Q2 2020, at 14 billion downloads globally.
In-app purchasing revenue and almost year-on-year growth
According to AppsFlyer, the biggest trend it noticed was in in-app purchasing revenue. In Q3 2020, in-app purchasing revenue numbers grew with a staggering 136% increase compared to Q2 2020, and accounted for 33% of 2020’s total revenue, “highlighting just how much African consumers were spending within apps, from retail purchases to gaming upgrades.”
In-app purchasing revenue among South African consumers increased by 213%, while Nigeria and Kenyan consumers recorded 141% and 74% increases, respectively.
On the advertising front and on an almost year-on-year basis, in-app advertising revenue also increased significantly as Africans were glued to their smartphones more than ever. Per the report, in-app advertising revenue increased 167% between Q2 2020 to Q1 2021.
For gaming and non-gaming apps, which was highlighted between the first two quarters, they both increased by 44% and 40% respectively in Q1 2021 compared to Q2 2020.
Fintech and super apps
In the last five years, fintech has dominated VC investments in African startups. It’s a no brainer why there is so much affinity for the sector. Fintechs create so much value for Africa’s mobile-first population, with large sections of unbanked, underbanked and banked people. This value is why all but one of the continent’s billion-dollar startups are fintech.
African fintechs have grown by 89.4% between 2017 and 2021, according to a Disrupt Africa report. Now, there are more than 570 startups on the continent. Many fintechs are mobile-based, therefore reflecting the number of fintech apps Africans use each day. Consumers in South Africa and Nigeria saw year-on-year growth in finance app installs by 116% and 60%, respectively.
AppsFlyer says that like fintech apps, super apps are on the rise as well. These “all-in-one” apps offer users a range of functions such as banking, messaging, shopping and ride-hailing. The report says their rise, partly due to device limitations on the continent, owes much to the same conditions that have led to a surge in fintech apps: systemic underbanking.
“Super apps remove some of the barriers that these users face, as well as providing a level of customer insight and experience that traditional banks cannot,” the report said.
Daniel Junowicz, RVP EMEA & Strategic Projects for AppsFlyer, commenting on the trends highlighted in the report said, “…The mobile app space in Africa is thriving despite the turmoil of last year. Installs are growing, and consumers are spending more money than ever before, highlighting just how important mobile can be for businesses when it comes to driving revenue.”
On June 18, Babajide Duroshola, ex-Country Head, SafeBoda Nigeria, stepped down from his role two years after taking the job post-Andela.
Less than a month later, the executive has found a new role as General Manager in another Kenyan company, M-KOPA. His appointment coincides with M-KOPA’s broader expansion strategy, which includes a move to Nigeria.
In 2019 when SafeBoda hired Duroshola, the Kenyan ride-hailing company was in the news for its imminent expansion to Nigeria. To the company and most of the public, Lagos was the obvious option. But Duroshola and his team chose to stay away from the most viable tech ecosystem in West Africa and launch in neighbouring city Ibadan.
Although it was considered a huge risk, the gamble looks to have paid off. While major ride-hailing platforms in Lagos like ORide, MAX.ng, and Gokada completely halted their operations in the state after a ride-hailing ban, SafeBoda thrived in Ibadan. By the time Duroshola left the company, it had onboarded 5,000 drivers and completed more than 1.5 million rides in a full year of operation.
SafeBoda runs an asset-financing model when offering smartphones to its riders. M-KOPA has used this concept since its inception and it played a major role in Duroshola’s decision to join the company.
“Part of the things that excite me asides from ride-hailing is the credit space. I like asking questions on how to extend credits to people and help them build their digital footprints. That was why M-KOPA seemed attractive,” Duroshola said to TechCrunch.
M-KOPA launched in Kenya ten years ago. The company is known to have kickstarted the wider pay-as-you-go (PAYG) solar market in the country. Over the years, M-KOPA has expanded its offerings to include televisions, fridges, other electronic appliances, and financial services to customers in Kenya and Uganda. Through its pay-as-you-go financing model, customers can build ownership over time by paying an initial deposit followed by flexible and affordable micro-payments.
So far, M-KOPA has sold over 1 million PAYG solar systems and provided $400 million in financing to millions of customers while raising over $180 million in equity and debt. Last year, the company added smartphone financing to its offerings in Kenya by partnering with Safaricom and Samsung.
Per a GSMA report, mobile technologies and services generated 9% of sub-Saharan Africa’s GDP in 2019, representing about $155 billion in economic value. And when you think about it, smartphones are used in people’s everyday lives more than solar systems, so it isn’t surprising that M-KOPA has already sold 500,000 smartphones, half the units solar systems have managed in a ten-year period.
Early this year, M-KOPA ran a pilot test in the Nigerian market by providing customers with its solar systems and smartphone financing options. Smartphone financing had a higher uptake as M-KOPA sold over 20,000 devices in Lagos, its first market. The company considered this a success, and the appointment of Duroshola is seen as a prerequisite for scaling the offering rapidly in Nigeria.
“We’ve been deliberate about finding the right person with a strong track record and in-depth knowledge of the Nigerian tech community to lead our team as we scale up our country operations. And the milestone coincided with Babajide’s appointment as we look to grow and expand into new regions,” Mayur Patel, M-KOPA’s CCO, said to TechCrunch in an email.
M-KOPA is now present in both Lagos and Oyo after expanding to the latter last month. Just as in Kenya, M-KOPA partnered with Samsung, but a different mobile network operator in Airtel, to make its smartphone financing accessible to Nigerian customers.
According to Patel, both Nokia and Samsung provide entry- and mid-tier handsets at different prices to their customers. He argues that a top priority for MNOs on the continent is converting 2G/3G network users to 4G. To him, M-KOPA has a shot at tackling the challenge of 4G device affordability in Nigeria because 75% of its total customers are first time 4G smartphone owners.
“Our partnership with both these OEMs has allowed M-KOPA to offer affordable ownership of quality 4G smartphones for underbanked customers, who are otherwise excluded because they lack credit histories or salaried incomes,” he said.
In Nigeria, M-KOPA deals with various products in the Samsung A series (A02, A12, A22, A32) ranging from $80-$250 (~₦40,000 to ₦125,000). The company plans to include more devices and handset manufacturers, but the COO doesn’t say when. In Kenya and Uganda, however, M-KOPA sells Nokia phones in addition to the aforementioned Samsung products.
Although M-KOPA is focused on smartphone financing in the West African country, Duroshola wants to mirror what Kenyan M-KOPA’s customers enjoy (where other products asides from smartphones are sold) in Nigeria. He reckons it will help build their credit history and worthiness over time.
The Kenyan company is currently recruiting for engineering roles in Nigeria and globally as part of its expansion plans. Duroshola will lead the charge in Nigeria in what can be described as his third stint of scaling African startups in the country. He seems to have a knack for it. Judging from our conversation, there’s an optimistic feel about the general manager in his ability to take on a market where PAYG models outside solar systems have had relatively low success.
“My vision as a person and what really typically drives me on a normal day is to help African startups scale and being that person that would help build, set up, get to the point where they’re able to think about their business strategy and how they can plug into the Nigerian space. What I’m looking to build with M-KOPA is a full credit machine. I want it to become a household name within the Nigerian market space where when people are thinking about pay-as-you-go financing for everyday use cases, M-KOPA is what comes to their mind.”
On Friday, a flood of ransomware hit hundreds of companies around the world. A grocery store chain, a public broadcaster, schools, and a national railway system were all hit by the file-encrypting malware, causing disruption and forcing hundreds of businesses to close.
The victims had something in common: a key piece of network management and remote control software developed by U.S. technology firm Kaseya. The Miami-headquartered company makes software used to remotely manage a company’s IT networks and devices. That software is sold to managed service providers — effectively outsourced IT departments — which they then use to manage the networks of their customers, often smaller companies.
But hackers associated with the Russia-linked REvil ransomware-as-a-service group are believed to have used a never-before-seen security vulnerability in the software’s update mechanism to push ransomware to Kaseya’s customers, which in turn spread downstream to their customers. Many of the companies who were ultimately victims of the attack may not have known that their networks were monitored by Kaseya’s software.
Kaseya warned customers on Friday to “IMMEDIATELY” shut down their on-premise servers, and its cloud service — though not believed to be affected — was pulled offline as a precaution.
“[Kaseya] showed a genuine commitment to do the right thing. Unfortunately, we were beaten by REvil in the final sprint.” Security researcher Victor Gevers
John Hammond, senior security researcher at Huntress Labs, a threat detection firm that was one of the first to reveal the attack, said about 30 managed service providers were hit allowing the ransomware to spread to “well over” 1,000 businesses.” Security firm ESET said it knows of victims in 17 countries, including the U.K., South Africa, Canada, New Zealand, Kenya, and Indonesia.
Now it’s becoming clearer just how the hackers pulled off one of the biggest ransomware attacks in recent history.
Dutch researchers said they found several zero-day vulnerabilities Kaseya’s software as part of an investigation into the security of web-based administrator tools. (Zero-days are named as such since it gives companies zero days to fix the problem.) The bugs were reported to Kaseya and were in the process of being fixed when the hackers struck, said Victor Gevers, who heads the group of researchers, in a blog post.
Kaseya’s chief executive Fred Voccola told The Wall Street Journal that its corporate systems were not compromised, lending greater credence to the working theory by security researchers that servers run by Kaseya’s customers were compromised individually using a common vulnerability.
The company said that all servers running the affected software should stay offline until the patch is ready. Voccola told the paper that it expects patches to be released by late Monday.
The attack began late Friday afternoon, just as millions of Americans were logging off into the long July 4 weekend. Adam Meyers, CrowdStrike’s senior vice president of intelligence, said the attack was carefully timed.
“Make no mistake, the timing and target of this attack are no coincidence. It illustrates what we define as a Big Game Hunting attack, launched against a target to maximize impact and profit through a supply chain during a holiday weekend when business defenses are down,” said Meyers.
A notice posted over the weekend on a dark web site known to be run by REvil claimed responsibility for the attack, and that the ransomware group publicly release a decryption tool if it is paid $70 million in bitcoin.
“More than a million systems were infected,” the group claims in the post.
The pandemic is worsening in Africa as more contagious variants spread, vaccinations lag and hospitals in some places are pushed beyond their limits.
While there has been a wave of innovation in food tech worldwide, it’s still in early days for Africa. There are only a handful of African food-tech startups, and a year and a half’s worth of global pandemic has added a couple to that list.
Kune is one of the most recent food-tech startups, and today, the six-month-old Kenyan-based company is announcing that it has closed a $1 million pre-seed round to launch its on-demand food service in August.
Pan-African venture capital firm Launch Africa Ventures led the pre-seed round. Other investors that took part include Century Oak Capital GmbH and Consonance, with a contribution from ecosystem management firm Pariti.
Founded by CEO Robin Reecht in December 2020, Kune delivers freshly made, ready-to-eat meals at arguably affordable prices. When Reetch first came to Kenya from France in November 2020, it wasn’t easy to get affordable ready-to-eat meals.
“After three days of coming into Kenya, I asked where I can get great food at a cheap price, and everybody tell me it’s impossible,” he told TechCrunch. “It’s impossible because either you go to the street and you eat street food, which is really cheap but with not-so-good quality, or you order on Uber Eats, Glovo or Jumia, where you get quality but you have to pay at least $10.”
Reetch noticed a gap in the market and sought to fill it. The next month, he decided to start Kune. The goal? To provide affordable, convenient and tasty meals. It took a week to develop a pilot, and with a ready waitlist of 50 customers in a particular office space, his plans were in motion. Kune sold more than 500 meals ($4 average) and tripled its customer base from 50 to 150.
Customers were particularly excited about the product and Kune raised $50,000 from them to continue operations, Reetch said. After that, however, the orders became too large for the small team that they couldn’t keep up; at one point, it received 50 orders per day. Thus, instead of advancing with a momentum that could break down, the team took a hiatus.
“We had started to mess up the order because, you know, it’s complicated to get food right when you’re just in a small kitchen setting. So I said okay, that there is no point doing that, and the demand is so high and better to do things right.”
The next months were spent restructuring the company, making hires and building a factory to produce 5,000 meals per day. Then, when the company was ready to raise, Reetch said he saw the same enthusiasm from customers and investors. In two months, Kune closed this round, one of the largest in East Africa, and is one of the few non-fintechs to have raised a seven-figure pre-seed round on the continent.
In a fast-growing and crowded restaurant and food delivery marketplace in Kenya, Kune wants to offer a new way for busy people in Nairobi to access meals by finding a balance between Kibanda pricing (usually referred to as the typical local roadside food shop) and on-demand food delivery prices from global companies.
Kune applies a hybrid model, combining both cloud and dark kitchen concepts. Kune meals are cooked and packaged in its factory and delivered directly to online, retail and corporate customers.
The hybrid model speaks to why Launch Africa cut a check for Kune. And according to the director of the firm, Baljinder Sharma, “leveraging the cloud kitchen model and owning the entire supply chain provides a massive growth and scaling opportunity for Kune Africa.” He added: “We are looking forward to seeing the business take off and grow.”
Kune plans to fully launch in August after its new factory is completed. Per details on its site, the company is promising customers that delivery will be done on an average of 30 minutes daily.
To achieve this, Kune ensures that it owns the entire supply chain, from cooking to packaging to delivery with its own drivers and motorbikes. “Our strategy is to internalize all production and human resources capacities,” he stated. That’s where Kune will put most of the funds to use going forward. In addition to the factory, which costs about 10% of the total investment, Kune will be looking to build a huge team. Reetch tells me that judging by how operations-heavy Kune is, the team size will reach 100 come December.
Once launched, the company will build its own fleet of 100 electric motorcycles by early 2022. In addition, there are plans to hire 100 female drivers.
Currently, Kune showcases three different meals daily: two continental dishes and one foreign meal. In the coming months and quarters, Kune’s offerings will cut across microwavable meals, weight reduction meals and retail meals to target European and U.S. clients. For the latter, Reetch is enthusiastic about exporting the African food culture to Western countries. As someone who travels a lot, the CEO thinks Kenya, unlike other countries, doesn’t have a strong food culture. He references food media like TV shows where various meals and cuisines and tutorings on how to cook food are showcased. Reetch wants Kune to be the go-to for such programs in Kenya.
“In Kenya, we don’t have any culinary show. So we are going to take that position as the culinary major of Kenya, and how do you create this? By creating amazing content, which we plan to do by creating videos and writing articles on how to cook or maybe just food business in general.”
From tens of thousands of hours of observation, scientists have compiled a detailed library of African elephant behavior.
The removal of a Turkish citizen from his home in Kenya is part of the crackdown by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on those he sees as connected to a failed 2016 coup.
The close was three-quarters of the target and was done in less than a year following the firm’s launch in February 2020. According to the firm, the second close should be concluded by the end of this year or Q1 2022.
Founded by partners Khaled Talhouni, Sarah Abu Risheh and Stephanie Nour Prince, Nuwa primarily targets markets in the Middle East and the wider GCC. The partners have a track record of investing in Middle Eastern companies — Careem, Mumzworld, Golden Scent and Nana Direct. However, they have also invested in Twiga Foods and AZA, two East African startups.
They have cut checks for three companies with this new fund: two Dubai-based companies, Eyewa and Flexxpay, and one Egypt-based company, Homzmart. And despite having a strong focus on the Middle East and the GCC, the firm wants to double down on investing in more African startups, particularly in Egypt and East Africa.
I spoke with the partners to discuss their past investments, why they are interested in Africa and the similarities and differences between the regions they operate in. This interview has been edited lightly for length and clarity.
TC: Why is Nuwa Capital choosing Sub-Saharan Africa as one of its target markets?
Khaled: I mean, it’s not our primary market, but it’s an area of secondary focus for us, which we’re really interested in. And we think that there are a lot of learnings from the Middle East that we can take from our experience of investing regionally here that we can use for investing in Africa, particularly in East Africa, especially as the digital adoption increases very significantly.
TC: Nuwa Capital invested in Homzmart recently. Are there any other startups Nuwa has invested in or plans to in North Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa?
Sarah: So there is a lot of the deal flow we’ve seen in North Africa, and we just started in December. We are seeing a lot of companies in Egypt, Morocco, across all of North Africa, and in the coming months, we will be investing aggressively across that geography. But for now, Homzmart is our only African investment.
TC: How do you plan to make the transition in investing in Sub-Saharan Africa?
Sarah: We have a network in East Africa because, in our previous fund, we did invest in two companies in Kenya. One was Twiga and the other was BitPesa, which is now AZA. We’ve invested in those, and as part of our due diligence and network that we’ve built in Africa, that’s why we think the opportunity is there because we got to see it and understood the market with those two companies.
TC: From your perception of how the African market is, how is it different from the GCC?
Sarah: There are different ways to look at it. But Africa is different from the GCC markets in terms of the population sizes, in terms of the purchasing power of people and in terms of companies that get a lot of attraction based on mass volume. So the success of the company sometimes is based on volume. So like a large number of people signing up to a company, for example. In Twiga, for example, it was bridging the gap between farmers and vendors, so they had a large number of farmers, and that really had a lot of power. And I think that’s where we see opportunity in Africa — in the power of the population.
Stephanie: From a VC standpoint, many funds have cropped up in the GCC region in the past couple of years, so there’s a lot more capital flowing directly in the market. That may not be exactly mirrored yet in East Africa if I might say. Also, I guess what we see from where we are in East Africa is that the capital seems to be concentrated around a particular set of founders.
TC: What will be the investment strategy for Nuwa Capital in Africa?
Sarah: We look for companies that fit into our thesis. So I can talk a bit more about the sectors that we invest in. So fintech is a large one that we look at. And then, we have a big focus on SaaS across different industries. We also really like e-commerce and marketplaces, the top of private label angle and private brands selling through e-commerce marketplaces.
And then we also have, we also look at something that we call the rapidly digitizing industries, and that’s companies that are disrupting the traditional industries through technology in education, health tech, agritech. So these are the theses we look at, and that’s how we drive our investment strategy. In terms of ticket sizes and stages, we focus on seed and Series A, and then we could also follow on in the round.
Stephanie: So when it particularly comes to Africa, what we’ve seen, which is also very interesting for us, is an increase of companies pitching to us in healthcare, in agritech, in different variations of financial services or intersection of fintech and something else. That will be very interesting also for us as we move forward, as we start looking a bit more intently.
TC: Since you are relatively new to African investment, will you be looking to partner or liaise with other VCs based on the continent?
Stephanie: It‘s a very common practice for us. We’re quite collaborative as a fund, and that’s also due to the nature of the region where you end up co-investing with a number of funds, and sometimes they tend to be the same funds that you have a similar mindset with. So that happens quite a bit; I think it’s very likely also to happen with funds we’ve co-invested with in the past in Africa.
TC: Egypt has been one of the exciting countries in both Africa and the Middle East region. What do you think is going for the market?
Stephanie: Egypt is one of the primary markets that we focus on. We are seeing a large part of our pipeline coming from Egypt. We’ve also seen a great shift in Egypt over the past few years where the type of entrepreneurs, the type of founders that are coming to us, are more mature and more experienced and just a higher calibre than before. We used to see a lot of earlier-stage companies with inexperienced founders. But today, what we’re seeing is just amazing. We are very bullish on the market when it is one of our primary focus markets.
Sarah: When companies come out of Egypt, their expansion strategy is usually either to the rest of North Africa or East Africa. Some will come to the GCC, while some will stay in Africa, depending on what industry they’re in. But I think that as we invest more in Egypt and then actively into our East Africa strategy will give us really good exposure in Africa, and as we grow, our subsequent funds will look more into Africa.
TC: Is there a portion of the fund dedicated to the African market?
Khalid: I don’t think we have a specific percentage, but the continent is part of the major strategy. We have a significant portion of the fund targeted at Egypt but we’d like to do at least 5-10% of the fund in Africa, excluding Egypt. It depends on the final fund size but we’re really bullish on Africa.
Chinese-backed and Africa-focused fintech platform OPay is in talks to raise up to $400 million, The Information reported today. The fundraising will be coming two years after OPay announced two funding rounds in 2019 — $50 million in June and $120 million Series B in November.
The $170 million raised so far comes from mainly Chinese investors who have begun to bet big on Africa over the past few years. Some of them include SoftBank, Sequoia Capital China, IDG Capital, SoftBank Ventures Asia, GSR Ventures, Source Code Capital.
In 2018, Opera, popularly known for its internet search engine and browser, launched the OPay mobile money platform in Lagos. It didn’t take long for the company to expand aggressively within the city using ORide, a now-defunct ride-hailing service, as an entry point to the array of services it wanted to offer. The company has tested several verticals — OBus, a bus-booking platform (also defunct); OExpress, a logistics delivery service; OTrade, a B2B e-commerce platform; OFood, a food delivery service, among others.
While none of these services has significantly scaled, OPay’s fintech and mobile money arm (which is its main play) is thriving. This year, its parent company Opera reported that OPay’s monthly transactions grew 4.5x last year to over $2 billion in December. OPay also claims to process about 80% of bank transfers among mobile money operators in Nigeria and 20% of the country’s non-merchant point of sales transactions.Last year, the company also said it acquired an international money transfer license with a partnership with WorldRemit also in the works.
It’s quite surprising that none of OPay’s plans to expand to South Africa and Kenya (countries it expressed interest in during its Series B) has come to fruition despite its large raises. The company blamed the pandemic for these shortcomings. However, earlier this year, the country set up shop in North Africa by expanding to Egypt. This next raise, likely a Series C, will be instrumental in the company’s quest for expansion, both geographically and product offerings. Per The Information, OPay’s valuation will increase to about $1.5 billion, three times its valuation in 2019.
We reached out to OPay, but they declined to comment on the story.
Countries should be getting vaccines based on their needs, not their population.
BuffaloGrid, a startup that provides phone charging and digital content to people in off-grid environments, is teaming up with the Techfugees refugee non-profit to provid free educational content and device charging to displaced people across East Africa and the Middle-East.
The initial service will see solar-powered ‘BuffaloGrid Hubs’ deployed in refugee camps across Kenya and Uganda, providing unlimited free access to education and health content, as well as other streaming services and mobile power charging.
The “Knowledge is Freedom” joint campaign has a goal of raising $3 million over the course of the next two years.
Daniel Becerra, CEO of BuffaloGrid, said: “Our mission is to remove barriers for internet adoption and provide the next billion with information, energy, and digital skills. I hope this campaign will raise awareness of the plight of displaced people and how collectively we have the power to change things. The entire team is excited to work with Techfugees. I believe together we have the technical expertise, experience, and connections to make a real difference.”
Raj Burman, Techfugees CEO, said: “In an increasingly digital and climate change stricken world, our mission is to make sure forcibly displaced people don’t get left behind. Around 400,000 marginalized refugees reside in the Rwamwanja and Kakuma-Kalobeyei settlements camp in Uganda and Kenya respectively. Our collaboration with BuffaloGrid presents a unique opportunity for an innovative, responsible digital solution to empower displaced communities with the support of our Chapters in Kenya and Uganda to overcome the access barriers to education and health content to better their livelihoods.”
Techfugees says 80 million people (roughly one percent of humanity) have been displaced because of climate change, war, conflict, economic challenges, and persecution. This figure is expected to grow to over 1 billion displaced people by 2050.
Belfast HQ’d BuffaloGrid has raised $6.4 million to date and counts, Tiny VC, ADV, Seedcamp, Kima Ventures and LocalGlobe among its investors.
(Disclosure: Mike Butcher is Chairman of Techfugees)
On April 16, Uganda-based two-wheel ride-hailing platform SafeBoda announced that it had completed 1 million rides in Ibadan, a southwestern city in Nigeria. This might not seem spectacular from a global perspective because it took the startup a year and two months to achieve but it’s a noteworthy feat in African markets.
Ibadan is one of the cities where SafeBoda operates. The company, which first launched in Uganda, is disrupting the offline market of local motorcycles referred to as boda-bodas in Uganda and okadas in Nigeria.
In 2017, SafeBoda officially started operations in Kampala and almost immediately began to deal with the threat posed by new entrants at the time: uberBODA and Bolt boda.
Uber and Bolt are two of the most well-known ride-hailing companies in the markets in which they operate. Uganda was the first African country the pair decided to test out their two-wheel ride-hailing ambitions and it was the second market globally after Thailand for Uber. So given the clout and money these companies hold, most people anticipated they would give SafeBoda a run for its money. But that didn’t happen.
According to Alastair Sussock, co-CEO of SafeBoda, who founded the company with Ricky Rapa Thomson and Maxime Dieudonne, SafeBoda was clocking about 1,000 rides daily at the time. He argued that even though the company’s volumes were one of the best, there was a misrepresentation in the media that SafeBoda wasn’t in the league as other platforms.
“Everyone thought Uber and Bolt would enter Africa to revolutionize the informal boda market,” Sussock told TechCrunch. “There was mention of other players, some of which have folded now, but no one mentioned SafeBoda although we were actually doing quite good stuff. And that energized us to prove the perception wrong, which was that SafeBoda didn’t really exist”.
Strategy, hard work and a large Series B investment followed the next couple of years, which has established SafeBoda as a market leader in Uganda. Sussock said the company now completes about 40,000 rides a day. Uber and Bolt barely complete 10,000 rides in the country.
So what has been pivotal to this growth? Before founding SafeBoda, Rapa Thomson was also a boda rider. As the company’s director of operations, he’s pivotal in making sure the company adopts localized methods with its riders. And despite its exciting features, pieces of equipment and safety measures employed, what stands out is how SafeBoda adapts to the boda boda community. This has been responsible for the 80% year-on-year retention the company currently enjoys, Sussock said.
“We tend to localize our product and take a local approach where we hire local guys to be part of the team. They help to have boots on the ground and of course, what you see with Nigeria, is not as much a dissimilar story,” the co-CEO added.
When starting in Nigeria, most two-wheel ride-hailing startups begin from Lagos, the nation’s hotbed of commerce and transport. In recent times, the city has had entrants like Opera’s OPay, Gokada and MAX.ng. These startups, like SafeBoda, are heavily backed by U.S., Chinese and Japanese investors. They have been at loggerheads with each other to capture on-demand mobility market share in Africa’s most populous country.
SafeBoda first hinted at a possible expansion into Nigeria in 2019. All the aforementioned ride-hailing companies were already in operation and it appeared as if SafeBoda was a very late entrant. But according to Babajide Duroshola, the country head for SafeBoda in Nigeria, the team knew it was going to thrive in spite of the timing and what competition looked like. “For us, it was a no-brainer decision to come into Nigeria and do the same thing that we did at Kampala, which is to grow quickly and make SafeBoda a household name,” he said to TechCrunch.
When time came to reveal which city it was going to start with, it was Ibadan, not Lagos. SafeBoda caught everyone unawares with the decision and subsequently faced heavy backlash. This was in December 2019 but fast-forward to February 2020; it proved to be a masterstroke because in one fell swoop, the Lagos State government rendered bike-hailing operations obsolete with new regulations. For the next couple of months, SafeBoda was the only reliable source of two-wheel ride-hail service in the country. While the regulations forced others to pivot into asset financing for bikes and logistics services, SafeBoda was waxing strong with its ride-hailing operations in Ibadan.
In its first five months, SafeBoda had completed more than 250,000 rides and onboarded thousands of drivers. Once again, adopting a local strategy and community building proved vital to the seemingly modest but explosive growth it experienced in a market no company had really tested.
“One of the things that really separated us from all the other guys in the market was a localization play. The fact that we could connect with and employ these people who were okada drivers right off the streets to become part of our operations team was very key,” Duroshola said.
The country manager added that SafeBoda’s progress showed other two-wheel operators that a market outside Lagos existed. “Lagos is the commercial capital. There’s a lot of money in the city and income per household is high. But then, it is not a true representation of Nigeria. We saw that if you really want to scale across the country, Ibadan was actually a very good place to start because it had all the kinds of people you’d typically find in Nigeria.”
The ease of doing business for a ride-hailing platform in Ibadan is also easier than in Lagos. The latter is known for endorsing NURTW, a transport group known to legally extort riders daily or weekly in the city. Such activities are prohibited in Ibadan giving SafeBoda a smooth path to achieving scale and allowing its drivers to work effectively.
A year in the city has rewarded the company with over 2,500 drivers and 40,000 customers. Together, they performed more than 750,000 trips in SafeBoda’s first year, which has since surpassed more than 1 million trips.
SafeBoda’s progress in Uganda and Nigeria makes it one of the most active players in Sub-Saharan Africa. The company has completed more than 35 million rides across both countries, with over 25,000 registered riders. It also claims to hold more than 80% market share in the two countries.
Despite this success, SafeBoda struggled in its third market, Kenya — a market it expanded to and left before Nigeria. The company had onboarded over 1,500 riders in less than a year, but it wasn’t growing at the pace it wanted. The pandemic made SafeBoda’s struggles obvious and per this report, riders’ dissatisfaction with pricing caused an upheaval that sent the company out of the Kenyan market.
In addition to rider troubles, Sussock noted that Kenya’s motorcycle taxi market wasn’t as highly dense as Uganda and Nigeria which, according to him, contributed to the exit.
“We were the market leader in Kenya, and we were doing like the most rides in Kenya. But it was still quite small in terms of volume compared to Uganda. And we knew what the potential would be in Nigeria, which we hadn’t done at the time. So it was just quite clear that Kenya, while very developed for tech, and developed per capita, was just really quite hard to scale in terms of motorcycle taxi transportation,” he said.
SafeBoda isn’t ruling out a return to the East African market. But with the East African market out of the way for now, it has the resources to focus ride-hailing efforts on Uganda and Nigeria. The ultimate goal, however, is to scale its super app play.
In Uganda, it is already in motion. SafeBoda offers on-demand food, grocery, pharmacy, essentials and beverages delivery services, of which more than 500,000 orders have been completed. This model is inspired by the Go-Pay model at GoJek, where two-wheel ride-hailing was an entry point to high-frequency wallet spend behavior.
The Asian multi-service company is one of the investors in SafeBoda via its GoVentures arm. Other backers include Transsion Holdings, Beenext, and serial entrepreneur Justin Kan.
SafeBoda has no real competition in the bike-hailing wars in Uganda and Nigeria as it stands. The company’s challenge remains the large offline market, where more than 1.5 million rides are completed daily in Uganda alone. The plan for SafeBoda is to convert more of this base to its existing online market share. Additionally, it wants to expand into P2P, merchant and bill payments and grow its on-demand business in Uganda. Its plan in Nigeria? Maintaining its core transport business before venturing into payments and deliveries.
A child laid to rest 78,000 years ago yields clues to early human burials in East Africa.
Africa’s insurance market stands at a 3% penetration rate, per a McKinsey study in 2018 comparing six insurance regions on the continent. If the South African market is excluded, this number drops to a measly 1.12%.
Unlike other parts of the world, most African insurance providers neglect the importance of tailored and affordable insurance products to the average African consumer. Lami Technologies, a startup out of Kenya armed with $1.8 million in seed money, is looking to change that.
The round was led by Accion Venture Lab, a seed-stage investment firm that supports financial services targeted at underserved markets. Other VCs that participated include AAIC, Consonance, P1 Ventures, Acuity Ventures, The Continent Venture Partners and Future Africa.
Low insurance uptake in Africa is somewhat due to the traditional distribution of insurance policies. They customarily rely on brick-and-mortar channels to sell and process policies. This takes a long processing cycle and has poor customer satisfaction and higher distribution costs.
Sequentially, the ways premiums are paid is affected. From the McKinsey report in 2018, the total gross written premiums (GWP) in Eastern Africa was $3.3 billion. In comparison, South Africa did $48.3 billion worth of GWP that same year.
For this reason, CEO Jihan Abass founded the company in 2018 to democratize insurance products in Kenya.
“For us, the main problem we wanted to solve was that 97% of Africans don’t buy insurance. We were trying to understand the methodology behind that, especially in Kenya where there are over 50 insurance companies but the penetration level is 2.4%,” she told TechCrunch.
“The driving force for us was making insurance widely available. We felt that building the technological infrastructure to facilitate the distribution of insurance was the best way to increase the penetration level in Africa.”
But selling directly to consumers would be a meticulous process as they rarely buy insurance from trusted organizations, let alone a third-party company. So Lami adopted a B2B2C approach to leverage the trust already built by platforms that converse with customers daily and innovate around it.
Via an API, it allows businesses like banks, startups, and organizations to offer digital insurance products to their users. The product can also be used by partner businesses to manage their own insurance needs.
Some customers like Stanbic Bank in Kenya use Lami’s API to run insurance operations; HR platform WorkPay makes insurance products available to the businesses using its platform. With over 20 insurance writers, the company is also launching an insurance marketplace on e-commerce platform Jumia.
Users can get a quote for motor, medical or other tailored insurance products through its API. They also can customize the benefits and adjust the premium to suit them, get their policy documents and access claims.
Typically, it takes about 90 days for claims to be processed for an average African insurer. Abass said Lami has reduced this to a week — it is one way the three-year-old company has developed trust with customers.
Another challenge that Lami has been able to overcome is getting insurance companies onboard. According to the CEO, transitioning from a traditional way of offering insurance to digital distribution channels only worked because Lami began to show early the value of customer experience and journey which requires getting the right insurance to the right customer at the right time.
This is what makes Lami stand out, Abass continued. It co-designs products with its underwriting partners. And approaching design in this manner helps the businesses to offer unique insurance products to their underlying customer base.
She illustrates an offering with a bus-booking platform where passengers’ insurance points are calculated on a per-trip basis. It counts when they board the bus and stops when they alight. She believes an innovative process like this will take the continent’s insurance play to a more desirable place.
“I think there’s huge potential in the insurance industry. Despite the low penetration, the annual market is worth more than $60 billion a year. I think people are starting to open their eyes to insurance as opposed to other financial services.”
Since its inception, the insurtech startup has sold more than 5,000 policies. It has partnered with more than 25 active underwriters, including Britam, Pioneer and Madison Insurance. These underwriters help distribute more than 30 products from medical and employee benefits to motor and device insurance.
Lami will use the seed investment to hire more people, improve its technology and grow its presence across Africa.
Accion Venture Lab is placing a bet on Lami’s embedded finance play. Here’s what its African director, Ashley Lewis said of the investment. “… By embedding customized insurance within businesses that customers know and trust, Lami is making insurance accessible for underserved populations in Africa and enabling them to build financial resilience.”
Lami’s investment also represents a spark in a Kenyan tech ecosystem where being both an indigenous and female founder is an incongruous mix. A study in 2019 showed that Kenya had the strongest presence of expat co-founders of any of the Big Four tech ecosystems. While the country has a better female co-founder representation than other countries (1 in 4), the percentage of those from Kenya is about 12%.
There are just a handful of female founders who have raised million-dollar rounds. Though Abass sits comfortably in this illustrious club, it took thick skins and confidence in her product to get in.
“The funding landscape in Kenya is generally biased towards male founders and in East Africa, especially to foreign founders. So it was a lot harder to get investors excited and onboard with us. For us, we’ve built something quite exciting, although it took some time. One key thing why we wanted to make this publicized is so other female founders can see that there’s an opportunity to do the same too,” she said.
In 2016, Ivorian e-commerce startup Afrikrea started as a marketplace for African-based and inspired clothing, accessories, arts, and crafts. Over the past five years, Afrikrea has served more than 7,000 sellers from 47 African countries and buyers from 170 countries.
Per the company’s data, it records more than 500,000 visits monthly, with the majority of its customers from Europe and North America recording over $15 million in transactions.
But while Afrikrea presents African merchants to showcase and sell their products to the world, it is just one of the many channels available, including personal websites and social media.
Co-founder and CEO Moulaye Taboure says that he noticed that merchants were splitting time and concentration across different channels, which affected their engagement with Afrikrea.
“We noticed that it was getting harder for our sellers to make sales because they were losing time, money and energy switching between channels,” Taboure told TechCrunch. “Every time they want to sell a product, they put it on social media, Afrikrea, and other websites. And when one buyer shows interest, there is no single place to track and see all the orders. That’s hard for these businesses to offer quality services and grow effectively.”
Then last year, Afrikrea began testing an all-in-one SaaS e-commerce platform for these merchants. Today, it is announcing its launch. The platform called ANKA will allow users to sell from Africa, ship products to anywhere in the world and get paid through local and international African payment methods.
E-commerce, payments and global shipping. That’s ANKA’s play for thousands of micro-retailers and businesses on the continent and around the world.
The platform lets users sell via an omnichannel dashboard with a single inventory, orders and messages management. Customers can carry out transactions via a customized online storefront like Shopify, social media platforms, links such as on Gumroad and the Afrikrea marketplace.
Merchants can carry out payments and payouts via a wallet and an Afrikrea Visa card. The platform, which costs $12, allows customers to perform mobile money and mobile banking transactions with MPesa, Orange, MTN and PayPal.
Shipping completes the entire sales life cycle, from the point of sale to receipt of goods. In 2019, Afrikrea partnered with global logistics partner DHL to offer shipping services to its customers.
Fashion is ANKA’s best-selling category because of its affiliation with Afrikrea. The African fashion and apparel market is worth $31billion, per Euromonitor, and Afrikrea estimates the yearly spend of its major markets to be worth $12.5 billion. A breakdown from the company puts “the African diaspora in Europe at $1 billion, those in America and the Caribbean at $9 billion and non-Africans with links to the continent at $2.5 billion.”
But in terms of general e-commerce activities on the continent, McKinsey & Company pegs consumer spending to reach $2.1 trillion by 2025. African e-commerce is also expected to account for up to 10% of retail sales.
Platforms like Jumia, Mall4Africa and Takealot have been at the forefront of this growth over this past decade. MallforAfrica struck a partnership with DHL in 2015, then launched DHL Africa eShop with the logistics giant four years later. More than 200 sellers from the U.S. and U.K. serve African consumers in more than 30 countries on the platform.
Unlike MallforAfrica and other e-commerce platforms, ANKA differentiates itself as a platform for export rather than import, specifically for African products. According to Moulaye, ANKA is currently the largest e-commerce exporter on the continent, and since its partnership with DHL, it has shipped more than 10 tons of cargo monthly from Africa.
“We are the biggest client of DHL exporting from Africa. We ship 10 tons every month and have sellers in 47 African countries, with Kenya and Nigeria as our largest markets. We have something African that is going to a global scale. That’s one of the angles we had with Afrikrea, and we want to keep that with ANKA. What sets us apart is that we’re not just trying to solve a purely African problem; we want to solve a global problem for Africans.”
Since launching five years ago, Afrikrea, which Taboure launched with Luc B. Perussault Diallo and Kadry Diallo, has raised a total of $2.1 million per Crunchbase. In this period, the company has seen its revenue grow 5x and claims to have ARR more than it has raised in its lifetime. To continue its growth efforts, Afrikrea is in the process of concluding a Series A round later this year.