Currently, Africa is the fastest-growing mobile industry market in the world, and is the largest after Asia. The number of mobile subscriptions in Africa is growing at an astonishing rate, faster in fact than any other region in the world. However, with about 65 percent of the total population in Africa (1.11billion) below the age of 35 years, this growth of mobile use is not very surprising.
Still considering that, just 1 percent of Africans owned a mobile phone in 2000, then one can see how astounding this growth is. With countries like South Africa, where there are more mobile phones than people and Kenya which is home to the world’s leading mobile payment market, the future of mobile innovation in Africa is ripe. There has been a rise of low-cost smart phones, which has improved cell phone penetration rates in many regions in Africa, especially Sub-Saharan Africa. Thus, with the falling prices of mobile phone handsets, evolving mobile networks like 3G networks, not only Kenya but also South Africa and Nigeria, are leading in mobile app innovation.
There are varieties of economic benefits that emerge as a result of app developments in a country. This has been witnessed in countries like Japan, South Korea and the United States. According to data from Flurry, apps that were considered just a fad just few years ago have now completely dominated mobile phone usage. In 2013, app store revenues across platforms brought in $8 billion globally; in effect, revenue from apps has significantly increased over the years. Other benefits of mobile apps include; more channels of communication, incorporation of ecommerce facilities, simpler use of technology for daily use, and many more. In general mobile application hold significant potential for advancing development by providing millions of people with access to information, governance systems, markets and such, that were previously inaccessible.
Kenya’s mobile industry boom has come a long way since 2004, when significant changes were made in the country’s telecommunication industry and strict government restriction removed. Thus, with the liberalization of the mobile industry, Kenya has been able to see competition, which has led to growth in innovation and job creation. Over the last couple of years, apps have emerged in Kenya dealing with the improvement in healthcare, banking, agriculture and many other spheres of daily life. To succeed in developing a useful app, a developer must have an objective, a goal, and most importantly analyze the needs in their environment, and this is the trend among Kenyan app developers. We are seeing a generation of tech savvy Kenyans who are turning Kenya into a tech hub with the aim of improving lives.
It is impossible to talk about innovative mobile applications in Kenya without mention of M-Pesa, the world’s first mobile money transfer service. M-Pesa was a joint venture by Vodafone and Safaricom that came into the Kenyan market in 2007. With M-Pesa one can pay bills, buy groceries, pay school fees and also send money to a third party via text message. With over 40,000 agents located everywhere from malls, local chemist and petrol stations, withdrawing and sending money is a very simple procedure. This service is used by an astonishing 17 million Kenyans and constitutes about 35 percent of Kenya’s gross domestic product, around 1.15 trillion Kenyan Shillings (£7.72bn) a year. Although M-Pesa is mostly used locally in Kenya, there are new frontiers, as of now Kenya (Safaricom) and Tanzania (Vodafone) can transfer money between the two countries. The success of M-Pesa has ignited inspiration among Kenyans sparking an interest in IT which has held to the development of a multitude of globally recognized apps.
Most of the mobile apps that have been developed by Kenyans focus on improving different sectors of life, one of them is agriculture. There are a great number of mobile apps available for Kenyans to manage their farms or livestock. Some of these apps include; M-Farm, an application that connects farmers and works as a transparency tool for farmers. To operate the app, farmers (Safaricom users) simply SMS 20255 and get information about the retail price of their products, find favorable prices of their goods and find buyers for their product. The CEO of M-farm is Jamila Abass and she developed the app in 2010 after reading about how farmers in Kenya have been oppressed for decades and disconnected from information. Another is AgriManagr, an application that monitors farmers’ purchases, provides extension services and even allows purchasing agents to pay farmers via cashless transactions on their phones. The app was developed in 2010, by John Waibochi, chief innovator at Virtual City Group in Kenya which has since then released a multitude of applications for local use. AgriManagr has received recognition both in Kenya and abroad, even winning the Nokia Growth Economy Venture Challenge with US$1 million cash prize. These are just some of the very many applications that are currently operational for Kenyans especially those in the agricultural sector.
The other area that has profited from Kenyans rush to tap into the pool of mobile innovation is the health sector. One of these apps is called MedAfrica, is provides a list of medically certified healthcare providers. For Kenya, a country which suffers from a prevalence of quacks, this app has helped in indentifying certified healthcare professionals. Moreover, the app also has a systematic self-diagnosis feature that can help people indentify what possible illness is affecting them. There are hundreds of mobile applications not just in health but social and gaming including NikoHapa, Safari Guide, Anza and many others.
Kenya which has been dubbed as the Silicon Savannah is growing into perhaps one of the world’s most dynamic environment for mobile application development. The emergence of creative techies has strengthened the country’s software development system and has motivated several leading mobile companies including Nokia and Samsung to collaborate and invest in this growing sector. In response to the rise in IT, tech start ups are growing in number. iHub, a tech community in Nairobi, has actually integrated with different technology oriented start-ups across Africa with the aim of supporting and connection technology entrepreneurs as well as encouraging innovation.
Lately, incubators and tech hubs like iHub are all over Africa and are offering support to African entrepreneurs. These tech hubs are not just places for just innovation, but also for connecting innovators within the tech community. There are now more than 100 tech hubs, labs, incubators across Africa covering more than 20 countries. Some of these tech hubs include, Cameroon’s ActiSpaces, South Africa’s RLabs, Nigeria’s 440NG, Senegal’s Banta Labs and many others. In Nairobi alone there are six tech hubs and more to come. Unlike other countries, Kenya has an advantage, because of the country’s improving technological environment, also its policy and legislative environment makes it easier for tech startups.
Since its inception, iHub has build strong relations with top companies like Nokia, Zuku, Safaricom, Samsung and others. Moreover, iHub now has more than 8,000 members and has been part of a dozen innovations including m:lab, Kenya’s first tech incubator; Gearbox, a space for rapid prototyping and several more. In addition, it has also been part of a multiple of startups and mobile application developments such as, M-shop, MedAfrica, Zege Technologies Eneza Education and many others. iHubs along with Kenya’s Nailab are part of AfriLabs which connects tech hubs with investors and entrepreneurs. More and more tech hubs are coming up all across Africa, for example just last month Rwanda’s Tigo launched a tech business incubator. Tech hubs in Africa have led to funding and media coverage, allowing for the technology sector to strive and shine.
Nevertheless, despite these technological feats and progress, Kenyans themselves have been very slow in integrating these new applications. There is a self-defeating attitude among many Africans, in Kenya particularly, that make local inventions unsuccessful, and unfortunately, with the current attitude among many Kenyan youths, some of these brilliant mobile applications might never be popular. It is depressing to note that many Kenyan apps have very low downloads and most Kenyans do not really see their importance. In fact, for popular apps like Ma3Route, Eat Out and more have 5000 or less downloads a very low number when one calculates just how many Kenyans have smart phones. According to AppAnnie, the most popular app downloads are Whatsapp, Facebook, TrueCaller, and even though Safaricom M-Ledger is in the top 50, its download rate is decreasing. Other countries in Africa like Nigeria and South Africa have had much more success in implementing their local apps. Whether it is lack of interest, or insufficient publicity, or below quality apps, something needs to change in Kenya so that local app developers can have a market to develop for or risk them moving abroad for a better market.