Africa’s Rising Star

Emma Kaye

Emma Kaye, co-vice chair of the MEF EMEA Board, discusses the seemingly endless opportunities presented by mobile in the relatively untapped African markets and explores the key role of local content

Africa is often referred to as The Dark Continent and satellite images of Africa at night attest to this. It’s an apt description only if one considers that 25 countries in Africa face an energy crises, from there on out it could not be more wrong. With an expanding middle class Africa makes up 14% of the world’s population of which over 65% are under the age of 35. In the last 10 years 6 of the worlds fastest growing economies have been in Africa.

We live on a continent that has leap-frogged fixed line broadband and is embracing mobile. It is estimated that there are over 650 million cell phones in Africa – that’s twice the size of the US population. Mobility has huge socio-economic, educational, commercial, societal and individual significance. Africa’s emerging economies have been hugely resourceful in using mobility in socio-economically important ways, especially to empower micro enterprises.

Consider farming apps like M-Farm from Kenya, which allows subsistence farmers to post their produce onto the app; locate other farmers who grow the same produce and in so doing benefit from collective bargaining power. Or health apps like mPedigree that allow consumers to check if medicine is authentic and when the expiration date is.

Mobile payment solutions such as Mpesa from Safaricom have significantly changed the way micro enterprises do business. In fact half of Kenya’s GDP now moves through mobile money and already 80% of the world’s mobile money transactions take place in East Africa.

It is not just apps and banking solutions that stem from ubiquitous mobile access. Mobile has democratized and consumerized the tools to create digital content as this video by NativeFlo clearly shows.

Emma Kaye, interviewed at the MEF Africa Launch in 2012

According to the UNCTAD 2010 Creative Economy Report – the latest in its series – “The emerging creative economy has become a leading component of economic growth, employment, trade and innovation, and social cohesion in most advanced economies. Unfortunately, however, the large majority of developing countries are not yet able to harness their creative capacity for development. This is a reflection of weaknesses both in domestic policy and in the business environment, and global systemic biases. Nevertheless, the creative economy offers to developing countries a feasible option and new opportunities to leapfrog into emerging high-growth areas of the world economy.”

Forward thinking governments such as that of Kenya are recognizing the role that local content plays in driving the economy. The Tandaa Grants, now in their second year, are meant to spur growth in innovative web and mobile technology solutions. The seed funding seeks to motivate local content creators and software developers to create, and adapt quality content and in so doing drive the ICT sector. “Over 25% of Kenyans now have access to the internet, majority of whom access the Internet through their mobile phone. It is now time to develop services and products to reach these millions of Kenyans through new media, and the Kenya ICT Board want to support this development through the grant.”

The mobile industry in Africa is growing exponentially where all parts of the ecosystem are being affected – from banking, to health, to agriculture and entertainment. MEF Africa in association with Vodacom has opened its doors to serve as a hub for our growing African membership. It is an exciting time for the industry as we explore new ways of engaging with and monetizing content in a relatively untapped market where opportunities abound.

Emma Kaye is co-vice chair of the MEF EMEA Board – follow her on Twitter.

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