Published on 31 Mar 2021

The digital transformation of African business gathers pace

Africa is adapting to the digital age. A plethora of new apps and platforms are changing the way business is conducted across the continent.

by Johan Burger

Digital connection of people with globe


Africans have been designing and developing their own social media platforms. The launch of MY! in May 2021 is a reflection of the growing desire among Africans to narrate their own story . According to Samuel Zean Jr, Co-founder of MY!, the platform allows users to tell their stories. According to Zean, the platform was developed in response to the negative feelings most Africans have towards how the traditional and digital media in western countries portray African nations. It simplifies the collaboration between users and gives them the full visibility of created content.[1]

There are more than 25 of such platforms in operation all across Africa. Boomplay, which has about 50 million users is Africa’s answer to Spotify. Others include Mkito in Tanzania, Songa from Kenya, and uduX in Nigeria. It is an indication of the entrepreneurial talent and vision of Africans and their willingness to develop products and services that suit their unique tastes. But there is room for a lot more. Africa’s is huge diverse continent with over 2000 languages and a population of 1.3bn. The scope for indigenous social media platforms is seemingly endless. Although much of investment drive is coming from domestic entrepreneurs and the African diaspora Singapore technology firms have also recently started to make foray into the continent.


In South Africa, new agritech startup Nile managed to trade one million kilograms of fruit and vegetables via its online platform within five weeks of its launch. Nile is a highly accessible online trading platform that directly connects vegetable and fruit producers with commercial buyers from across the continent. To facilitate the flow of agricultural goods, Nile built a cross-dock distribution hub in Johannesburg. By integrating regional food systems, Nile increases the accessibility of nutritious food to consumers across Africa.

Commercial buyers can use Nile's platform to ascertain live data such as prices and the availability of a specific product from numerous producers. The platform functions as a "digital ecosystem that solves issues relating to food trading, including price discovery, quality verification, payments, and logistics."

Nile transformed the traditional process of trading to make fresh produce more accessible to consumers. Their business model created the shortest and most efficient route-to-market for fresh produce. This approach reduces freight costs and food waste, while digitisation of the trading process reduces high transaction costs and increases revenues to farmers.

The platform provides accurate information to potential buyers after categorising the details of fresh produce. Attributes such as ripeness, grade and sizing dictate the market value of produce. Nile's proprietary predictive pricing algorithm accounts for high volatility in factors that drive pricing in the fresh produce segment. Payment can be either on a prepaid or credit-basis, with settlement secured by the platform for both users. Nile reportedly charges farmers about half the typical commission, which is between 12-15% at traditional markets.

Nile plans to expand its offering to a range of other food products.[2]


  • Most digital applications in the agriculture sector linked farmers to markets and investors to farmers until quite recently. Much of this activity took place in countries outside of South Africa, such as Nigeria and Kenya. Nigeria has been the most visible, with apps such as FarmCrowdy, ProbityFarms, Releaf.NG, EZ Farming, Smartfam, Thrive Agric Nigeria, and Groupfarma, to name but a few. East Africa also reports many new applications designed to facilitate the financing, production and marketing of agriculture products. It is interesting to see South Africa coming to the party with Nile, a digital platform that emulates the functions available in many platforms already in place. Nile as an enabling platform offers functionality and usefulness – and farmers on the continent deserve all the support they can get. Digital technology made a significant impact on many sectors on the continent and will continue to do so.


Ghana's Zeepay MD Andrew Takyi-Appiah announced that the startup intends to raise US$10 million from equity to fund the creation of new mobile-money hubs in East and Southern Africa, with Rwanda and South Africa as likely locations. The funds will ramp up marketing, distribution, and hiring staff for these hubs. The hubs will provide processing centres and back-office capabilities. To date, Zeepay grew mainly through local investments. It is now targeting investments from remittance companies and private-equity firms.

Zeepay is active in nine markets and aims to double the count this year, including Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Gambia, Madagascar and Tanzania. Côte d'Ivoire and Zimbabwe host Zeepay's second-and third-largest markets, respectively. Zeepay also lined up alliances with Orange, MTN and local players.

Zeepay provides digital rails to connect mobile-money wallets, tokens, bank cards and ATMs. It began operations in its largest market, Ghana, in 2016. It received an Electronic Money Issuer license to operate as a mobile financial services company from the Bank of Ghana in April 2020. In September 2020, Visa signed an agreement to allow diaspora Africans to send money directly into Visa debit and prepaid cards in Ghana. The company aims for 100,000 transactions per month in each of its new markets. It is targeting 2 million transactions in 2021 for a value of US$400 million.

Zeepay's partners screen for money laundering, while the firm conducts its own secondary screening.[3]

According to a survey by the Bank of Ghana, there were 14.7m mobile money accounts as of May 2020. The country also boasts over 70 fintech firms. Ghanian fintech start-ups are filling the gap in financing that bigger banks have thus far ignored. They are able to provide loans to small and medium enterprises (SME) at terms that are far more favourable. Customers are also finding it easier to pay for goods and services by using mobile money services. Digital payment platforms such as JumiaPay, Google Pay and PayPal have transformed payment processes, allowing consumers to transact from the comfort of their homes and offices. Consumers are now spending more money and time online with an increase in value added services from fintech companies. During the Covid-19-induced lockdowns and movement restrictions, fintech platforms enabled Ghanaians to live safely by providing a means to pay utility bills, renew television subscriptions, and purchase gaming vouchers.[4]


  • Africa can be seen as the scene where fintech platforms and mobile money services exploded, with Safaricom’s M-Pesa at the forefront of the charge. Traditional banks thought the initial platform to be a gimmick and ignored the inherent threat posed by mobile money platforms, to their detriment. Several mobile money services are available on the continent, with telecommunications companies leading the charge with their mobile money platforms. Banks are struggling to play catch-up, with digital versions of the bricks and mortar model the typical business model they embrace. With a huge population, the industry is by no means saturated, and one can expect several new entrants over the next decade or so. 


In Algeria, temtem One recently launched a platform to allow local users to purchase various shopping items for delivery to their relatives in Algeria. The new "temtem diaspora" platform provided a much-needed service during the Covid-19 pandemic as many locals could not travel due to strict shut-down regulations. The feature allows Algerians at any location to order a range of goods or services for delivery to their relatives in Algeria. Users simply enter the delivery address and phone number of the recipient. Payment for the goods or services can be by card, including VISA, MasterCard, and American Express. 

According to Minister Delegate to the Prime Minister in charge of the knowledge economy and startups, Yacine Oualid, temtem One is the first Algerian company to provide such services to Algeria's diaspora. It also has the benefit of increasing foreign currency income. The Minister believes that Algeria can rely on its startups to diversify the economy and act as a driver of financial inclusion.

Since its 2017 founding, temtem provided various services, including ride-hailing, home maintenance services, and now its one-stop-shop super app. temtem One currently delivers to 21 regions in Algeria.

According to the head of temtem One, Salim Bouazzouni, the aim of the tech startup is to design innovative easy-to-obtain products and services that meet local needs and improve the lives of people.[5]


  • The case studies in Ghana and Algeria on mobile money indicate that we have not seen the end of growth in the development and distribution of mobile money applications. This trend not only lends itself to the provision of services that have hitherto been limited to a select few in Africa, but is also growing the number of people now considered to be financially included. The proportion of Africa's population considered to be financially included has historically been very low. Mobile money made considerable improvements in this regard. In Kenya, the financially included proportion of the population jumped from less than 40% to about 80% in two decades through M-Pesa. We will also see this phenomenon grow as banks strive to recover market share they lost due to their neglect of the mobile money trend. Foreign financial institutions such as Mastercard and Visa entering the African geographic market, frequently in partnership with mobile money institutions, will add further impetus to the growth of mobile money in Africa.


Kenya's Leather Industry Network (LIN) is a new digital platform. It connects stakeholders in East Africa's leather industry and facilitates the information exchange and dissemination needed to advocate issues of common interest. It will hopefully turn the fortunes of this industry around in Kenya and the wider East African region.

LIN is a JV between the Centre for Business Innovation & Training (CIBiT) and a consortium of national leather associations in East Africa. Stakeholders in the leather industry welcomed the platform's development as they believe the initiative will significantly boost leather trade in the region. Through the LIN Platform, sector players will gather, interact, monitor trends, and build up their advocacy and business competencies.

According to CIBiT Team Lead Beatrice Mwasi, the leather industry should leverage technology to enhance profitability and boost its potential. Technology could address fragmentation through enhanced cooperation, networking and the joint presentation of industry positions, as well as a capacity-building tool. The platform will also strengthen collaboration among leather associations by sharing best practices and establishing strategic partnerships and integration.

Even though the demand for leather products in the country and region is high, Kenyan and other East African tanneries struggle for profits. The industry faces several challenges. These include reliance on undeveloped production systems that lead to high production and labour costs, the lack of meaningful assistance from governments, high market fragmentation, expensive electricity, and funding gaps. These severe challenges undermine productivity. Exorbitant import duties on raw materials and chemicals constitute tanneries' most serious competitiveness challenge.

In 2020, the Kenya Bureau of Standards adopted nine standards for footwear and other leather products imported or made locally to combat fake leather imports. These standards include a code of practice to guide the tanning and grading of leather, the introduction of specifications for soles and upper material for children, men and women, and a total ban on heavy metals and other harmful substances in making shoes for children.[6]


  • Africa's leather industry is in serious need of any support it can find. This is the case in Kenya, which imports millions of pairs of shoes annually despite its vast cattle herds. East Africa's Leather Industry Network (LIN) platform will be a welcome development in the region. It reminds one of the digital platforms used in the agriculture sector, where in addition to links between investors, farmers and the market, knowledge and information is also made available to especially the farmers. LIN will be providing access to the masses of data generated by many sectors through the use of digital technology. This development will hopefully boost the manufacturing industry in East Africa, where the Kenyan government adopted a goal to raise the contribution of manufacturing to its GDP to 20% by 2022. This attainment seems highly unlikely, but any progress from the current low levels of less than 10% is welcome.


Ugandan startup Innovex enables pay-as-you-go (PAYG) and remote monitoring for solar companies. The firm focuses on transforming solar energy delivery both as a product and as a service to Africa's low-income population. The founders believe modern technology will play a transformational role.

Innovex's cloud-based "Remot" solution reportedly uses Internet of Things (IoT) tools to "transform the distribution of off-grid solar energy systems and equipment by enabling solar companies, EPC and distributors to remotely monitor and manage their energy systems." Remot reduces solar systems downtime and improves the accessibility of solar systems and related equipment. The system also facilitates after-sales support and PAYG actuation for larger size solar systems.

Innovex recently closed a seed funding round for an undisclosed amount with the Gaia Impact Fund. The firm already has a footprint across the DRC, Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda, where its customers have solar systems installed in health centres, schools and rural farms. Innovex will use the funding to scale Remot to 100 solar distributors across Africa, thus enabling three million people to access solar energy by 2023.

The Gaia Impact Fund invested in 11 innovative companies across Africa and Southeast Asia to date, pursuing an investment strategy that promises substantial social and environmental impacts.[7]


        • Innovex's Remot digital platform builds on the growth and development of the solar industry in Africa. Despite the announcement of many solar projects, we are only scratching the surface as far as the continent's potential is concerned. It is a well-known fact that more than 600 million in Africa do not have access to electricity. With many people migrating to cities and with the steady growth of the continent's middle class, we can expect to see greater demand for electricity. Governments reportedly increasingly turn towards renewable energy to serve these needs. Therefore, we can expect to see a sharp growth in the development in numbers of applications that can help users and institutions finance and analyse data generated by the sector. PAYG business models are quite popular as they negate the need for high upfront capital costs, reducing the cost of ownership to a weekly or monthly operating fee, with many providing ownership at the end of a specific period.


        A UK research team recently examined the state of education in Africa to identify the roles of technology hub actors in the knowledge production landscape. Associate professor Oluwaseun Kolade and his colleagues at De Montfort University in the UK focused on tech hubs in Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa and Uganda. Their research focused on the ability of African tech hubs to address challenges in the educational sector, generate innovations, and meaningfully contribute to economic and social needs.

        Their project found that African technology hubs doubled in number from 314 in 2016 to 643 in October 2019. They found that these tech hubs challenged traditional universities as sources of knowledge production and were becoming “better suited to a fast-paced knowledge economy.” In contrast to conventional universities, these tech hubs are “effective in economic and social value creation by creating new jobs, stimulating the entrepreneurial ecosystem and improving the quality of life of the poor socioeconomic groups.”

        According to Kolade, “tech hubs are flexible and wired to create economic and social value and have a conscious multi-stakeholder approach that allows them to reach across the public sector and industry to make a difference.” Kolade believes that hubs can equip Africa’s workforce with the skills required for Industry 4.0. Lucienne Abrahams, director of the Learning Information Networking Knowledge Centre at the University of the Witwatersrand, agrees that tech hubs challenge universities as knowledge producers in the digital tech enablement field. Few African universities focus their investments, resources and energies on digital innovation.

        Kolade’s study found that collaboration between tech hubs, universities, government and industry can contribute to sharing knowledge across institutions, leading to value for universities, tech hubs, and industry. Tech hubs, however, should push universities to “do things differently.”[8]


        Nigerian EdTech startup uLesson recently secured US$7.5 million to expand to Eastern and Southern Africa. The funds from its Series A funding round will expand its market coverage, bring in new talent, and build its product development and production infrastructure.

        Nigeria’s uLesson aims to provide ‘cost-effective, high-quality, and accessible education across Africa using technology.’ Lagos-based uLesson creates personalised and relevant content for learners in the K-7 to K-12 educational year in Nigeria, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Liberia, and The Gambia. Since its official launch in May 2020, users downloaded the start-up’s app one million times.

        Students can stream the educational content and lessons via mobile and PC devices or access the content via SD cards, where the content has been pre-downloaded for students. The download modality enables students to access lessons without a stable internet connection, increasing accessibility.

        While education is always important, the means for delivering relevant education have often been problematic. Given the combination of increased availability of data networks in Africa, affordable smartphones, and an attitudinal change towards online learning brought about by Covid-19, uLesson now deems the foundations for an education revolution to be in place.

        The startup plans to launch several new products, such as a new pan-African primary school library, one-on-one tutoring session, and interactive challenges. While currently only available as an Android app, the new firm plans to launch an iOS-compatible app.[9]


        • Education is another sector that is experiencing significant disruptions. These result from, amongst other causes, the Covid-19 pandemic. While the virus threat hastened the adoption of digital technology as a portable interactive solution, access has long been a significant problem for African school children. In rural areas, many walked several kilometres to reach school long before the pandemic. With Covid-19, this problem is not only exacerbated but now affects tertiary students. Tech hubs and EdTech startups are emerging to increase access to education for Africa’s students.


        Pula is a Nairobi-based micro-insurer founded in 2015. Its mission is to develop and deliver online information services and provide agricultural insurance to farmers across Africa. Pula offers scalable insurance solutions that help mitigate the risks borne by Africa’s 700 million smallholder farmers. The insurer recently secured US$6 million from a Series A funding round. It will use these funds to scale up its operations across 13 markets in Africa and expand into Asia.

        The firm created a range of digital products and agricultural insurance that assist farmers in improving their farming practices, increasing their income, and dealing with climate risk and changes. Pula’s business model focuses on offering an affordable alternative to costly traditional insurance providers by creating an insurance solution that meets the needs of smallholder farmers.

        Pula leverages machine learning, crop cut assessment, and data points linked to weather patterns to minimize farmers’ losses. These tools allow them to customise tailor-made products for specific farmers, taking into account various inherent risks such as drought, pests, diseases, and flooding. 

        The insurer reportedly assisted over 4.3 million smallholder farmers in Africa and received “InsurTech of the Year” at the African Insurance Awards 2020.[10]


        • Insurance is a key sub-sector of the financial services industry. Unfortunately, insurance for the bottom of the pyramid is a continuing challenge, given the cost structure of traditional insurance. In sectors such as agriculture, smallholder farmers generate 80% of Africa’s food production. This segment mostly goes without crop insurance as they cannot afford it. Micro-insurer Pula provides insurance to smallholder farmers and added value in the form of knowledge and expertise. Such value additions are valuable in themselves, allowing micro-insurers to differentiate themselves from traditional insurers. This business model has the effect of convincing smallholder farmers that the insurance premium is justifiable and paid through increased crop production.


        Millions of Africans live without easy access to quality medical care. Play Zuri Health is a Kenyan startup that recently launched its Zuri Health mobile app to provide certified, affordable and accessible healthcare solutions to this segment. The app allows users to book appointments instantly with any medical professional or hospital within their region, book laboratory tests, talk to practitioners via message or video and request home visits. The app also provides a pharmacy service that enables users to order prescription and over-the-counter medication online for delivery to their homes.

        The app includes SMS functionality. This design enables use by a wide range of users who lack access to WAP or internet-enabled devices,

        The young company has a three-year growth plan and targets having more than 20,000 listed doctors, 250,000 premium users, and at least one million mobile downloads.[11]


        • We are also seeing governments adopting policies aimed at empowering entrepreneurs and SMEs. Digital technology is boosting innovation and has been doing so in Africa for quite a while. Probably the most well-known example is the financial services’ M-Pesa in Kenya. Farmcrowdy in Nigeria is another example in the agriculture sector. We also see various innovations in the healthcare sector in Africa at large. These innovations have improved business and the quality of lives of Africa’s people quite significantly. It is unlikely that the trend will run out soon.


        Vodacom Business recently launched a suite of digital solutions for its connected supply chain network in Africa. These mobile tools provide end-to-end supply chain visibility. Vodacom Business will leverage key technologies — the cloud, IoT, Big Data, B2B integration, mobile and data solutions — to enable their business clients to create and use a connected supply chain network. Business users can also access information and engage with partners and customers across their global supply chain network.

        According to Pearl Masoga, Acting Managing Executive for Retail and FMCG at Vodacom Business, the Vodacom Trading Bridge switches more than 84 million transactions valued at R200 billion (±US$13.7 billion) annually. The platform provides Vodacom clients with a digitized and connected supply chain network. Digitising their end-to-end supply chain system will provide businesses with visibility and control and provide in-depth data insights to improve customer service efficiencies. This functionality will increase resilience and minimise risk across business operations.

        Firms that currently use a fully digital supply chain network will also benefit from Vodacom Business financial services. These include automated invoicing, mobile payments, and lending to suppliers and merchants. Users also benefit from Vodacom’s scalability and reach via partnerships such as M-Pesa.[12]


        To help SMEs use IT to become Innovation-Driven Enterprises (IDEs), Nigeria will establish a Digital Innovation and Entrepreneurship Centre. Here, Nigerians can acquire the technological skills to develop hardware, software and emerging technologies, create an innovative ecosystem and a platform for technical skills, among others. IDEs reportedly need to have a global outlook, while SMEs tend to start small and often remain local. IDEs also generally require more capital than SMEs and tend to integrate more innovation into their activities than SMEs. However, they can have a far more significant impact on the economy than SMEs.

        The Centre’s development aligns with the Nigerian government’s adoption of MIT’s frameworks to accelerate innovation by creating localised strategies for developing and sustaining innovation-driven enterprises.


        • The large telecommunications giants are digital sector players with huge potential to succeed in the education sector. While large and successful universities in Africa, and even globally for that matter, have relatively limited access to the market, telecommunications giants have millions of clients to whom they send communications quite regularly – this constitutes a captive market that is open to cross-selling opportunities. Some have global clout. The telcos already enjoy trust from their consumers. They already sell many services — airtime, data, entertainment and financial services — to their millions of clients. With their digital capability and market reach, big telcos are ideally positioned to become providers of educational products, either in competition with universities or as channel partners and service providers for higher education. African universities must take note of this and act early. They may otherwise soon find themselves in a position similar to the banks in Africa, who ignored the threat of M-Pesa and now must deal with the threat of disintermediation.


        According to the African Tech Startups Funding Report 2020, the “Big Four” of startup funding in Africa are Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, and Egypt. These countries account for 77% of funded startups and 89.2% of total investment in 2020. The report identified Nigeria with the most funded startups at 85, followed by Egypt with 82, South Africa with 81, and Kenya with 59. Ghana was fifth with 15 funded start-ups, while Tunisia was sixth with 14. These six countries accounted for 84.6% of funded startups and 92.6% of total investment.

        When one analyses the funding raised, Kenya leads with the highest combined raised capital at US$191.381m, followed by Nigeria (US$150.358m), South Africa (US$142.523m), Egypt (US$141.397m), Ghana (US$19.897m), and Morocco (US$10.306m). Capital continues to concentrate in the Big Four, which brought in a combined US$625.659m.

        New funding records were set last year, as 397 startups raised US$701.5m in total funding, a growth of 42.7% compared to 2019. The number of funded start-ups increased by 27.7% from 311 in 2019. (What is the figure for 2020?) According to Disrupt Africa, the sector shows no signs of slowing down.

        The fintech sector was the most attractive to investors last year as 99 fintech start-ups raised capital over the course of the year, representing 24.9% of the overall total. While the growth in fintech investment is slowing down, other sectors had an impressive year, such as e-commerce and retail-tech (55 startups), e-health (41 startups), logistics (29 startups), energy (22 startups), recruitment and HR (18 startups), ed-tech (17 startups), agritech (16 startups), and transport (15 startups).[13]


        • The performance of the startup sector in Africa is quite remarkable, considering that the strong growth occurred during a year that the Covid-19 pandemic devastated many economies in Africa and globally. It is no surprise that fintech and e-commerce and retail tech are so dominant, given the prevalence of mobile money (such as M-Pesa) and the potential for e-commerce (with Jumia, etc.) The strong showing of e-health is interesting. With Africa suffering from a high disease burden and costly and scarce medical services being typically concentrated in cities, the number of e-health startups has grown strongly. With the strong focus on digital technology in Singapore, this is a very attractive investment environment for digital companies in the country.

        • The prominence of Kenya, Nigeria, and South Africa on the list of startups is not accidental as these countries are the top market contributors to e-commerce in sub-Saharan Africa, according to a recent Visa report. This report also found that  Kenya and Nigeria focus on service-based merchants addressing services such as professional services, education, government, and business-to-business merchants. In South Africa, professional services and telecom/utilities merchants were the top drivers of e-commerce in 2020. The most important e-commerce enablers included access to financial services, digital payment channels and digital infrastructure.[14]

        • It will be interesting to see whether the e-health and agritech sub-sectors will also see the development of super apps. These sub-sectors are very popular in Africa, with a range of challenges that could be addressed by super apps. In the e-health subsector, possible valuable services include making appointments with doctors and specialists, doing appointments with medical personnel, access to pharmacies, delivery of medication, access to feedback from medical tests and procedures, access to knowledge on medical conditions, payment, and credit options.


        A report by PayU found that e-commerce penetration was at 37% in Nigeria and South Africa, and at 25% in Kenya. At the same time, South Africa had the highest Internet penetration at 56%, with Nigeria and Kenya at 46% and 31%, respectively. PayU saw this as an indication of the significant e-commerce growth potential in these countries. In terms of the number of shoppers and revenue, PayU found that Nigeria had the largest e-commerce market in Africa, with predicted consumer spend expected to be several times those of South Africa and Kenya combined.

        The South African market is set for significant growth, especially for specialist merchants in beauty, cosmetics, and fashion. Online spend in the beauty and cosmetics category in the country grew by 140% between 2019 and 2020. E-commerce spending on digital goods in South Africa was projected to grow by 46% between 2019 and the end of 2021, reaching US$336m. In Nigeria, this sector was expected to grow to US$811m by the end of 2021 and to US$70m in Kenya, a 94% increase in both markets compared to 2019.

        Spending on online education In South Africa grew significantly in 2020 as people upskilled themselves while staying at home due to Covid-19 restrictions. PayU reported a year-on-year increase of 67% in 2020 with the average transaction value growing from US$136 to US$404.

        The emergence of digitally savvy shoppers with access to increasing disposable income made Kenya, Nigeria, and South Africa attractive target markets for emerging e-commerce leaders.[15]


        • Countries such as South Africa are attractive markets for existing and new e-commerce players. In the rest of Africa, African players such as Jumia have also positioned themselves to be the platform of choice. China’s Alibaba has set out to create a footprint in countries such as Ethiopia and Rwanda, providing access to not only goods (coffee and other agricultural products), but also to services such as tourism. With a population of more than 100 million, Ethiopia also represents a market with immense future potential.

        • The increase in Internet penetration on the continent is also good news for the providers of digital government services, as several countries are expanding e-government services. Singapore’s CrimsonLogic already has a footprint in Botswana and Rwanda. African states fared poorly on the UN’s Electronic Government Development Index 2020. 17 of the 20 lowest ranking countries came from Africa. Mauritius (63), South Africa (78) and Tunisia (91) were the only three African countries that made it to the Top 100. Even Botswana and Rwanda, the two countries widely touted for their governance standards, came 115 and 130 respectively on the e-Development Index.[16]


        The JD Group has launched a new e-commerce platform in South Africa. EveryShop promises to offer a range of local and international brands across many categories, including electronics and appliances, furniture, fashion, footwear, and DIY.

        Everyshop currently has 15 large-scale distribution centres across South Africa, and they are located close to the customers to ensure fast and affordable delivery. It is expected to add more merchandise to its platform.


        • Takealot is currently the largest e-commerce player in South Africa with net sales of US$451m followed by Superbalist (US$69m), Woolworths (US$51m), Amazon (US$44m) and Makro (US$41m). The size of the e-commerce market in South Africa is estimated to be US$4bn and it is predicted to grow at a 10% Compounded Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) for the next four years. The fact that it is lower than the year-over-year growth of 24% suggests it is a moderately flooded market.[17]

        • According to ecommerceDB, fashion is the largest segment in South Africa and accounts for 31% of the e-commerce revenue in the country. The fashion sector is followed by Toys, Hobby & DIY (27%), Electronics & Media (18%), Furniture & Appliances (15%), and Food & Personal Care (8%).

        • With a market set to grow to US$660m over the next 4 years, one can expect an increase in the number of players targeting this sizeable market. Of the current top 5, Woolworths and Makro are not pure e-commerce players. They are traditional retailers who have entered the e-commerce space. Takealot’s dominance is unmatched. Consider this - Superbalist, currently in second place, is a 100% subsidiary of Takealot. That puts Woolworths at a distant third making just 10% of the combined Takealot/Superbalist revenue. Taking on this South African giant would be formidable for any competitor.


        The Covid-19 pandemic placed pressure on the chances of traditional businesses to survive and thrive. Getting access to customers became difficult, which drove down sales and profits. Digital technology enabled companies, however, to integrate digital solutions into their business models, which allowed their ventures to tap into new opportunities.

        One such a business, Evolve, was a major player in the SME sector. To deal with the new challenges, Evolve launched a digital supermarket called eMart that provides customers easy access to products from their homes. eMart currently sells groceries, health and beauty products, and baby and mother items. It intends to broaden the scope of its product offering to include home decor, furniture, and other appliances. They also intend to create a marketplace for products branded as “Made-in-Rwanda”.

        While the number of consumers adopting e-commerce is growing slowly, and the road to full adoption is still long, ordering groceries online has become a viable option. It is important to change the mindset of shoppers to rather buy online, and eMart is using incentives such as competitive prices and free delivery. Businesses that have been slow to embrace digital business models have been left behind. While businesses that have embraced technology evolve, the lack of availability to all have created the digital divide.[18]

        Kasha is an e-commerce platform that allows Rwandan women to buy menstrual care products, contraceptives, pharmaceuticals and a range of beauty and personal care products online. In addition to the website, its customers can also place orders via a mobile app, SMS shortcode or phone call. That means access to the Internet or smartphones is no barrier. The platform, launched in Rwanda in July 2016 entered Kenya three years later.

        Kasha raised US$3m in Series A funding in 2020 and has recently secured more funding from Mastercard to scale its operations. It joined the Mastercard’s StartPath programme in 2019 that allowed Kasha to integrate digital payment across its e-commerce platform. The Mastercard investment will help Kasha to expand its current platform offering, reaching more women, communities and small businesses than before. Mastercard sees its investment in Kasha as a means to help drive the “empowerment of women and drive the growth of small businesses in Africa”.[19]

        While Kasha is primarily focused on serving women and girls, it also supplies products for men. To deliver the products Kasha deploys a team of full-time staff riders. It also has partnered pharmacies. Clients can choose when they receive the products they ordered.


        • Rwanda has a higher percentage of representation of women in government than any country in the world. In 2017, women occupied 49 seats in the lower house of Parliament taking up more than half of its total 80 seats. In the 26-seat upper house of Parliament, they held 10 seats. In the government, 55% of the cabinet is made up of women (16 of 29 ministers). The development of Kasha as an online platform dedicated to female consumers should therefore be no surprise. The challenges facing women as far as access to feminine care products are concerned, are well-known. For every female customer that can access such products through Kasha there several others who do not. Africa, therefore, needs NGOs and other social impact organizations that focus on providing these essential products to women.
        • Once more we see organisations adapting to changing circumstances. While several e-commerce platforms have been launched and act as a digital marketplace for many traders, also in Rwanda, we now see Evolve as a company providing its own online sales platform. While this is not new in countries such as in South Africa, it is a new trend in many other countries on the continent. These traders and retailers will need technological support, including fintech systems to facilitate secure online payments.


        Nigeria is home to Africa’s first social and video commerce platform, Rabawa. Rabawa’s official roll-out occurred on 1 April 2021. This startup allows resellers to use social media for curating, promoting, and selling products. Its clients include housewives, students, youth and aspiring entrepreneurs. With the help of Rabawa they can easily launch their online businesses with no capital investment or inventory. The platform connects resellers to manufacturers and wholesalers across Africa, Asia, the UK, and the USA. Rabawa says its objective is to “empower” at least one million unemployed or underemployed Africans by 2023 with their own businesses. On 5 May 2021, Rabawa announced it has raised US$163,000 from an American VC firm, Aptive Capital.

        According to Datareportal,[20] there were 187.9 million mobile connections in Nigeria in January 2021. That is equivalent to 90% of the country’s population. The number of mobile connections jumped 10% (17 million) in just one year (2020-2021). However, since many have more than one mobile connection, the actual mobile penetration may be lower. Nonetheless, the PayU report is an indicator of the potential in Nigeria.


        • Rabawa faces stiff competition from established players such as Jumia, Konga, PayPorte, Kara, Printivo Store, JiJi Nigeria, Obiwezy, Ajebomarket, and Kusnap. All these firms have been operating in Nigeria for many years. Rabawa, in comparison, is a young upstart. Yet, despite the competition, Rabawa can succeed in Nigeria, which has a population of 200 million people. With more people staying at home and using e-commerce to get access to products and services, it is possible that new startups such as Rabawa can carve out a niche for themselves. Whether this will happen, remains to be seen. Trust is a major issue, and new startups suffer from a lack of visibility and awareness. The odds are therefore stacked against Rabawa, more so when one considers that the largest e-commerce player in Nigeria- Jumia, is still not profitable despite being in business for so many years.


        In June earlier this year Kenya’s Safaricom launched its M-Pesa ‘super app’ – a single multi-functional app that allowed users to book tickets, order groceries, do shopping, apply for licenses and pay utility bills. This comes on top the e-payment service that M-Pesa is already used for by over 30m customers across Kenya. Safaricom clocks more than 30m transactions worth US$ 9.3bn every day. The move comes on the heels of Vodacom announcing last year that it  would roll out a financial services super app in South Africa in partnership with Chinese-run Alipay. The app will allow South African consumers to shop online, pay bills, transfer money, operate bank accounts, streaming music, play games, watch videos, hail rides and read e-news among other things.[21]

        ‘Super apps’ are driving the Internet economy in Africa. These are platforms that offer a variety of services to users. In Togo, Gozem initially started  as a ride-hailing service and eventually diversified into services such as food delivery, and  ordering groceries, electronics, and other e-commerce items from partner supermarkets and vendors. In Algeria, temtem started as a mobility app but began offering services such as grocery delivery, online shopping, home services, and healthcare. Cameroon’s Healthlane as a super app for anyone in Africa to access healthcare, while Nigeria’s Eden is a super app for domestic services.

        Logistics and transportation platform Gokada recently launched a super app allowing Nigerians to access food delivery, e-commerce, and ride hailing services in one place. The startup has one of the largest fleets of delivery drivers in Lagos and supports over 30,000 Nigerian businesses through the app. Gokada wants to expand to other cities in Nigeria. According to Nikhil Goel, CEO of Gokada, the e-commerce and delivery market in Nigeria is growing at an exponential rate and will be worth more than US$20bn over the next few years.[22]

        In 2018, African e-commerce giant Jumia launched its super app called Jumia ONE but was not successful. It eventually scaled back services and became Jumia Pay, an e-payment service. Between 2018 and 2020 China’s Opera launched its OPay super-app in Africa with an entry into mobile money, bike-hailing platforms, on-demand food delivery platforms, cab-hailing, and logistics platforms. Like Jumia, OPay too has had to scale back its services and become a payment platform.[23]

        Gozem co-founder Emeka Ajene believes super apps work well in ‘fragmented markets characterised by small number of dominant players across verticals with large opportunities to create additional value for consumers.’ This is typical of Africa. According to Ajene super apps fall in four groups. The first comprises super apps that rely on a ride-hailing fleet as their core asset such as Gozem, temtem, and SafeBoda (Uganda). Super apps managed by financial players such as Cellulant (Kenya) and GTBank (Nigeria) are in the second group. The third group consists of those run by other bigger firms such as MTN (South Africa) and Jumia (Nigeria) while those with direct links to Asia, such as OPay and PalmPay (both from China) are in the fourth bucket.


        • The influence of Southeast Asia in developing Africa’s super app sector must be acknowledged. The Economic Development Board (EDB) of Singapore has identified five drivers that will stimulate the growth of the super app sector. These are ridesharing, fintech, food delivery, digital banking, and e-commerce - all of which are dominant in Africa as well. One can envisage the geographic expansion into Africa from super apps in Singapore and even ASEAN. Africa has roughly double the population of ASEAN and should be very attractive to super apps. Alibaba is one Asian player that has already entered the African continent, with its subsidiary Alipay in partnership with Vodacom.
        • merely launching a super app is no recipe for success, as seen by the experience of Jumia and Opera in Nigeria. Despite targeting a country with 200m consumers, which supposedly would have provided scale, as well as the largest economy in Africa, both these super apps were unsuccessful. Traction and critical mass are important, but the bouquet of services to obtain these characteristics are not very obvious. Lumping together a range of services clearly does not guarantee success.


        Flutterwave became the third Nigerian start-up to achieved the coveted unicorn status in Mar 2021 when its valuation surpassed US41bn after it successfully raised US$170m in funding from private equity firms, Tiger Global and Avenir Growth Capital. Its success has added to the wave of optimism sweeping the country’s technology sector. Africa’s large unbanked, underserved but tech savvy population is an immense potential for tech startups dabbling in payments and e-commerce. Flutterwave is a ‘super app’ that was launched in 2016 and is now available in 11 African countries. Super apps have become increasingly popular in emerging markets. Their business model is based on rolling multiple services and payment processes into one easy to use mobile app. Flutterwave currently serves 290,000 merchants and intends to use the funds from the Series C funding to expand into new markets, in the hope of developing a pan-African payments platform. [23] It has targeted Nigeria, South Africa, Kenya, and Ghana for growth.

        Startups across Africa have never had more access to capital than they do right now. Data indicates that Africa is set to surpass historical records in terms of venture capital raised. The first half of 2021 saw roughly twice the funds raised by African startups as was recorded in the same period of 2020. Since January 2021 African startups have consistently raised more than US$100m a month. Yet, few of those sources of finance have come from Asian financial hubs like Singapore. 



        Additional Readings

        Chetty, I. 2021. Algerian startup super app expands offering. Ventureburn. 11 January 2021. Available at  Accessed 22 March 2021.

        Chetty, I. 2021. SA agritech unlocks wider revenue stream for farmers. Ventureburn. 7 January 2021. Available at  Accessed 22 March 2021.

        PH. 2021. Uganda-based PAYG solar startup, Innovex, raises seed funding. How Africa. January 2021. Available at  Accessed 22 March 2021.

        Rotich, K. 2021. Digital plan to transform regional leather industry. Business Daily Africa. 14 January 2021. Available at  Accessed 22 March 2021.

        Whitehouse, D. 2021. Ghana's Zeepay plans mobile-money expansion to South Africa, Rwanda. The Africa Report. 5 January 2021. Available at  Accessed 19 March 2021.

        Chetty, I. 2021. Kenyan insurtech startup secures $6 million. Ventureburn. 26 January 2021. Available at  Accessed 12 April 2021.

        Chetty, I. 2021. Nigerian edutech startup secures $7.5 million. Ventureburn. 19 January 2021. Available at  Accessed 12 April 2021.

        Delport, J. 2021. Vodacom Business enables businesses to digitise their supply chain network. IT News Africa. 27 January 2021. Available at  Accessed 12 April 2021.

        Onyedika-Ugoeze, N. 2021. FG develops policy on digital innovation to support SMEs. The Guardian. 5 February 2021. Available at  Accessed 12 April 2021.

        Owings, L. 2021. Africa’s tech hubs giving universities stiff challenge. SciDevNet. 15 January 2021. Available at  Accessed 12 April 2021.

        PH. 2021. Kenyan startup launches M-health app to ease access to healthcare professionals. How Africa. January 2021. Available at  Accessed 12 April 2021.

        Anon. nd. The eCommerce market in South Africa. ecommerceDB. Nd. Available at  Accessed 14 May 2021.

        Brand Press. 2021. Rabawa, Africa’s first social and video commerce, secures $163,000 from Aptive Capital. Techpoint. 5 May 2021. Available at  Accessed 15 May 2021.

        Chetty, I. 2021. Takealot has a new SA competitor EveryShop. Ventureburn. 7 April 2021. Available at  Accessed 14 April 2021.

        Jackson, T. 2021. Rwandan e-commerce startup Kasha secures funding from Mastercard. Disrupt Africa. 6 May 2021. Available at  Accessed 15 May 2021.

        Kemp, S. 2021. Digital 2021: Nigeria. Datareportal. 11 February 2021. Available at  Accessed 15 May 2021.

        Majola, G. 2021. Huge potential for e-commerce growth in African markets. IOL. 30 April 2021. Available at  Accessed 14 May 2021.

        Nkurunziza, M. 2021. Featured: What you should know about Kasha’s emerging online pharmacy. The New Times. 15 March 2021. Available at  Accessed 15 May 2021.

        United Nations. 2020. E-Government Survey 2020. United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs. 2020. Available at  Accessed 15 May 2021.

        Gilbert, P. 2021. Safaricom launches M-Pesa ‘super app.’ Connecting Africa. 23 June 2021. Available at  Accessed 23 June 2021.

        Gilbert, P. 2021. Four countries take lion’s share of Africa’s startup funding. Connecting Africa. 25 January 2021. Available at  Accessed 23 June 2021.

        Jackson, T. 2021. Nigeria’s Gokada launches super app, passes $100m in annualised transaction value. Disrupt Africa. 4 June 2021. Available at  Accessed 23 June 2021.

        Jackson, T. 2021. The startups on a quest to be the “African super app.” Disrupt Africa. 2 March 2021. Available at  Accessed 23 June 2021.

        Monzon, L. 2021. SA, Nigeria & Kenya: Top E-commerce drivers in Sub-Saharan Africa. IT News Africa. 9 June 2021. Available at  Accessed 23 June 2021.

        Asemota, V. 2021. A billion butterflies: early investment experience in an African unicorn. Disrupt Africa. 6 April 2021. Available at Accessed 17 July 2021.

        Jackson, T. 2021. Nigerian payments startup Flutterwave achieves “unicorn” status after $170m funding round. Disrupt Africa. 10 March 2021. Available at Accessed 17 July 2021.

        Delport, J. 2021. New ‘for Africans by Africans’ Social Media Platform to launch in Kenya. IT News Africa. 28 April 2021. Available at  Accessed 22 August 2021.

        Newsdesk. 2021. Fintech driving growth of ecommerce in Ghana. News Ghana. 25 May 2021. Available at  Accessed 22 August 2021.

        Mbabazi, D. 2021. Supermarket adopts e-commerce model amid pandemic. The New Times. 10 August 2021. Available at  Accessed 25 August 2021.





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