Africa is buzzing. There hasn’t been a time of late where things are quiet or boring and as someone who is new to the Sub-Saharan region, I am blown away by the opportunities the continent represents.
Statista research indicates that by October 2019, 58% of the global population were active internet users. And that world has to pay attention to Africa, because of the size of its population and the youthful profile of that population. In the process, Africa is solidifying itself as a vibrant and thriving economic force to be reckoned with.
In approximately five years’ time, there will be around 625 million mobile services subscribers on the continent. That’s three times the population of the United States.
The region is flourishing in part because of technology, innovation and, most importantly, access. I believe there are several digital trends that will make an impact in 2020 for people across Africa.
1. Data and devices will be more accessible
Mobile connectivity is growing exponentially and this, along with smart device adoption increasing, means more Africans are moving online than ever before. GSMA Intelligence research tells us that, in approximately five years’ time, there will be around 625 million mobile services subscribers on the continent. That’s three times the population of the United States. The benefits and opportunities that are empowered by this exponential growth and its effects on the everyday lives of people are real and tangible.
An uptick in subscriptions to mobile services is likely to positively contribute towards:
- Economic growth: The mobile ecosystem contributed $144 billion to the Sub-Saharan African economy in 2018, of which $39 billion was a direct contribution; and
- Job creation: The sector formally employs around 500,000 people in the region and informally employs 1.2 million.
What we’re seeing here is two of Africa’s largest pain points being addressed in some part by an industry that is blossoming with little effort.
In addition to this, a decline in the cost of smartphone devices, the resultant hike in adoption, and an anticipated levelling out of data costs in Africa will all contribute to an increase in the number of people using the internet to create an income. We’re already seeing the online “hustle” growing across the continent, and I anticipate much more of this in the near future.
2. Internet access will become a means to financial inclusion
A GSMA study found that, in 2018, the mobile money industry added another 143 million registered customers globally, with the total number of accounts reaching 866 million — a 20% year-on-year increase. The Sub-Saharan region added over 17.5 million new active accounts in 2018, to become the largest mobile money market in the world. The region had 132 mobile money deployments, 395.7 million registered users (of which 145.8 million had actively used their accounts in the last 90 days) and an astonishing 1.7 billion transactions to the value of US$26.8 billion in 2018.
These figures underscore the ubiquity of online payments and the wider access to credit and other financial instruments currently being experienced in Sub-Saharan Africa. Where we are today is worlds apart from where we were a few short years ago, and this is due to an increase in the use of mobile devices and an increase in the adoption of mobile money services.
While Sub-Saharan Africa still has a population that is 66% unbanked, statistics show that this figure will change over the next five to 10 years. I can say this because of online financial technology innovations like M-PESA, which has impacted local access to financial products and services since launching in Kenya in 2007. Today, financial inclusion in Kenya stands at 83%, up from 27% in 2006, a report by financial inclusion NPO FSDKenya shows.
Mobile money leads to better statistics in the financial inclusion space.
Mobile money leads to better statistics in the financial inclusion space – it really is that simple. But the enablement doesn’t end there.
Many analysts view fintech as a facilitator for the emergence of improvements in other sectors, such as agriculture and infrastructure, but there’s so much more to it on the human level. Fintech has the power to return control to the user’s palm. Control over finances, control over choice, and control over the path their lives will take and, for people who, a few short years ago, had little to no access to mobile funds, control is an extraordinarily large deal.
I believe Sub-Saharan Africa is moments away from taking life-changing technological steps forward and this is thanks, in part, to a hungry need to embrace digital technologies that are already changing lives.
3. Gaming will grow exponentially
A major trend to watch today is online gaming. More people have access to devices, more people are online, and those with disposable income are gaming. Right now, the gaming industry seems to be dominated by publishers from Russia, Israel, China and even the U.S. but Sub-Saharan Africa publishers are picking up speed.
For consumers in the region, the first choice tends to be local content. There's no reason why this can't be applied to gaming too.
A 2019 report by the South African Cultural Observatory (SACO), mandated by South Africa’s Department of Arts and Culture, shows the South African gaming industry is growing at an exponential rate. In the past, that participation was restricted to audiences who could afford to purchase expensive PCs or gaming consoles, but the rise of mobile gaming on smartphones has meant that many more South Africans can now afford to play.
It’s worth remembering that the phrase “local is lekker” (a South African phrase meaning ‘local is great') is not taken lightly in South Africa. For consumers in the region, the first choice tends to be local content. There's no reason why this can't be applied to gaming too.
4. Video and voice will grow exponentially
Research tells us that people in Sub-Saharan Africa are using online services most often to watch video, and the use of voice innovations (like Bolo, a voice app that helps children improve their reading skills) is on the increase. The reasons for this are varied.
- Most online services are created by and for fully literate English speakers, which leaves us with an online literacy challenge. Moving pictures and voice innovations are great solutions, because if you can’t read or write, the next best thing is to watch and listen.
- Appointment viewing is on the decline. Viewers don't want to wait to watch a show anymore. Local or global, the continent’s viewers want access on demand, rather than keeping up with a broadcaster’s schedule.
- People are opting to use voice functionality over keyboards. The literacy challenge again comes into play here, but there’s more to it. Another reason is the ease-of-use offered by voice empowered search, voice assistance and even voice-enabled education tools.
Voice and video may have started life as sophisticated high tech features created for high tech users but it is ordinary people who are making the most of these services.
5. Africa's creatives continue to take centre stage
Sub-Saharan Africa is an unbelievable whirlpool of creative talent, yet it is still under-served, under-shared and, to a degree, misunderstood. African artists have proven their abilities in the creation, shareability and virality of content made for a local audience, that goes on to resonate around the world. Taking all of the above into account, there's room for even greater export of the boundless creativity that defines the region.
For years, people have been saying that Africa is the future but, in reality, the future is already here. What we need now, is to continue empowering its people with connectivity, (affordable) data and mobile technologies, along with a plan to scale the adoption and use of these technologies in the next few years.