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12 African startups to watch in 2017

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Here at Disrupt Africa we’re privileged to meet innovative and enthusiastic startups from across the continent on a daily basis. But – we have to admit – every now and again we meet one that gets us really excited. We’ve fought amongst ourselves long and hard, to bring you what we think are 12 of the top African startups to watch in 2017.

NORTH AFRICA

Instabug

Launched in 2012, Egypt’s Instabug isn’t exactly new to the scene. However, 2016 saw the startup up its game, come out of a four-year beta phase, and make some serious waves. Instabug allows users to offer feedback from within apps to report bugs and issues with the product. The app allows for in-app conversations, powerful crash reporting, advanced analytics, and there’s a range of other cool features too.

In February 2016, Instabug was selected to participate in the Silicon Valley-based Y Combinator accelerator; and announced it was coming out of beta testing at last (fair, seeing as the app was already running on 100 million devices at the time. By June, the startup announced it had closed a US$1.7 million seed round led by Accel Partners, to allow it to expand its suite of tools to provide a comprehensive support kit for mobile apps. Oh, and by the way, Instabug has been used to report 20 million bugs already… and counting. 2017 will be exciting for these guys.

RoamSmart

Tunisia’s RoamSmart is something of a startup world veteran, also launched in 2012. But the startup is on a renewed push to take the world by storm, and we think they might just do it in 2017.

RoamSmart’s solutions aim to assist mobile operators to manage their roaming businesses more efficiently; helping operators to optimise workflows and monetise existing roaming sources through an automated data reporting and analysis platform.

The startup has clocked up 29 clients, including Vodacom and Orange – they’re clearly tapping into operator demand. But RoamSmart has set itself high targets for the coming months: accelerated growth and surpassing 50 customers worldwide. Initially funded through private funds and bank loans, RoamStart secured its first funding round in 2016 to help it on its way to world-domination. We’re excited to see what’s next in 2017, aren’t you?

Tutorama

For our third pick, we’ve gone with a very new candidate. Founded in January 2016, Egyptian ed-tech startup Tutorama spent most of the year in closed testing, working through technical kinks and refining its business model.

Tutorama is a platform connecting parents with top quality local tutors in their area. Parents can schedule and pay for sessions as well as monitor the progress of their child online. It’s not only Disrupt Africa who thinks this startup has got what it takes to shake up the ed-tech space.

In April, Tutorama won first place in the ideas track of the MIT Enterprise Forum Arab Startup Competition, securing US$50,000.

Hot on the heels of the startup’s first win, global startup pitching competition Seedstars World crowned Tutorama winner of the Egyptian edition of the contest. It will soon represent the country at the Seedstars global finals in Switzerland, standing the chance to win US$1 million funding. We think they have what it takes.

EAST AFRICA

Fuzu

Kenyan career development startup Fuzu only launched in late 2015… but did this team hit the ground running or what? Fuzu provides a one-stop career development platform, which aims to allow users to learn new skills and find jobs regardless of their levels of education.

The platform provides career counselling, learning solutions and information about open positions and industry updates, providing support and guidance at different stages of user’s career. For employers, it offers advanced search and recruitment solutions with competence evaluation and algorithm-based ranking to identify the best fitting candidates.

The startup immediately received backing from the Rockefeller Foundation and Accenture, and by December 2016, Fuzu announced it had raised US$1.88 million in funding to support its business development, and expansion from Kenya to other African countries as well as to Asia.

Flare

Kenya’s Flare app is a great example of a startup responding to a local pressing challenge. Created by startup Capsule, Flare is a mobile solution that aggregates available ambulances onto a single system, and allows patients or hospitals to request emergency help via smartphone.

“Today, there is no well-functioning emergency response dispatch system like 911. In Nairobi, Kenya it takes up to two hours to get an ambulance. During an emergency, patients struggle to locate and connect to private ambulance companies through their individual dispatch phone numbers. They are often unaware of their options and waste critical time. Meanwhile, there are up to one hundred available ambulances sitting idly around Nairobi waiting for patients,” explains co-founder Caitlin Dolkart.

The app was under construction and testing with ambulance companies throughout 2016; with the startup raising funding (US$150,000, still open) in the last quarter of the year to enable a full-scale commercial launch. We’re looking forward to seeing the emergency response space in Kenya thoroughly shaken up in 2017.

Jamii

Tanzania’s Jamii is our next tip from East Africa. Jamii offers a mobile micro-health insurance product for the low income and informal sector. The startup has built a mobile policy management platform that performs all the administration activities of an insurer, and allows users to access cheap insurance via USSD.

Launched in January 2015, the startup has racked up some impressive successes so far. It received backing from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and won the Tanzanian leg of Seedstars World – progressing to the global finals (just a reminder: up to US$1 million funding up for grabs).

Jamii has promised launches in Kenya, Uganda, Ghana, Nigeria and South Africa over 2017, and is raising funding. We’ll definitely be keeping a keen eye on this startup.

SOUTHERN AFRICA

Custos Media

The bitcoin fad may well be ebbing worldwide; but this South African startup has found an innovative use for bitcoin and blockchain technology which we think is worth following. South African startup Custos Media Technologies uses bitcoin bounties as a means of cracking down on piracy of digital media.

The startup embeds bitcoin bounties as watermarks within videos, which can still be watched normally. However, if the media passes out of the control of the intended recipient – usually a reviewer offered a pre-released version of the movie – there is a small bitcoin reward that can be collected by one downloader using a free tool.

Once someone has pocketed this bounty, Custos can see the transaction on the blockchain and informs the media owner, who can then take whatever action they see fit. We’re not the only ones to have our interest piqued. Custos raised two funding rounds in 2016 – US$265,000 from a South African private investor and the New York-based Digital Currency Group in April, followed by US$420,000 from South Africa’s Technology Innovation Agency in August.

Cape (Asimmetric)

South Africa’s Cape – which rebranded from Asimmetric in November – had a very exciting 2016… and we think it’s just the beginning for this startup. Cape operates a WiFi network and application quality monitoring tool. The Cape Sensor monitors WiFi network and application performance 24/7 by behaving like a real user and reporting issues in real-time before users complain. The Sensor includes features such as mobile connectivity and power backup. It works alongside a cloud-based Dashboard, which Cape says is the simplest WiFi monitoring dashboard available.

Launched in February 2015, Asimmetric (as it then was) became the first South African company to join the San Francisco-based hardware accelerator Highway1. By April 2016, Asimmetric announced it had raised a seven-figure dollar funding round from three United States (US)-based early-stage hardware and Internet of Things (IoT) investment firms, allowing it to launch operations in San Francisco. The startup launched an all-new edition of its product in November, coinciding with its rebranding to Cape… in preparation for great things this year, we’re certain.

Dr CADx

Zimbabwe’s Dr CADx is a new kid on the African startups block, but we think these guys are worth keeping an eye on. Founded in August 2016, the startup is developing a computer-aided diagnostic system to help doctors diagnose medical images more accurately, and to provide pervasive radiology diagnostics in regions which currently do not have radiologists.

Designed to be used by medical professionals on existing computers and tablets, the solution is able to diagnose most diseases if it is supplied with the sufficient training data, although the startup’s initial focus is on lung diseases such as tuberculosis, pneumonia and lung cancer, as well as head injuries and breast cancer.

In September 2016 Dr CADx’s prototype achieved an accuracy of 82 per cent in distinguishing between chest X-rays of healthy people from X-rays of patients with TB and those with lung cancer. The startup was named winner of the Zimbabwean edition of Seedstars World, and is heading to the finals to compete for that US$1 million prize to help make trials of the tool possible in 2017, with a view to a full launch of the solution in 2018.

WEST AFRICA

Printivo

Nigerian digital printing startup Printivo was voted the country’s most investable startup in 2016, beating the likes of Hotels.ng, Andela, and iRokoTV to take the top spot… and we’re not about to disagree – it’s a great venture. Launched in 2014, Printivo aims to help Nigerian startups and SMEs print business and marketing materials with ease, and hopes to grow Nigeria’s US$200 million print market, which has until now had no credible online presence.

Late in 2015 the startup hit the headlines announcing it had closed a six-figure funding round from early-stage technology venture capital firm EchoVC Partners. We also know the startup is already working with blue chip firms such as Google, Samsung, Stanbic IBTC, Honda and Uber. It’s time to sit back, grab the popcorn, and watch what this startup pulls out the bag next.

SpacePointe

Nigeria’s SpacePointe develops products geared towards small and medium enterprises (SMEs) with a particular focus on retailers.  The startup has been busy over the past couple of years; making waves at the DEMO Africa event in 2014 – following which it was selected to pitch at DEMO Fall in Silicon Valley-, and launching extensive pilots in 2015.

But 2016 was its strongest year to date. In June, SpacePointe announced it had raised US$1.2 million in funding from multiple investors, enabling it to launch two in-store business management and point of sale (PoS) applications into the market. The first, CommercePointe, integrates in-store business management and PoS applications with a marketplace platform working off the same inventory, designed for the informal sector.

PointePay is a mobile application with multiple payment options acceptance options, including cash, e-wallet, and debit or credit card. It allows retailers to manage product and inventory, as well as employees and customers, while also offering value added service such as the ability to sell wireless top-up and perform mobile wallet loads. The startup is busy pushing its products out to as many customers as possible, and we’re eager to watch uptake soar in 2017.

Tress

Ghanaian startup Tress showed us it means business by going straight for a global launch in February 2016, having been incubated at the Meltwater Entrepreneurial School of Technology (MEST). Tress is a social haircare app primarily for black women, which allows women to discover new hairstyles, find out detailed information about hairstyles such as the exact products used, the name of the stylist, and the price range, and share their favourite hairstyles and receive compliments and haircare secrets from the community.

Only four months after launching, Tress was selected to join the Y Combinator Fellowship Programme in Silicon Valley, and took part in the eight-week programme complete with US$20,000 in funding. With the global black haircare industry valued at over US$500 billion, we’re eager to see how much of the market Tress will dominate this year. So there you have it, the Disrupt Africa top 12 to watch for 2017.

We got nine out of 12 in 2016… pretty sure we’ve got 12 for 12 this time round.

Source:bizcommunity

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Africa speaks

What’s Happening To Democracy In Africa?

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Yoweri Museveni and Bobi Wine (Source: PML Daily)

Nobody was genuinely surprised that Uganda’s Electoral Commission declared the incumbent, 76-year-old Yoweri Museveni of the National Resistance Movement (NRM) the winner of the country’s violent Presidential ballot. It was a forgone conclusion. The victory is Museveni’s sixth since fighting his way to power in 1986. Although his 35-year rule has been extended, this time around the desperate groans for change were felt across the entire world.

African leaders have a long history of using violence and fear against political opponents. At the time of writing, Bobi Wine, Uganda’s 38-year-old musician turned formidable political opponent, is under house arrest. Wine insists that the election was rigged against him and his life is under threat. Many of his supporters and close political allies have been tortured and detained by the country’s security forces. After his arrest in November at least 54 people died following protests. This is taking place all under the watchful gaze of the media, the United Nations and the African Union. At one point Museveni ordered the shutdown of the internet. 

2021 will be a busy political season for the African continent with more than 13 countries heading to the polls to elect new leaders. The invasion of the Capitol and the legacy of President Donald Trump is proof that Africa can no longer look outside of its borders for positive influence. Constitutional change, fair elections, independent courts and free media is fundamental if Africa is to truly govern itself. Without these basic pillars of a democracy, civil war is the inevitable outcome.

Somalia 

Presidential Election
February 8th 

Incumbent President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed will face former president Sharif Sheikh Ahmed. The threat of political violence still lingers as the tensions among key parties remain high and electoral preparations are lagging.

Niger

Presidential Election
February 21st 

Former prime minister Mohammed Bazoum of the ruling party will go head-to-head with former president Mahamane Ousmane. Niger is attempting its first peaceful transfer of power since gaining independence from France 60 years ago.

Republic of Congo

Presidential Election
March 21st 

The President of the Republic of Congo, Denis Sassou Nguesso, who is one of the world’s longest-serving leaders is seeking a fourth term. His challengers include Mathias Dzon, who is the former Minister of Finance between 1997-2002 and Guy-Brice Parfait Kolélas, who came second in the highly contested 2016 presidential election that Sassou Nguesso won. Congo is an oil-rich but impoverished country. It is in the grip of a deep economic crisis, triggered by the slump in oil prices but worsened by long-standing debt and the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. 

Cabo Verde

Legislative Election, March
Presidential Election, October

President Jorge Carlos Fonseca is stepping down in 2021 following the conclusion of his second and constitutionally limited five-year term.

Chad

Presidential Election, April 1
Legislative Election, October 24

President Idriss Déby is seeking his sixth term in office, having previously overseen the removal of term limits in 2005 and then their restoration in 2018—though they are not to be applied retroactively. The 68-year-old former military leader came to power in 1990 following the toppling of the despotic Hissan Habré. 

Djibouti

Presidential Election, April

Ismail Omar Guelleh, President of the small but strategically vital country of Djibouti in the Horn of Africa, announced in late December he would be running for a fifth term in presidential elections this April.

Benin

Presidential Election, April 11

Benin will hold its presidential election on April 11, 2021, the country’s election commission announced Tuesday. The first round of the election will take place on April 11 in the West African nation, the Independent Election Commission said in a statement. A second round will be held on May 9 if none of the candidates passed the 50% threshold, the commission added. Although current President Patrice Talon said that when he was elected for the first time in 2016, he would remain in the government for only one term, his candidacy for a second term is seen as almost certain.

Ethiopia

Parliamentary Elections, June 5

Ethiopia will hold a parliamentary election on June 5 as Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed seeks to quell political and ethnic violence in several regions. Abiy’s Prosperity Party, a pan-Ethiopian movement he founded a year ago, faces challenges from increasingly strident ethnically based parties seeking more power for their regions. Africa’s second most populous nation has a federal system with 10 regional governments, many of which have boundary disputes with neighbouring areas or face low-level unrest.

São Tomé and Príncipe

Presidential Election, July 31

President Evaristo Carvalho is seeking his second 5-year term in presidential elections in July. Carvalho was previously prime minister, president of the national assembly, and minister of defence. São Tomé and Príncipe enjoys a competitive multiparty democracy and a history of peaceful transfer of power between parties. The 2021 elections are expected to be freely contested and transparent.

Zambia

Presidential and Legislative Elections, August 12

Presidential elections will be held in August 2021. The election will be the sixth (and, he says, last) attempt by opposition leader Hakainde Hichilema of the United Party for National Development to win the presidency. Hichilema was the business-friendly candidate in 2016 who campaigned on fixing the then struggling economy.

The Gambia

Presidential Election, December 4

The Gambia’s upcoming elections will be the first since Yahya Jammeh lost power in 2017. President Adama Barrow’s first term has largely been about rebuilding after more than 20 years of Jammeh’s rule. This mammoth task requires reforming every sector of the country, not least of which the economy and the security sector and finding avenues for the country’s youthful population. 

Libya

Presidential and Parliamentary Elections, December 24

In November 2020, Libyan politicians convened by the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) to sketch out a plan to reunify the country agreed that Libya would have elections on December 24, 2021—the 70th anniversary of Libyan independence in 1951.

By: Juliana Olayinka (Broadcast Journalist)

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Coronavirus and Societal Inequality- Nonny Ugboma

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Coronavirus image: credit politico

In reflecting on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the world, there is a huge realisation that  the world has reached a critical juncture and  there is a harsh wake-up call of the impact of in-country inequality both in  advanced and developing nations.

The massive gap between the haves and  have-nots may  have exacerbated  the havoc caused by  the spread of the coronavirus! This means that we can no longer ignore, what is arguably, the worst global crisis–societal inequality.

Interestingly, inequality is not a problem found in the global south alone as it has also been growing in advanced countries like the UK and USA since the 1980s. In the USA in 2018, the total income of the top 10% is 1.8 times more than the total income of the bottom 40%, according to the Palma ratios published in the OECD report on inequality.  The figure for the UK was  1.6 in 2018.

The inequality statistics is even more alarming in the global south with the total income of South Africa’s top 10% being 7 times more than the bottom 40% as at 2015. It will be interesting to know what the 2020 figures would be across the globe.

So, solving the inequality crisis should be governments’ priority in 2021 and beyond. The pandemic has already shown that the state of our collective health can only be as strong as the weakest link– the very low income group – and that this monstrous virus does not care about income brackets or status as everyone is a qualified host.

When it comes to exposure to the virus, the fact is, in addition to front-line health workers, low-income earners are also exposed and are more likely to be transmission vectors because they are key to the provision of essential services as cleaners, cashiers, waiters, couriers, and drivers to name a few.

The bottom line is that we are all vulnerable because these essential members of our society come into contact with people at different levels of society and they are faced with choices that touch every stratum!  For instance, whilst the extremely rich and middle-income professionals are able to take time off, to work from home or self-isolate, the lower income group, usually hourly-paid or zero-hour workers, cannot afford to stay home because without work they will not be paid, and without pay they cannot provide for themselves or their families. The implication is that they are more likely to put themselves and others at risk.

However, we note that the level of devastation of this virus in Sub-Saharan Africa has not been as pundits had expected with these countries’ high poverty rates and poor health systems. Experts are speculating that, paradoxically, it appears that these harsh conditions may have helped insulate the mostly young population from dying from Covid-19. Nevertheless, this does not mean that inequality in Africa is not negatively affecting the transmission in the poorer countries.

On the contrary. Residents of developing countries like Nigeria should be a lot more concerned because they live in extremely connected and linked societies. The more resilient and asymptomatic poor  are often in close contact with the working class and affluent as they are employed as cooks, domestic workers, drivers and artisans. Also, no matter how isolated people keep their domestic workers, they eventually have to come in contact with others in the markets ,the over-crowded public transportation systems or poor housing facilities.

The resultant effect of the inter-connectedness of the different levels of the society is that the elderly, as well as those who lead more insulated lifestyles with various underlying health matters are more vulnerable and more likely to develop serious symptoms and complications. Furthermore, the number of existing public health facilities are not adequate to handle the treatment and private facilities are too expensive thereby resulting in more deaths for this group of the society. 

Therefore, it can no longer be business as usual because the more unequal the society continues to be, the more unsafe it will be for the rich in all aspects! Governments, especially in developing countries, should see this as a wake-up call to rethink policies to address inequality in the long-term,  not just by providing short-term reliefs. Instead of focusing on growth indices, governments would need to work collaboratively with the private sector and other sectors in a mission-oriented approach to build public infrastructure and to ensure the establishment of more inclusive institutions and systems that sustainably create social value.

Author: Nonny Ugboma – Executive Secretary at MTN Foundation

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Changing the African narrative

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In a recent controversial tweet on the internet, it was argued that Africans have failed to become successful producers except in the area of reproduction. To cement the argument, the writer observed that, while scholars around the world are cracking their heads in an attempt to find the COVID vaccine, Africa is on the sidelines waiting to receive whatever shall be produced and possibly have it freely donated. The statement has some elements of truth which point to the narrative that Africa has created for itself for so many years despite being a continent blessed with an abundance of resources that the entire world longs for.

In fact, Africa suffers from a paradox of plenty in that, despite the huge endowment of both human and natural resources and attaining political independence from colonial masters, it still remains highly underdeveloped. How possible is it that the continent with the most of the worlds’ natural resources, hardworking labour force and favourable climate conditions could have earned the title of being labelled poor and be reduced to beggars than those that have less resources?  The scenario that Africa has created of being rich but not prosperous has presented a paradox whose puzzle needs a careful consideration to spot the missing link to enable Africa retain its rightful title, “The prosperous land of opportunity.”

Free Trade Area

Tired of being considered a third world continent and dependence on the western world on increased trade, African leaders from 44 nations gathered at the African Union Summit in March 2018 and signed a treaty to create what will be considered the world’s largest single market called the Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA). The aim of this treaty is boost intra-African trade by making Africa a single market of 1.2 billion people and a cumulative Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of over $3.4 trillion.

Actually the UN Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) has estimated that the implementation of this treaty has capacity to increase intra-Africa trade by 52% by 2022 and even double the share of intra-Africa trade in a decade. In addition, the AfCFTA is expected to enhance competitiveness for various firms through the exploration of opportunities for high production, access to larger continental markets and better allocation and usage of resources in the nations.

What is worrying about Africa is the fact that it trades more with countries outside the continent more than among member countries.  The share of exports from Africa with the rest of the world ranged from 80 – 90 percent for the period 2000 to 2017 (Economic Development in Africa Report, 2019) while intra Africa exports averaged only 16.6 percent. Worse still, the report indicates that sub-Saharan Africa has the highest cost to export compared with other regions and this implies the benefits from trade are lessened.  

The question that begs an answer is, why doesn’t Africa trade more with itself? What is puzzling more is the fact that Africa exports materials in their raw form and imports the commodities after they are processed by highly industrialised countries at a higher cost. It is a wonder why Africa is still poor despite being the major supplier of raw materials that are highly demanded around the globe, where does Africa get it wrong? The lack of effective collaboration has been a major hindrance to the progress of Africa.

African countries can develop better if they begin to collaborate in diverse areas of development by each analysing their comparative advantage and combining synergies to achieve a common goal. Industrialisation can best be achieved when the current existing market within the continent is harnessed and tariff policies that increase the cost of trade are dealt with. Africa needs to define what it would want to achieve, identify opportunities within, create policies that harness the potentials from different countries for the benefit of all and work together because a united Africa with concentrated efforts will achieve much than a divided one working in Isolation.

Entitlement syndrome

It is interesting to note the underdevelopment statistics that Africans are ever posting in a bid to get support from developed countries. At times, it seems leaders are competing to show that their countries suffers more and needs more donations but this has created a dependence syndrome that is eventually becoming perpetual. Africa needs to come to terms with the fact that, we are not entitled to the help rendered and the more we act as beggars, the more likely we fail to progress. Whenever negotiating, Africans must never go to the table as beggars but partners in the achievement of common goals.

Africa’s overdependence on the west on basically everything makes it vulnerable to exploitation and thereafter, inability to develop. But to overcome the entitlement syndrome, there is need for the collaboration and efforts of individuals, countries, leaders and basically all who want to see a better Africa. Some of the most accomplished people in developed countries are originally from Africa but have been offered opportunities in these countries and are making an impact. Africa should not think it is the duty of anyone to help it overcome the diverse challenges it suffers but it needs home grown solutions and the contribution of various stakeholders.

The world is currently faced with the COVID-19 pandemic and while others are working to mitigate the impact and create the vaccine, Africa is waiting to receive but what if the west refuses to share with Africa, what is the next step. To change the narrative, Africa needs to realize that no one owes it a living and as such, self-reliance techniques must now be put to practice.

While it is true that Africa is not yet advanced and has challenges to overcome, the sooner it begins to believe in its capabilities to change the narrative and harness its potential, the quicker it shall be to develop. The continent is indeed a force to reckon with but only needs a push which must begin now because it’s time to think and Act Smart.

Aurthor: Nchimunya Muvwende is an Economist

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