Tech gives Kenya, Africa the edge in war on pandemic


Kenya is among African countries leveraging various forms of technology to fight the Coronavirus pandemic.

In a continent faced with a weak healthcare system, digital solutions are being employed to deliver practical, effective, and sustainable solutions as efforts are intensified to fight the disease that has led to loss of lives and far-reaching economic and health consequences.

While announcing partial lockdown in April of Nairobi, Mombasa, Kilifi, and Kwale counties, President Uhuru Kenyatta encouraged Kenyans to use technology to conduct their routines, including adopting cashless transactions to help curb the Cocid-19 spread countrywide. He further called on telecom operators and banks to cut tariffs on e-payment operations to attract more users.

Kenya, Africa’s leader in digital payment adoption, has therefore turned to mobile money with gusto as a public-health tool and a safeguard against Corona.

Going digital hasn’t been a tough call for Kenyans as the country has one of the highest rates of mobile finance adoption in the world, largely driven by M-Pesa. About 32 million of Kenya’s 53 million population have mobile-money accounts, according to Communications authority of Kenya (CA).

To enable Kenyans go cashless, the country’s largest mobile provider, Safaricom  waived fees for M-Pesa transactions below Sh1,000 for 90 days. The move is meant to deepen mobile money usage and reduce the risk of spreading coronavirus.

Safaricom also doubled internet speed of its 4G home fibre from 20mbps to 40mbps to encourage people to work and school from home.

Not to be left behind, Airtel announced that all person-to-person money transfer would be free for 90 days.

The mobile companies have also increased the transaction limits and the amounts individuals can hold in their mobile wallets.

Further, Airtel has offered free internet services to support home-learning through the Longhorn e-platform through which learning material can be accessed on SMS, Android and Windows mobile platforms.

Providing free and affordable services has enabled internet access and streaming services to access current affairs, entertainment, information, and bolstered e-commerce, beaming services straight into people’s homes.

Following in Kenya’s footsteps, major economies, governments and startups in Africa have shifted a greater volume of transactions to digital payments and away from cash in a bid to curb spread of the virus, according to TechCrunch.

Across Africa, Ghana’s central bank directed mobile money providers to waive fees on transactions of GH₵100 (about Sh1,800), with restrictions on transactions to withdraw cash from mobile-wallets.

Ghana’s monetary body also eased requirements on mobile-money, allowing citizens to use existing mobile phone registrations to open accounts with the major digital payment providers.

In South Africa, small-business payments startup Yoco issued a directive to clients to encourage customers to use the contactless payment option on its point of sale machines.

The startup has also accelerated development of a remote payment product that would enable transfers on its client network via a weblink. In Nigeria, Lagos-based venture Paga made fee adjustments, allowing merchants to accept payments from Paga customers for free.

Back in Kenya, motorcycle (boda boda) firm, SafeBoda has launched digital preparedness programme aimed at equipping about 700,000 riders with information about the pandemic.

The firm’s Kenya head John Ngari said the programme is part of the cautionary measures they are taking to keep their riders and customers safe.

Africa’s largest innovation incubator, CcHub, based in Nairobi and Lagos, recently announced funding and engineering support to tech projects aimed at curbing Covid-19 and its social and economic impact.

The organisation will provide between $5,000 (Sh500,000) and $100,000 (Sh10 million) to companies with Covid-19 related projects covering last-mile communication, support for the infected and the most vulnerable, production of essential medical supplies and support for disrupted food supply-chains.

According to CcHub CEO Bosun Tijani, the organisation, and its iHub affiliates, will also open up engineering support and resources from its design laboratory to fund companies.

African governments have also teamed up with tech giants such as Google, Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, and WhatsApp to fight Covid-19 fake news from spreading online. The partnership has enabled South Africa to launch an information service about the Coronavirus on WhatsApp.

Twitter has also been tweaking its algorithm to elevate medical information from authoritative sources, while Facebook, along with social media competitors including Twitter and YouTube, has barred users from posting harmful information about Covid-19 on its platforms.

Recently, Google loon collaborated with Africa’s leading telecoms to ensure people receive high-speed Internet services amidst coronavirus.

To further bolster the continent’s quest for digital solutions, IBM, Oracle and the World Health Organisation (WHO) have become collaborators on an open-data hub that will use blockchain technology to check the veracity of data relating to the coronavirus pandemic across the continent.


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