Africa’s digital enterprise

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The internet in Africa in recent years has exploded, from chat forums and photo-sharing sites to gaming and educational usage. These are all huge growth areas in Africa’s digital enterprise.

While the telecommunications market in Africa is still in its early stages of development, it is also one of the fastest-growing in the world. Mobile telephone services in Africa have been booming, and mobile telephone use is now substantially more widespread than fixed line telephony.

Telecommunication companies in Africa are looking at Broadband Wireless Access technologies as the key to making the Internet more accessible for the population at large.

In more advanced African markets 50% of phone users will have access to a smartphone or a smartphone-like feature phone. Access is of course not just restricted to mobile technologies as there is still abundance of access through PC’s and laptops.

There is an incredible array and diversity of apps available, like social networking, online gaming like here, mapping, scientific etc. They’re even being used in agriculture and one of my personal favourites is icow, which is used by Small-scale farmers who use this to monitor the gestation periods of dairy cows, and likely birth dates of calves. The app, which runs on basic-feature phones, collects and stores milking and breeding records, sends farmers best-practice advice and the location of the nearest vets. The service calls itself “the world’s first mobile phone cow calendar”.

A real success story is the emergence of companies developing games for mobile phones which are springing up in East Africa. Although the mobile gaming market there is growing, financial returns are still small, but the developers aren’t easily discouraged.

Basic mobile phones are common in Kenya. 80 percent of the population uses them because Kenya does not possess an extensive, reliable landline network. The same is true elsewhere in East Africa. The mobile games market is booming.”We’re counting on it,” said Daniel Okalany, head of Kola Studios, a game development company in Uganda.”We are hoping that smartphones will sell faster than all other mobile phones. That’s why we are making apps for mobile phones and not for PCs or the Internet,” he said.

Kola’s games include Mosquito Rush in which you have to swat some rather aggressive insects. They also offer apps that simulate traditional African card games. “We are helping to preserve African culture” said Okalany. “Everything that isn’t digitalized these days gets quickly forgotten. That’s why we want to preserve these games.”

Kikore said African games differ slightly from their European or American counterparts. “That doesn’t necessarily mean that these games are just for Africans. They have universal appeal. But we have African heroes, the settings are African or involve Africans in non-African settings,” he said.

At the moment it is not profitable to develop games solely for the African market. Most Africans cannot afford even the more inexpensive smartphones, let alone gaming apps for these devices. App stores are international anyway. The market for apps is worth billions of dollars and the competition is tough. “Nobody on this continent can earn his living from developing games. We all have day jobs and we develop games when we have time,” said Kikore.

Africa’s digital progress is growing faster and faster every year and the shear ingenuity of it’s smallest entrepreneurs right to it’s largest tech companies will ensure this pattern continues.