7 Predictions For The African Tech Scene In 2019

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Written by Tom Jackson

The African tech space continues to develop at speed, and predictions for 2019 suggest a continuation of that progress across tech sectors.

Spaces as divergent as fintech and e-health are on the move, major corporates are doubling down on the continent, and startups are raising funding like never before.

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All of this development has the potential to have real social and economic impact for people and businesses across Africa. But what can we expect to see more of in 2019?

Mobile operators feel the heat

For all the developments in the African tech space, it is the original drivers – the mobile operators – who have been having the toughest time. MTN has become bogged down in a government squabble in Nigeria, Millicom is shedding its African units, and a recent Alliance for Affordable Internet (A4AI) report found mobile operator pricing was hindering more people getting online. Business models will continue to feel the heat in 2019, with more operators following Safaricom’s lead by launching value added services such as Little Cabs, an online taxi hailing service.

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African mobile operator business models are under pressure, and firms like Safaricom need to evolve. Image – AP Photo – Sayyid Abdul Azim

Digital banking and fintech consolidation

Fintech startups have spent the past few years unbundling banks, but the process of rebundling has now begun. Payments companies are adding lending services to their products, while insurtech companies are getting into invest-tech. The rebundling of the bank is also increasingly taking place in partnership with these banks, or companies like Mastercard and Visa, and we should expect to see more consolidation in this space in 2019.

Rise of Francophone Africa

The World Bank’s launch of L’Afrique Excelle, a dedicated accelerator for Francophone Africa-focused startups, confirmed what we all knew already – the region is on the rise. Long neglected in favour of Anglophone markets like South Africa, Kenya and Nigeria, countries such as Senegal, Ivory Coast and Cameroon are producing some seriously innovative solutions and taking in real investment, something that is only set to increase as the World Bank’s influence is felt.

Investors double down

It isn’t just in Francophone Africa where investment is on the rise, however. It seems that 2018 will go down as the best year on record for tech startup funding in Africa, but all reasonable observers would probably bet on 2019 to beat it. Spaces like fintech, energy, agriculture, health and logistics are taking in massive amounts of cash, and you can expect this to continue as more international and local investors see the benefits of marrying good returns with real impact.

AI ups its game

Some spaces have been slow burners thus far in Africa, and artificial intelligence (AI) is one of them. The AI market in the Middle East and Africa was estimated to be worth just $66 million in 2017, but it is growing. Google has opened an AI lab in Ghana, dedicated funds are launching, and there are innovative startups using AI across a variety of sectors. This is certainly an area to watch in 2019.

Undisrupted sectors see big changes

Some of the sectors AI is helping modernize include manufacturing and agriculture, spaces that have remained relatively impervious to disruption in spite of all the innovation going on around the continent. Yet other sectors that previously appeared stuck in their ways are also being disrupted as the African tech ecosystem matures, such as insurance provision and mobility within cities. As the quality of tech improves, and sectors offering lower hanging fruit become saturated, we should see disruption seep further into the African way of life.

Government crackdowns continue

Only if governments let it, however! This year saw a host of African governments do all sorts of things to hinder the growth of the internet and negate its impact, from taxing social media and mobile money to shutting it down altogether. This is obviously not good, and this year’s A4AI report also laid out how bad policy is stopping more people from getting online. There is no reason at all to suggest any of this will stop in 2019, though obviously we hope it will. The African tech scene has too much potential to make people more free and create serious revenues for governments to look the other way.

Tom Jackson is co-founder of Disrupt Africa, a news and research company focused on the African tech startup ecosystem.