Mobile Apps: the future for Africa?

Earlier this month the CTICC in Cape Town was the venue for the Apps World Africa 2011 conference and exhibition. One of the aims of the conference was to explore the potential of mobile applications to assist in the development of the globe's second largest continent. The conference brought together the telcos, handset manufacturers, software developers, government ministries and organisations, marketing houses and more. The conference was aimed at thoroughly exploring whether Apps are the

500m mobile users

Are Mobile Apps the future for Africa?
Are Mobile Apps the future for Africa?

The potential for Apps to go far beyond games, entertainment and publishing was discussed during the conference. With a total population of just over one billion, 50% of whom are already mobile users, Africa as a whole lacks infrastructure – especially in the areas of health, agriculture, banking, and education.

Apps have been acclaimed as one of the solutions. The potential of apps to change the landscape of Africa is boundless. Increased literacy, widespread access to healthcare, farming and agricultural aids and more is already being facilitated by mobile apps.

A number of companies exhibited at the conference, including Blackberry, Sony Ericsson, Smatoo, Blue Label, Nokia and Microsoft just to name a few. There were prominent names in the tech industry of South Africa which included: Bret St Clair from Google, Raymond Buckle the Chairman of MMA South Africa, Henk Kleynhans CEO of Skyrove, Frans Joubert Executive Director MTN Group, Philip Barber Managing Director at ThoughtFaqtory.

World of Avatar CEO, Alan Knot-Craig Jr spoke about venture capital funding in Africa. He highlighted the lack of funding for a number of South African start-ups. Investors in Africa require solid and well detailed business proposals based on traditional business methods where they are confident they will have good returns. They are not willing to invest in risky ideas in the new media sector.

Risky ideas

Foreign venture capitalists are entering the market, especially in Kenya and South Africa, in search of opportunities but they are not really convinced about some of the ideas the start-ups are developing. Brent St Clair from Google spoke about the growth of the Android platform and the mobile market in Africa.

A panel session, which included executives from MTN, Vodacom and Skyrove, discussed the effects of the growth of mobile apps for the mobile operators across Africa, opportunities for MNOs and other parties, increase in data-oriented infrastructure in Africa and how the telco business model is evolving.

Hurdles do exist in development of the nascent apps industry – particularly challenges within billing infrastructure needed to monetise this market. However, the implementation of mobile money is providing a solution that is becoming integral to the business of mobile apps in Africa. There was a lot of reference to MPESA from Kenya.


There have been a number of discussions around the social media bubble in the technology media since the start of the year. During the Social Media workshop at the Apps World Conference there was a panel session which included executives of five start-ups based in South Africa. The participants believe there is no bubble in the future.

Most of the bubble speculation has been driven by a number of venture capital firms which have been pumping cash into a number of start-ups in the USA. The tech bubble, which happened just after the turn of century affected stock market investors who had invested in technology companies through IPOs and inflated stocks. The signs of the current bubble are apparent to some of the technology investors, experts and developers.

A large turnout at the conference confirmed growing interest in this field. A number of executives from technology companies, entrepreneurs and government officials are interested in the mobile applications business. Many South African companies have projects and partnerships with other companies across Africa in countries like Kenya, Ghana and Nigeria.

Topics covered

Operator case studies models and business models of app related own labels, and app store partnerships and liaisons

Handsets which has the most compelling offering in this market

Developers in the region challenges and success stories

Mobile money – rise of mobile money apps and how these interact with the banking sector

Apps for public services and health is this really the answer for Africa?

m-commerce for agriculture mobilising the farming community through apps

m-Education increasing literacy through apps

Apps for marketing & brand building – experiences of leading African brands with app related campaigns

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