The Smart Africa Alliance is a project with the ambitious goal of creating a common digital market spanning 32 countries. Currently it is in a lobbying position, trying to secure commitment from governments, while it is also developing blueprints and processes that could be used in a more immediate and tactical way for cross-border business.
Its latest member is Afriwave Telecom of Ghana. Its contribution centers on its status as the only licensed Interconnect Clearinghouse (ICH) operator in Ghana, providing these services to the countries four MNOs – MTN, Vodafone, AirtelTigo and Glo Mobile. It also provides these services to international wholesale carriers that route traffic into Ghana.
Afriwave hopes to place its framework into the Alliance’s One Africa Network project as the potential basis for a regional interconnect clearinghouse that would be supported by many operators of these services in Africa.
Another potential enabler of expanded pan-regional frameworks could be M-pesa, the mobile money service that started life as a Vodafone/Safaricom offering in Kenya and now has 50m active monthly users across the continent and in some Asian markets. Largely aimed at the ‘unbanked’, M-pesa allows people to deposit and withdraw money with a network of agents, or to pay for goods and exchange money via SMS.
M-pesa is now available in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt, Ethiopia, Ghana, Lesotho, Mozambique, South Africa and Tanzania. In Kenya, it has driven a 56% increase in access to financial services between 2006 and 2019, and has been credited with lifting 2% of the country’s population out of extreme poverty.
Nick Read, Group CEO of Vodafone, commented: “M-pesa has helped millions of people to access financial services for the first time and millions more to improve their lives, start businesses and gain control of their finances. We are still in the early stages of M-pesa’s development and will continue to invest to capture this significant opportunity – building value for shareholders.”
Three months ago, M-pesa introduced its Super App, which supports a wide range of tasks including online shopping and access to government services, from a single app.
An open API is used by more than 45,000 developers and 200,000 small enterprises. More than 500,000 businesses transact more than £5bn worth of services and sales each month on the service.