The Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) has definitely disrupted life across the globe while forcing people into self-isolation for an indefinite period. Despite all the gloom and doom, one way of life that has proved to be of good use during this time of uncertainty is the internet.
While we are stuck in our homes, we have this global system of interconnected computer networks that allows us to watch our favourite shows on Netflix and even communicate with friends and family through social media platforms. Besides its use for leisure and entertainment, the internet has proven to be vital for several businesses, particularly on the African continent.
Jumia, the renowned Pan-African e-commerce company, is using its digital network to battle the COVID-19 outbreak. Just last Friday, representatives from Jumia announced that they would be donating face masks and other healthcare facilities to ministries in Kenya, Ivory Coast, Morocco, Nigeria and Uganda.
In addition, Jumia has planned to reduce its fees on the Jumia Pay finance product in order to advocate digital payments as opposed to cash, according to Tech Crunch, which also reports that the company plans to work with several health ministries across various African countries and vows to use its website, as well as its mobile platforms to share important messages on COVID-19.
Most corporate entities, including American chambers over the region, business schools, etc., are holding workshops and conferences virtually.
Some private schools, even in Nigeria, are transiting to virtual classes in this world of the new normal.
Mobile service providers, such as Safaricom, Airtel, and Telkom have implemented mobile money systems, which allow their subscribers to transfer money through the use of apps.
According to Kahwa Tungu, Safaricom recently announced that customers can send money for free for all transactions of Ksh 1,000 and below, within a total period of 90 days.
There are companies that are also expanding their outreach with the presence of e-commerce. This is the case for Copia Global Inc. in Kenya. According to Bloomberg, the company takes orders, from kitchen appliances to tinned foods, and delivers these items to remote parts of the country. This is made possible by the agents they have contracted to the company, who own businesses that may be in need of these items.
The report from Bloomberg further notes that Copia’s sales from the e-commerce business are growing at a rate of 15% every month in Kenya. This shows that the internet has a significant role in the future growth of online businesses.
There is measured optimism in utilizing internet in this manner due to the inability of people in remote areas of the African continent to have access.
As at 2017, the World Bank estimated that only about 25% of the population in Sub-Saharan Africa had access to the internet; however, according to Engoo, that number increased in recent times to 40%.
Engoo’s report also indicates that 47.1% of Nigeria’s population had access to internet in 2018, mostly through the use of mobile phones. This number increased to 74% in June 2019; however, only 24% of Nigerians were accessing the internet through computers. The percentage is much lower in the rural areas.
A second hindrance to internet access is electricity. Obviously, without the availability of electricity, there would not be as much internet penetration. Brookings Institute stated that Africa had an average 43% access rate to electricity.
However, there have been marginal improvements over the last couple of years. According to General Electric (G.E), the company installed its 100th power plant in Sub-Saharan Africa, as well as an installed base of over 300 turbines in 22 countries on the continent.
The internet is definitely the future and it is one that would produce maximum profits, particularly during this indefinite lockdown period.
I implore all Africans to make good use of the internet during this period, not only to keep themselves “busy” or to entertain themselves, but to also find new avenues of generating income.
African leaders should learn from this situation and prioritize the infrastructure growth, and regulatory reforms that will help improve the internet, and encourage local and foreign investment in this area.
Remember, things turn out best for the people who make the best of the way things turn out.