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Google starts taking payments for apps via Kenya’s M-Pesa service

Comments (0) Actualites, Africa, Business, Economy, Technology

NAIROBI (Reuters) – Google Play apps and games store has started accepting payments in Kenya through Safaricom’s mobile phone M-Pesa service to boost downloads in a market where many people do not have a credit card.

M-Pesa, which enables customers to transfer money and pay bills via mobile phone, has 27.8 million users in the nation of 45 million people where Google’s Android platform dominates. M-Pesa has been mimicked across Africa and in other markets.

“This is very important to the developer ecosystem in markets where credit card penetration is low,” said Mahir Sain, head of Africa Android partnerships at Google, which is owned by Alphabet Inc.

Safaricom has 13 million smart phones on its network, most of them using the Android platform. It partnered with London-based global payments platform provider, DOCOMO Digital, to enable users pay through M-Pesa, both firms said on Thursday.

Safariom started M-Pesa in 2007, offering money transfer services between users. It has grown to allow users to make payments for goods and services through thousands of merchants.

It also allows users to save, borrow and buy insurance, through partnerships with commercial banks.

 

(Reporting by Duncan Miriri; Editing by Edmund Blair)

 

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Kenya raises $2 bln Eurobond but concerns over deficit linger

Comments (0) Actualites, Africa, Economy, Infrastructure, Politics

NAIROBI (Reuters) – Kenya shook off a downgrade and the loss of access to an IMF standby credit facility to raise a $2 billion dollar bond at competitive yields, but market participants said on Thursday it still needs a credible plan to tackle its fiscal deficit.

Kenya received $14 billion worth of bids. It took just $1 billion in a 10-year note with a yield of 7.25 percent, and another $1 billion in a 30-year tranche with a yield of 8.25 percent, Thomson Reuters news and market analysis service IFR reported.

“They were in line with the yield curve,” said a fixed income trader in Nairobi.

The eventual yield reflected a tightening of the initial pricing area by about 30 basis points. It was close to the comparative yields for other African sovereigns like Nigeria, the trader said.

Last week, credit ratings agency Moody’s downgraded Kenya’s debt rating to B2 from B1 while officials were in the middle of the bond roadshow abroad, angering the government.

More bad news emerged on Tuesday, after the International Monetary Fund said it had frozen Kenya’s access to a $1.5 billion standby facility last June, after failure to agree on fiscal consolidation and delay in completing a review.

“They (the government) were able to weather the knocks of the Moody’s downgrade and the IMF issue,” said Aly Khan Satchu, a Nairobi-based independent trader and analyst.

But he warned that the government needed to convince investors it has a plan to tackle the fiscal deficit.

“People are worried about debt-to-GDP ratios and they want to see a stronger language about how this will be addressed,” he said.

Kenya’s total debt is about 50 percent of GDP, up from 42 percent in 2013. It has borrowed locally and abroad to build infrastructure like a new railway line from Nairobi to the port of Mombasa.

The finance ministry has published a plan to lower its fiscal deficit to 7 percent of GDP at the end of this fiscal year in June, from 8.9 percent in 2016/17, and to less than 5 percent in three years’ time.

Satchu said it was not enough for investors. They want to see more targeted infrastructure investments that will ensure a return, and attempts to reign in a ballooning public service wage bill and other recurrent expenditure.

“We have got to walk the talk. We are not even talking the talk yet,” he said.

 

(By Duncan Miriri. Editing by Katharine Houreld and Toby Chopra)

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IMF: Kenya’s $1.5 bln standby credit in place, but not accessible

Comments (0) Actualites, Africa, Economy

NAIROBI (Reuters) – Kenya’s $1.5 bln standby credit facility remains in place until the end of March 2018, but the country cannot access it because conditions have not been met, the International Monetary Fund said on Wednesday, clarifying comments given a day earlier.

“The precautionary… arrangement remains in place until end-March 2018,” the IMF said in a statement.

“Kenya continues to have access to resources since June subject to policy understandings to complete the outstanding reviews.”

On Tuesday, Jan Mikkelsen, IMF representative in Kenya, told Reuters that access to the two-year precautionary facility was lost in June because a review had not been completed due to Kenya’s extended election season.

The two-year precautionary facility, set to expire next month, was put in place in case of unforeseen external shocks that could put pressure on Kenya’s balance of payments.

The East African economy has not tapped the facility, which was preceded by a smaller standby one-year credit line in 2015, as foreign exchange reserves held by the central bank have soared to record highs.

 

CONCERNS OVER DEBT

“The facility is in place but permission to access it has been withdrawn,” said Kenyan economist Anzetse Were. “This comes at a bad time… we’ve seen Moody’s downgrade us to B2 from B1, and this is particularly important in the context of Kenya trying to raise a Eurobond.”

Senior government officials have just finished a marketing roadshow abroad, and they plan to issue dollar-denominated notes for a minimum of $1.5 billion soon.

The IMF has expressed concern over the fiscal deficit, but government officials have said borrowing is necessary to fund the government’s ambitious infrastructure plans, which were a key plank of President Uhuru Kenyatta’s successful re-election campaign.

Kenya’s total debt has risen to about 50 percent of GDP, from 42 percent in 2013, as it borrowed locally and abroad to build infrastructure like a new railway line from Nairobi to the port of Mombasa.

When Kenya secured the precautionary facility, IMF officials said it was recognition of the country’s stable economic fundamentals, as that type of facility is usually reserved for more developed emerging economies.

 

By Duncan Miriri

(Writing by Katharine Houreld; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

 

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Kenya government to guarantee $750 million in Kenya Airways debt

Comments (0) Latest Updates from Reuters

By Duncan Miriri

NAIROBI (Reuters) – Kenya will offer $750 million in guarantees to Kenya Airways’ existing creditors to help the heavily-indebted carrier secure financing from other sources to complete its recovery, a cabinet document showed on Tuesday. The guarantees, approved by the cabinet, will cover $525 million owed to the U.S. Exim Bank and the rest to local lenders, said the document seen by Reuters.

The airline, partly-owned by Air France KLM and the Kenyan government, has struggled to return to profit after tourist traffic slumped four years ago following a spate of attacks by Somalia-based Islamist militants.

The government will also convert its existing loans to the carrier into equity, it said. It was not immediately clear how much it has lent the carrier, but a source at the airline said it was a “significant” amount lent over time. The plan to guarantee the existing debt will be taken to the National Assembly for approval, the government said.

“The guarantees would be in exchange for material concessions to be provided as part of the financial restructuring which would secure future funding for the company,” the cabinet document said, without giving details on the concessions.

The government views the airline as a strategic asset, supporting other industries such as tourism and encouraging investments from abroad. Several international firms have set up their regional headquarters in Nairobi to take advantage of Kenya Airways’ extensive route network on the continent. Kenya Airways ferries 12,000 passengers a day on its fleet of Boeing and Embraer planes to destinations such as Juba and Accra.

At 1012 GMT, Kenya Airways shares were down 1.5 percent at 6.65 shillings.

The government would not provide additional cash as part of the restructuring of the airline, it added.

The debt owed to the U.S Exim bank is related to the financing of the purchase of the carrier’s Boeing planes. Kenya Airways says the financial restructuring will involve restructuring debt and securing additional capital to help dig itself out of a position of negative equity, and attain a better balance between cash flow and debt repayments.

 

(Reporting by Duncan Miriri; Editing by Elias Biryabarema and Mark Potter)

 

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World Bank to loan Kenya $1.1 bln for northern region, bank VP says

Comments (0) Africa, Business, Latest Updates from Reuters

NAIROBI (Reuters) – Kenya will get a World Bank loan of $1.1 billion for infrastructure projects in the country’s arid northern region, the bank’s vice president for Africa said.

The loan is the latest in series to Kenya, which amount to $5.5 billion, excluding the new package.

“It is an unprecedented financial commitment to this part of Kenya,” Makhtar Diop told Reuters in Nairobi over the weekend.

The funds will be used to build roads, improve water and energy supplies and support livestock keeping. They will have a maturity of 50 years and an interest rate of less than 1 percent. The package was prepared at the request of Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, Diop said.

He did not say when the full disbursement of the funds would take place, but technical work on some projects has already started. Projects to be funded with the facility included a modern road linking Isiolo, a town in the lower eastern region, with Mandera, a town close to the border with Somalia.

Diop said the World Bank expected Kenya’s economy to expand by 5.9 percent this year, close to the government’s forecast of 6 percent. It grew 5.6 percent last year.

“Kenya is doing pretty well in the Africa context and in the global context, but the ambition of the government is to sustain that growth rate and accelerate it,” he said.

To attain faster growth, the country needed to increase efficiency in state-owned firms and improve competitiveness, through investments in infrastructure.

Last week, the government forecast a higher budget deficit of 9.3 percent of gross domestic product for the fiscal year starting next month as it increases public investments.

“Overall the fiscal deficit is financeable,” Diop said, adding total debt was increasing but remained sustainable at about 50 percent of GDP.

The World Bank cut its average growth forecast for sub-Saharan Africa to 2.5 percent this year because of lower commodity prices.

Diop said the continent could attract investment because of higher returns than other regions of the world, but he said some African nations needed to avoid building up their dollar-denominated debt.

 

 

(By Duncan Miriri. Editing by Larry King)

 

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Kenya’s Safaricom to launch local rival to Uber

Comments (0) Africa, Business, Latest Updates from Reuters

NAIROBI (Reuters) – Kenya’s biggest telecoms company Safaricom is joining up with a local software firm to launch a ride-hailing company to take on Uber [UBER.UL] as it seeks new sources of revenue, its chief executive said.

Safaricom, which is 40 percent owned by Britain’s Vodafone, and Nairobi-based software developer Craft Silicon will launch the app called Littlecabs in the next three weeks, Safaricom CEO Bob Collymore told Reuters in an interview.

“It is effectively a rival for Uber,” he said. “It is a local competitor which will be cheaper and better for the local community.”

Uber operates in several African countries, including Kenya where it launched in early 2015, drawing customers by offering lower prices and cutting out haggling over fares. But regular taxi drivers have complained about its impact on business.

In March, the Kenyan authorities charged six men with attempted murder and malicious damage to property over an attack on an Uber taxi driver in February. [nL5N1713UX]

Safaricom will help develop the application, offer the network connectivity, put Wi-Fi in vehicles that will be signed up on Littlecabs, and use its mobile-phone based financial service M-Pesa to process payments, Collymore said.

Safaricom remains focused on its core businesses of offering calls, texts, Internet access and M-pesa but Collymore said it was seeking new sources of revenue.

“The direction of the company is to become a platform,” he said, citing partnerships with local banks that use M-pesa to lend money on mobile phones.

Safaricom has had a three-year partnership with M-Kopa, a company that connects customers to solar electricity, and is about to invest in a firm involved in education and another that helps jobseekers, Collymore said.

“When M-Pesa was launched it wasn’t launched as a big thing. It was just launched as a thing that was right in the edge. Now it is 20 percent of (Safaricom’s) revenue,” he said.

Littlecabs is unlikely to grow to that level but would offer a new revenue source and develop skills in the local community, he said.

Safaricom expects its earnings to rise in the financial year to next March on the back of increased data usage driven by the youth segment and higher sales of smart phones. [nL5N188101]

Revenue from calls rose 4 percent in the financial year ending March 2016, bucking the trend in other markets where voice revenues are falling.

Collymore said political protests, which have led to clashes between demonstrators and police, could dampen the outlook.

“It is not a question of who is right and who is wrong; these pictures are not helpful for investments,” he said.

 

(By Duncan Miriri. Editing by Edmund Blair and Susan Fenton)

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Nairobi establishes itself as one of Africa’s leading tech hubs

Comments (0) Africa, Business, Featured

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Nairobi leads the way as Africa’s most recognized tech hub and it is set to get bigger.

Nairobi has been establishing itself as a tech hub for several years now. The high numbers of STEM graduates that come through the doors of the several colleges around the city have helped sustain this reputation. However, it is only in the past few years that the entrepreneurial ethos which fuels startups has really begun to flourish.

As things stand, Nairobi still has an unemployment rate of 40%, but the government is hopeful that by investing in the technological talent pool of the city, startup companies will help address this problem.

Quite simply, startups create jobs but only in recent years has the proliferation of mobile phones and the internet in Nairobi allowed tech startups to prosper.

Investing in the infrastructure of growth

Nairobi has had the potential to explode as a thriving tech hub for some time, but without the average person having access to the technology to provide a large customer base, the progress of the city was stifled.

However, Internet penetration has rocketed, with 43% of the Kenyan population having access in 2014, compared with only 14% in 2010. In addition to this, by 2014 82% of Kenyans had a mobile phone. These factors are instrumental in opening up markets for tech-based startups.

A prime example of this is the 2010 startup M-Farm that allows farmers to get instant access to market prices and where they can buy and sell goods at the click of a mobile phone button. The business was set up by three women who wanted to help farmers cut out middle men and make a greater profit. Co-founder, Linda Kwamboka sums up the importance of technological access by saying, “Mobile phones are the best way to go (for business).”

The enterprising nature of local people, together with the government, has ensured that the city and nation do not miss out on the opportunities that a tech centered industry could provide. In 2010, Nairobi’s iHub opened, a large complex for investors, entrepreneurs and tech graduates to converge and develop new ideas. In only 6 years, the hub has spawned 170 startup companies and created over 1,300 new jobs.

iHub in Nairobi

iHub in Nairobi

The iHub complex now seeks to be entirely self-funded and one of its creators, Erik Hersman told Forbes magazine that, “A group of people are investing in the iHub in order to help us grow…The iHub’s mission is to catalyze the growth of the Kenyan tech ecosystem.”

To help sustain such growth, the Kenyan government partnered with the firm Nailab to create a technology program worth $1.6 million that would provide funding and educational support to entrepreneurs. The support has worked.

By 2014, technology accounted for 8.4% of Kenya’s GDP, but this is a proportion that is continually rising. In fact in the summer of last year, Bloomberg reported that Kenya’s tech industry could be worth $1 billion over the next 3 years.

A city evolving

Despite the development in Nairobi, it is obviously a long way off catching up with the hugely prosperous cities of the developed world. But this is something that could well change. The range of startups is already hugely diverse, from laptop manufacturers like Taifa to the likes of Rehau HomeGas, which creates micro-biogas equipment that runs off cow manure.

New hubs for innovation are opening, with both the aforementioned startups coming from the newly established Nairobi Industrial and Technology Park. Moreover, the Economist Intelligence Unit has predicted that by the end of this year, Nairobi will be one of the 40 fastest growing urban economies on the planet.

What seems likely to maintain this meteoric rise is that the government continues to commit itself to investing further in the city’s development as opposed to treating its new success as a finished task. The country’s grandest plans center on a Techno City, which they hope to have opened by 2025. This complex would provide housing and work spaces for 200,000 professionals. Bloomberg reported that major corporations such as Samsung and Blackberry are already expressing interest.

When the US President Barack Obama visited Kenya last year, he spoke of an emerging economy and entrepreneurial spirit within the country.

The attitude of Kenya’s government, graduates and the people working within its tech industries can perhaps be summed up by a line from Obama’s speech that drew warm applause:

“Because of Kenya’s progress, because of your potential, you can build your future right here, right now.”

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Profiles of 5 Promising Kenyan Startups

Comments (0) Africa, Business, Featured

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Following up on our article about the blossoming startup scene in Nairobi, Kenya, we’ve compiled a list of 5 promising Kenyan startups with a quick description of what they do.

 

1. iCow

iCow is an Agricultural Information Service SMS mobile phone application designed to help enhance the productivity of small-scale dairy farmers in Kenya. Aiming to help rural communities and farmers by giving them knowledge to develop as both farmers and businessmen, each farmer enters personalized details about their cows – whether that may be five or 500 – before receiving text messages and voice prompts with tailored instructions about the breeding and production patterns of their livestock. It helps farmers manage their stock and tackle challenges by tracking the estrus stages of their cows, providing the cost per liter of milk produced by their animals, helping them find the nearest vet and AI providers, and by giving information on breeding, nutrition, milk production efficiency and gestation, fodder production, hygiene and animal diseases. Following the 365-day cow cycle, farmers are assisted year round in making informed decisions and reducing risk.

The app runs on even the most basic mobile phone, and each text message costs about 10 Kenyan shillings, or $0.10.

 

Zatiti

2. Zatiti 

Launched in 2013, Zatiti is a web platform which helps entrepreneurs create e-commerce websites (which are M-PESA compatible). 81% of sellers in Kenya are looking for a mobile e-commerce solution to reach the 98% of Kenyans who access the web through mobile devices, but coders and developers are hard to find. The Zatiti platform requires no technical expertise from customers, handling everything from set-up to the design of customized themes. And clients can easily update their platforms with the website builder’s simple content management system. Empowering entrepreneurs, users can also monitor revenue and sales orders, and receive messages through the service.

Zatiti charges a 2% transaction fee and a monthly subscription fee depending on type of plan, along with offering premium templates, increased storage space, and increased product variety.

soko

3. Soko

Soko is a mobile driven e-commerce platform that enables artisans to engage with the international marketplace, even if they lack access to the internet or a bank account. In a similar mold to Etsy, Soko works with artisans to create modern, ethical jewelry, handmade from sustainable materials, and then helps them to sell their products to a global audience of brands, retailers, and online customers around the world. Its niche: all that can be done via only SMS. An SMS entry form allows artisans to create online storefronts, profiles, and upload images. As they text the information is transcribed as metadata which is automatically uploaded to the Soko website. It uses a peer recruitment model whereby store owners recruit and mentor new sellers. Soko says: “With our tools, any talented artisan can participate in the global marketplace, becoming a driver of social and economic development in their community.”

Based in Nairobi, so far the company has 12 employees around the world, about 250 artisans currently featured on the site, and has raised close to $1 million in seed funding.

m-farm

4. M-Farm 

M-Farm is a SMS mobile phone application, compatible with even basic mobile phones, which aims to empower African farmers. M-Farm cuts out the middle man by connecting farmers directly with buyers. It provides them with real-time food pricing information, allowing them to sell their produce at much fairer prices. Making small farmers more visible, it offers a group selling tool where farmers can team up to bring their accumulated produce to drop off points and the SMS system then promotes what they have to sell. And it offers a group buying tool, allowing farmers to pool resources to get better prices for things like fertilizer. Kenyan CEO and founder Jamila Abass says she founded MFarm in 2010 after reading about how farmers have been “oppressed for decades and disconnected in terms of information”.

A SMS for a single crop is the cost of a text message. The company counts nearly 17,000 users in Kenya, and projects one million by the end of next year.

sokotext

5. SokoText

SokoText uses mobile phone text messages to aggregate demand for food in Kenyan slums and unlock wholesale prices for micro-entrepreneurs. The company says “Small-scale vegetable sellers and kiosk owners are the gatekeepers and key players of food accessibility in urban slums. Yet a lack of capital means that they cannot afford to buy in bulk and pay to travel long distances to markets every day to buy just enough stock that will help them get by. SokoText leverages the widespread and increasing use of mobile phones in slums to solve these problems. With SokoText, they can boost their business while becoming the key agents that empower people living in the slums to eat better and healthier.”

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Kenya’s Tech Renaissance: Nairobi Set to Become Africa’s Key Technology Hub

Comments (2) Africa, Business, Featured

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Mobile and internet penetration, a mobile economy, developing tech ecosystems, and government support are set to make Nairobi Africa’s key technology hub.

Over the last half-decade, Kenya has rapidly developed into a country of digital innovation, and its capital Nairobi, dubbed Silicon Savannah, looks set to become Africa’s key technology hub. With a fast-growing urban economy and a young and digitally savvy population, it is already easier to pay for a taxi by mobile phone in Nairobi than it is in London or New York. Since 2002 Kenya’s technology services sector has grown to more than £300 million (2013) up from just £11 million. And VC funding for African startups, which hit more than $400 million in 2014, is projected to grow to at least $1 billion by 2018. Google, Intel, Nokia, Vodafone, and Microsoft have already opened sites in Nairobi. And IBM has chosen the city for its first African research lab (a $100 million Innovation Centre).

A mobile economy 

At root, this technology renaissance has been spurred by mobile phone penetration. Back in 1999, Kenya, as with most of the Africa region, had a rudimentary telecommunications infrastructure and counted only 300,000 landline telephones. Over the last decade, it has proved easier and cheaper for the country to bypass the analogue age entirely and instead move directly to installing mobile phone networks. Mobile phones are also easily accessible, cheap, and practical, especially when compared with a computer. And unsurprisingly in just a few years mobile phone penetration in Kenya has grown from less than 20% to 85% (it’s 89% in the US).

At the same time, Kenya lacks a traditional banking infrastructure. Until recently, for example, the high proportion of Kenya’s urban population working to support family members in the countryside relied on hand delivery or sending cash through bus drivers. And the combination of these two elements has created the perfect setting for a mobile payments-based economy.

In 2007, state-owned telecoms company Safaricom launched M-PESA, the SMS-based money-transfer system (pesa is Swahili for “money”). Converting even the most basic phones into roaming banking devices, M-PESA spread at speed. And by 2012, more than 17 million Kenyans (70% of the adult population) were using mobile payments, the highest percentage of any country in the world. Now more than $320 million dollars are transferred via Kenyan mobile phones each month as huge swathes of previously unbanked customers join the digital economy. Safaricom also sells solar-powered charging equipment to expand the market.

mpesaGovernment support

With a 40% unemployment rate to solve, the Kenyan government is also supporting the country’s technology renaissance, determined to leverage the opportunity to create jobs and drive sustainable economic growth for the next generation.

In 2009, the East African Marine system, backed by the Kenyan government, laid a 5,000 km fiber-optic undersea cable linking the coastal town of Mombasa with the UAE. And since this time, internet penetration has grown to just under 67% of the population. This is a significant growth from 2010 when internet penetration was around just 14%.

It has created a fertile marketplace for e-commerce and tech businesses, in which the government continues to invest. In 2013 the government formed an Information Communication Technology (ICT) Authority. It laid out a policy roadmap, Vision 2030, focusing on digital infrastructure (e.g. a new fiber-optic network). And it is currently building a multi-billion dollar “techno city” called Konza with aims to create 200,000 jobs by 2030. Located 60 km south of Nairobi, a 2,000-hectare plot will offer office parks for science and technology firms, a university, retail outlets, and residential facilities. Tax breaks are also being offered to companies willing to move to the new city.

A tech ecosystem

A tech ecosystem is also starting to emerge. Where traditional ecosystems may be lacking, Silicon Savannah is filling the gap with innovation hubs and accelerators. The trend has been led in part by Ushahidi co-founder Erik Hersman who considers the future of tech in Kenya reliant on hubs to bring together technology entrepreneurs, young programmers, creative professionals, and investors, along with their ideas and innovation. “Hubs in major cities with a focus on young entrepreneurs… Part open community workspace (co-working), part investor and VC hub and part idea incubator. The nexus point for technologists, investors, [and] tech companies,” says Hersman. Ushahidi established the iHub innovation Centre in 2010, and since then it has been part of creating 152 startups and counts 15,000 members. iHub has also partnered with the ICT Authority on several initiatives, has hosted speakers including Yahoo’s Marissa Mayer, and has driven an upsurge in different types of innovation hubs across the continent.

Accelerators are also part of the emerging ecosystem. A particularly successful example is Nailab, which launched in 2011 to work with early stage globally scalable startups. So far it has incubated 30 companies, and in 2013 it partnered with the government to launch a $1.6 million technology program providing entrepreneurs with access to capital, education, and contacts within the industry. Tech competitions are also emerging. For example, the IPO48 startup competition brings together over 100 Kenyan entrepreneurs, programmers, designers, and project managers at a time, to build a new mobile or web service over the course of two days.

In Kenya, the stars of mobile and internet penetration, a mobile economy, developing infrastructure, and government support have aligned, and there are great opportunities ahead. And as its global reputation for innovation continues to grow, the country has the chance to future-proof itself both as an economic driver and Africa’s key technology hub.

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