What were the main digital policy regional updates in Africa? This space brings you the main updates month by month, summarised by the observatory's curators.
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Curated by Foncham Denis Doh
Burundi government shuts down popular social media platforms
20 May 2020 | Freedom of expression, Freedom of the Press
On 20 May 2020, Burundi shut down popular social media platforms WhatsApp, Facebook, Instagram, as well as Yahoo! Mail due to fear of violence during and after the presidential and legislative elections taking place that day. Less popular platforms in Burundi such as YouTube, TikTok, and Twitter remained operational.
There was no official statement from the government, but Willy Nyamitwe, the president’s communication advisor, stated in a tweet that contrary to rumours, the Internet was not shut down.
The elections took place amid the Coronavirus pandemic with no social distancing at the polling stations; however, voters were obliged to wash their hands before voting.
Intelsat partners with Mindset Networks to extend educational coverage in Africa
20 May 2020 | Online education, Telecommunications infrastructure
Intelsat, the operator of the world’s largest integrated satellite and terrestrial network, is partnering with Mindset Network NPC, which offers educational materials across Africa, to help students, teachers, and healthcare professionals benefit from free educational television and online content. Almost 300 million African students are affected by COVID-19 as schools are being closed.
The Regional VP for Africa at Intelsat, Brian Jakins, said that they will continue to deliver the Mindset educational resources to students in Africa, while the CEO of Mindset, Dylan Green, said that they were grateful to Intelsat for assisting their mission.
Global and African countries partner to deploy 2Africa
14 May 2020 | Telecommunications infrastructure
On 14 May 2020, China Mobile International, Facebook, MTN Globalconnect, Orange, stc, Telecom Egypt, Vodafone, and WIOCC announced their intention to build 2Africa - one of the largest global subsea projects linking 23 African countries, the Middle East, and Europe.
The partners chose Alcatel Submarine Network (ASN) to build the 37 000 km long cable, with landings in 16 African countries. With a capacity of 180 Tbps on key parts of its system, 2Africa has more than the combined capacity of all the submarine cables serving Africa today, and uses SDM1 technology which supports 16 fibres instead of 8.
The President of ASN, Alain Biston, said that they were honoured to have been chosen for a project which will help push Africa into the digital age.
Alphabet Loon and Vodacom partner to increase rural Internet access in Mozambique
13 May 2020 | Sustainable development, Access, Telecommunications infrastructure
On 13 May 2020, Alphabet Loon and Vodacom signed an agreement that Loon’s balloon powered Internet solution will be used to expand Vodacom’s network to inaccessible areas using a network of cell phone towers floating at 20km above the Earth. The technology will enable under-populated and geographically challenging areas such as the Cabo Delgado and Niassa provinces gain access to 4G mobile networks.
Vodacom Group CEO, Shameel Josub, said that the partnership is an example of how new technology can help bridge the digital divide in Africa. Loon’s CEO, Alastaire Westgarth, said that they were happy with the partnership which is a step towards serving more African users.
Rwanda deploys robots in treating COVID-19 patients
12 May 2020 | Artificial intelligence
Rwanda’s Minister of Health, Daniel Ngamije, disclosed on 8 May that CRURZ robots will soon be used to treat COVID-19 patients in order to reduce human contact. The robots will be used to measure a patient’s vitals such as temperature, blood pressure, and oxygen levels and report them to the doctors and nurses. Ngamije added that one robot can take the temperature of up to 200 patients per minute, and can connect the patient to talk with a doctor by video conference upon request.
The robots which are produced by the Kigali based Belgian robotic tech firm, Zorabots, will be used throughout the pandemic.
MTN Zambia partners universities to give access to online learning platforms
9 May 2020 | Capacity development, Online education
Copperbelt, Mulungushi, and the University of Zambia are three universities that have formed a partnership with the help of MTN Zambia to provide free access to e-learning platforms. According to MTN Zambia, the platform will help students learn from home for free, especially during COVID-19.
The CEO of MTN Zambia, Bart Hofker, said that they will do everything to support customers who are currently studying from home, and Chief Marketing Officer of MTN Zambia, Seun Soladoye, said that they hope the platform will improve the quality of education by occupying students as COVID-19 prevails
Money transfer group Mukuru acquires fintech Zoona’s assets in Malawi
6 May 2020 | Cryptocurrencies, Inclusive finance
On 5 May, African based international money operator and remittance, Mukuru, confirmed their purchase of Zoona’s operational and technological assets in Malawi. Zoona is an African based fintech company that helps entrepreneurs bring reliable financial services to underserved communities in Malawi and elsewhere.
Mukuru CEO, Andy Jury, said that the acquisition will widen Mukuru’s African footprint into urban and rural areas in Malawi, giving citizens better and safer means of sending money to loved ones.
Agents will benefit from being part of the Southern African Development Community (SADC); increasing their regional exposure and eventually increasing their earnings.
Nigerian senate asks the federal government to suspend the deployment of 5G networks
6 May 2020 | Telecommunications infrastructure, Access
On 5 May 2020, the senate requested that the federal government suspend the deployment of 5G networks in Nigeria due to growing concerns by scientists and medical experts on the health impact of 5G emissions.
Senator Uche Ekwunife who sponsored the motion said that 5G networks should be investigated in order to protect the citizens of Nigeria from possible health risks.
The senate requested that the concerned committee investigate the impact of the network and report to the plenary in two weeks, while the red chambers asked the ICT supervisory agency to suspend 5G deployment until it is proven safe.
Nigerian start-up Farmcrowdy joins the e-commerce space
4 May 2020 | E-commerce and trade
As a result of the COVID-19 crisis which is pushing more business operations online, Nigerian agric-tech start-up, Farmcrowdy, has launched an e-commerce platform called Farmcrowdy Foods. The one stop digital market platform gives customers access to quality affordable food at home.
Farmcrowdy which started in 2016 as a platform to connect small scale farmers to customers has empowered over 25 000 farmers, before innovating to Farmcrowdy Foods which enables clients to buy food online.
Liquid Telecom Zambia installs free Wi-Fi at COVID-19 quarantine centres
4 May 2020 | Telecommunications infrastructure, Access
Liquid Telecom is helping the Ministry of Public Health in Zambia by enabling free Internet connectivity at COVID-19 quarantine centres, allowing patients and healthcare workers to stay connected to their relatives. Their hope is that this will reduce the feeling of anxiety and isolation amongst the patients, while helping the staff to exchange important data over the network.
Curated by Jacob Odame-Baiden
Alphabet’s Loon deploys Internet connectivity balloons to Kenya for first commercial service launch
21 Apr 2020 | Telecommunications infrastructure
According to a news report, Loon, the Alphabet-owned high altitude broadband connectivity company aiming to bring high speed Internet to underserved and high-to-reach places has launched its first balloons to provide commercial Internet to Kenyans.
Following the approval by the government of Kenya to deploy its services, Loon has partnered with Telkom Kenya to run tests after which the service will be rolled out to subscribers of Telkom Kenya.
Zimbabwe cited as Africa’s biggest press freedom violator during The Coronavirus pandemic
10 Apr 2020 | Freedom of the Press
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) have raised concerns about press freedom in Africa with a special focus on Zimbabwe. According to the organisation, so far five reporters have been arrested whilst covering the Coronavirus lockdown in Zimbabwe.
Arnaud Froger, the head of RSF’s Africa desk, has stated that ‘Ever since the start of the epidemic, Zimbabwe has been at the forefront of those African countries that are restricting the freedom to inform in an arbitrary and extremely disproportionate manner’. Froger further stated that arresting journalists does not stop the pandemic, it also contradicts the presidential directives authorising journalists to work during the lockdown.
Facebook launches Coronavirus information centres across Africa
9 Apr 2020 | Content policy
Facebook has expanded its Coronavirus information centre initially launched in South Africa to several other countries in Africa. According to a news report, the information centres form part of several mechanisms Facebook is putting in place to support the global fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.
Facebook built the information centres on its platform in collaboration with national health partners across over 17 countries in Sub-saharan Africa to ensure that people can get access to accurate, reliable, and timely information from trusted health sources.
Jumia Food implements contactless delivery and cashless payments during Coronavirus pandemic
2 Apr 2020 | E-commerce and trade
African e-commerce platform, Jumia, has launched a contactless delivery of prepaid orders on its platform to boost efforts to ensure the safety of their consumers, agents and partners during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to a report, Jumia customers can pay for products through the JumiaPay payment solution and have orders delivered without physical contact or exchange of cash with delivery agents.
Curated by Grace Mutung'u
Ghana launches universal QR payment system
26 Mar 2020 | Inclusive finance
The Bank of Ghana has begun issuing universal quick response(QR) codes for use in inter bank payment. The system was launched by Vice President Dr Mahamudu Bawumia, who explained that the system was targeted at all merchants including those in the informal sector. ‘Any merchant can have a universal QR Code including chop bar operators, food vendors, barbers, carpenters or masons musicians, shoe shine boys, khebab sellers, market traders, trotros, taxis, churches, mosques, schools, funeral committees, wedding organizers’ he said. The system, which is hosted by the Ghana Interbank Payment System (GhPSS) gives customers the option of scanning through a smartphone or the use of unstructured supplementary service data (USSD).
Governments embrace e-government
24 Mar 2020 | Sustainable development
African governments are moving government services online to encourage social distancing in the wake of the coronavirus. The government of Benin launched a new e-business registration platform while Kenya’s President signed into law a new bill that recognises e-documents as official documents.
MTN cuts mobile transaction fees across markets in the wake of coronavirus
23 Mar 2020 | Sustainable development, Net neutrality and zero-rating
Telecommunications giant MTN has taken steps to mitigate the effects of coronavirus across its major markets in Africa. In a blogpost, the South Africa based company announced a range of measures from free data packages to lowered mobile money transaction fees. South African and Nigerian subscribers will get free access to MTNs messaging app Y’ello while those in Ghana, Sudan, Rwanda, Zambia, and Cameroon will get varied reductions to some sites and services. MTN has 251 million subscribers.
DRIF 2020 postponed
20 Mar 2020 | Human rights principles, Sustainable development
The annual Digital Rights and Inclusion Forum (DRIF) has been postponed to a date to be announced. THe organiser of the forum, Paradigm Initiative explained that the event, which was planned to be held between 21-23 April, was postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic. The meeting, which brings together digital rights activists and related actors was to take place in Abuja, Nigeria. In the meantime, Paradigm released a report on the state of digital rights in Africa that was to be launched at the event.
Ghana waives mobile money transaction fees
20 Mar 2020 | Inclusive finance
The Central Bank of Ghana has waived mobile money fees for transactions below GH₵100 (USD$18) for the next 3 months. This is to facilitate cashless transactions in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. At the same time, the regulator has increased mobile money daily limits and doubled the capacity that digital wallets can hold. To ease registration, existing phone subscribers are allowed to automatically enrol for a mobile money minimum know-your-customer (KYC) account.
Ghana election preparations continue
18 Mar 2020 | Digital identities
Ghana’s electoral management body, the Electoral Commission, has issued a statement announcing plans to continue with preparation of the voters roll in spite of the coronavirus pandemic. This comes after the President banned public meetings to contain the spread of the virus. The commission plans to integrate voter registration Ghana’s new digital ID, GhanaCard.
DStv offers news channels for free
17 Mar 2020 | Sustainable development
African satellite television provider DStv is offering news channels for free in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. DStv has opened BBC World, CNN, eNCA, SABC News, Newzroom Afrika, and Euronews Now for free to all viewers, including those who do not have a DStv subscription. The complimentary packages are also available online. DStv which is owned by Multichoice Africa was launched in 1995. It has around 11.9 million subscribers spread across sub-Saharan Africa.
Kenya lowers mobile money transaction charges in response to coronavirus
16 Mar 2020 | Inclusive finance
The Central Bank of Kenya has issued emergency directives for mobile money use aimed at reducing the handling of cash. This comes after Kenya registered the third case of coronavirus, necessitating a raft of measures for curbing the spread of the disease. Education as well as social gatherings were suspended, while banks and telecom companies were asked to take measures to facilitate cashless transactions. Under the Central Bank directive, fees for mobile money transactions below KSh 1000 (USD$10) have been waived. Transactions, as well as daily limits, have also been revised upwards while charges for transfers between mobile money wallets and bank accounts have been eliminated. Two of the country’s mobile network operators, Safaricom and Airtel have implemented the directive.
ID4Africa 2020 postponed
9 Mar 2020 | Digital identities
The largest identity event in the Global South, ID4Africa, has been postponed to 28-30 October due to the coronavirus pandemic. The event was originally planned to take place between 2-4 June in Marrakech, Morocco. ID4D brings together policymakers, governments, vendors, academics, and other stakeholders in digital identification.
Curated by Foncham Denis Doh
Murder mystery haunts Vodacom Lesotho
18 Feb 2020 | Privacy and data protection
Vodacom Lesotho may lose its license for allegedly sharing phone records in a murder investigation. The Prime Minister, Thomas Thabane and his wife are suspected of murdering the prime minister’s estranged wife, Lipolelo Thabane.
According to media reports, cell phone records provided by Vodacom showed that Thabane’s phone was used to call someone from the crime scene at the time the crime took place. The police then asked the prime minister to explain who he was calling and why.
The Lesotho Communications Authority slapped Vodacom with a series of penalties, claiming it did not follow the law.
Vodacom partners with Amazon web services to provide cloud services
14 Feb 2020 | Capacity development, Internet of Things (IoT), Cloud computing
Vodacom, a connectivity provider, is partnering with AWS, a cloud provider, to consume and resell cloud service is in Africa. Vodacom group CEO, Shameel Joosub, said that Vodacom will move more services to the cloud for more efficiency and fast data analysis. Vodacom with its large market share will resell AWS services, and the AWS platform will be used by Vodacom to build services such as: business intelligence as a service, chabot as a service, security as a service, and even Internet of things as a service.
In 2020, Vodacom will begin moving its services to the AWS cloud. It plans to build an AWS cloud centre of excellence and train its staff.
Liquid Telecom SA to supply Internet Solutions with wholesale 5G
14 Feb 2020 | Telecommunications infrastructure, Access, Digital standards
Liquid Telecom South Africa, a submarine cable provider, has partnered with Internet Solutions (IS), an Internet service provider, to supply wholesale 5G connectivity for their customers. Reshaad Sha, CEO of Liquid Telecom SA said that technologies like SD-WAN, the Internet of Things, and cloud computing used by local businesses need high quality, high capacity, and more reliable connectivity for maximum performance.
Setumo Mohabi, managing executive for Internet Solutions, said that IS has improved its networking model to provide a high performance hybrid network that combines many WAN transport services to give customers full bandwidth usage for high availability and application performance.
Malawi draws up new cybersecurity guidelines to protect finance
12 Feb 2020 | Consumer protection, Privacy and data protection, Critical infrastructure, Network security
The Reserve Bank of Malawi (RBM) has implemented new rules, the Information and Cyber Security Risk Management Guidelines, to guide banks to overcome cybersecurity risks.
Governor Dalitso Kabambe, registrar financial institution RBM, said that poorly managed cybersecurity risks can disturb the financial industry by causing denial of service to customers, exposure of private information, deletion of records, and data management problems.
John Kapito, executive director of the Consumers Association of Malawi, said that the high risk faced by the banking industry necessitates constant changes in cybersecurity policy.
Management of information and cybersecurity risk, strengthening banks information security, and the protection of critical infrastructure are part of the rules.
Rise of mod apps in Sub-Saharan Africa
13 Feb 2020 | Network security
Studies conducted in Kenya, South Africa, and Nigeria on 230 million app sessions from more than 21 000 apps and 4 000 panellists by Caribou Data shows that mod apps, whatsapp clones - such as GBwhatsapp and FMwhatsapp - are becoming more popular in Sub-Saharan Africa due to their additional functionalities. GBwhatsapp, has 5% of total sessions per user, compared to Facebook which has 3%, and is the sixth app in terms of usage.
Bryan Pon, co-founder of Caribou Data, said however that there is no safety assurance with these applications, since they are not to be found in the Google Play store, thus exposing the users to malware.
New online payment solution to curb cyber fraud
13 Feb 2020 | E-commerce and trade, Cybercrime
Kenya’s fintech startup, JointPesa, in partnership with Fineserve Africa, has launched an online payment solution to protect users from fraud. The application enables users to carry out transactions without fear of defaults, safety, or product losses.
Valentine Kilonzo, JointPesa founder, said that cyber fraud is an obstacle to the adoption and growth of e-commerce in the country, and the application aims to eliminate online thieves.
The application synchronises digital payment solutions such as mobile payments with an e-wallet, so that buyers must make a deposit in their e-wallets before buying goods and services.
Facebook and partners across Africa work together for a better Internet on Safer Internet Day
11 Feb 2020 | Network security, Child safety online, Capacity development
On 11 February 2020, Facebook partnered with nine non-profit organisations and government agencies in Africa, to raise awareness on Internet safety and security, as they celebrated Safer Internet Day with the theme ‘Together for a better Internet’. This year’s partners were from South Africa, Kenya, Nigeria, Ghana, Madagascar, Tanzania, and Zambia.
Jocelyne Muhutu-Rémy, strategic media partnership manager for Facebook Sub Saharan Africa, said that they offer many tools and platforms to give people control over their experience, and that they are working together with partners to raise awareness on the practices, resources, and tools available for online security.
ADCA prepares for greater investment in 2020
7 Feb 2020 | Telecommunications infrastructure, Sustainable development, Access, Data governance
The Africa Data Centers Association (ADCA) is an membership-driven organisation which aims to help members with challenges such as data sovereignty, bandwidth costs, latency, and IT computing power. They disclosed that ‘Africa's datacentre market features 85 competitors from 54 countries within a continent that is home to 1.3billion people, and with an overall geographic area similar to Paris or Amsterdam, it is ripe for expansion and investment.’
Fatoumata Sarr, chairperson ADCA, said that there are infrastructure and technical challenges in Africa, such as developing an innovative and efficient cooling solution and bridging connectivity gaps in landlocked countries. Sarr added that skills on data centre management and maintenance, with solid operational procedures are necessary.
World Bank calls for flexible drone regulations in Africa
4 Feb 2020 | Telecommunications infrastructure
On 3 February 2020, at the inauguration of the Lake Kivu Drone Challenge (LKC), Benedict Eijbergen from the World Bank called for flexible drone policies in Africa to encourage both big and small companies to operate.
The LKC is an African Drone Forum (ADF) activity, lastly held in Tanzania in 2019 and dominated by foreigners. This year, in addition to the foreign drones, the OMTDTZ Bamboo drone designed by eight Tanzanian students and made of bamboo sticks took part. It flew for two minutes to an altitude of 100m.
World Bank appoints Progressus for expansion of African Regulatory Watch
4 Feb 2020 | Taxation, Access
The Progressus Corporation announced its selection to head phase two of the African Regulatory Watch Initiative (RWI). RWI is set up to help the government with the challenges of broadband market growth such as: connecting the unconnected, fair competition, affordable data costs, justified taxation, innovation, and new economic models.
While phase one of the initiative improved broadband development in some countries, phase two is expected to do even more .
Progressus, which is currently analysing each country's telecom industry, will analyse the connection between regulation enforcement and market growth, and finally produce the RWI index that will assess all the countries.
Zimbabwean entrepreneur turns tree into a wi-fi hub
3 Feb 2020 | Telecommunications infrastructure, Access, Sustainable development, Online education
On 3 February 2020, William Sachiti, a UK based Zimbabwean artificial intelligence expert and entrepreneur published an open-source technology called Trees of Knowledge to improve educational access in Africa using smartphones.
The technology uses a tree or rural landmark with a microcomputer to broadcast a wi-fi connection, giving access to free educational content on any mobile device within a radius of 100 metres. A solar-powered battery charging station is also available for users.
Sachiti said that the technology is a solution to the challenges of low 3G coverage, high data costs, and phone power, faced by education through smartphones in Africa.