June 2020

Updates
Zimbabwe bans mobile money platforms and stock exchange

The Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) banned all mobile money transactions as well as trade on the local stock exchange in a bid to slow down the country’s declining currency. Zimbabwe has been struggling with its monetary policy since the 2000s when the United States of America and others imposed trade sanctions. The country banned the use of foreign currencies in 2019 when it reintroduced the Zimdollar.

Mobile money is a commonly used means of payment, with mobile transactions accounting for 84.8% of transaction volumes in 2019. Local company Econet Wireless, which has over 10 million subscribers, stated that it would consult with the government over the measures. Panapress reports that RBZ has since loosened the ban and allowed limited payments for utilities like water and power of up to 5000 Zimdollars.

High hopes as Malawi holds historic election and peaceful handover of power

Malawians are hopeful for the restoration of democracy after the country became the first in Africa to hold a peaceful presidential re-election and hand over power to the opposition. The country’s 2019 presidential election was annulled by the constitutional court in February this year, after the court found that there was tampering with the votes in the transmission of results over the Internet. Moreover, there was a partial Internet shutdown prior to the election. The re-election was peaceful, with the Internet remaining on. The new president was sworn into office on 28 June in a ceremony that was streamed online.

South Africa announces commencement date for parts of privacy law

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa announced that sections 2 to 38; 55 to 109; 111; and  114 (1), (2) and (3) of the Protection of Personal Information Act (POPI) would commence on 1 July 2020. POPI was enacted in 2013, but most of its provisions did not come into effect immediately. The provisions coming into effect will regulate the lawful processing of data and the general enforcement of the Act. They will require issuance of codes of conduct by the information regulator.

The president has directed the South African Human Rights Commission to hand over all functions related to the oversight of data protection to the information regulator by 30 June 2021.

ECOWAS Court fines Togo for Internet shutdowns

The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Court of Justice has fined Togo US$3400 after ruling that Togo’s Internet shutdowns were illegal and an affront to its citizens’ right to freedom of expression. This follows a petition filed by Amnesty International citing government ordered Internet shutdowns on several dates in 2017. The petition was supported by civil society organisations working in Africa, some of which filed briefs as friends of the court.

The ruling sets an important precedent for the region where there has been a rise in government ordered Internet shutdowns.

AfDEC calls for a more equitable Internet following COVID-19

The African Declaration on Internet Rights and Freedoms (AfDEC), an advocacy coalition on digital rights in Africa, has issued a position paper on the Internet in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The paper calls for a more equitable Internet, pointing out policies and laws that many African governments need to change in order to facilitate Internet access for all. According to the paper, ‘there is a need for a stronger campaign against consumer-facing taxes on data and internet services, which have had long-standing effects of in-creasing connectivity costs for consumers, a scenario likely to worsen during the pandemic. Tax and licensing regimes of note in the region include the social media tax in Uganda, and licensing fees for bloggers and other online content producers in Tanzania and Kenya'.

AfDEC has also raised concerns over growing trends during COVID-19, such as limiting the freedom and access of information; censorship; and the violations of the right to privacy with a ‘lack of transparency by governments and telecommunications companies in the sharing of information for contact tracing and distribution of aid and relief funds’.

Zambia ratifies AU Convention on Cyber Security and Personal Data Protection

Zambia’s cabinet has ratified the African Union (AU) Convention on Cyber Security and Personal Data Protection – also known as the Malabo convention, which requires 15 ratifications to come into force. The convention harmonises cyber-laws in Africa and creates avenues for cross-border cooperation. Zambia is the sixth state to ratify the convention, which was adopted in 2014. The last country to deposit an instrument of ratification with the AU, was Rwanda in June 2019.

May 2020

Updates
Burundi government shuts down popular social media platforms

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

April 2020

Updates
Alphabet’s Loon deploys Internet connectivity balloons to Kenya for first commercial service launch

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

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

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

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.

March 2020

Updates
Ghana launches universal QR payment system

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.