Africa: Never Let a Good Crisis Go to Waste - COVID-19 As the Midwife of Changes in Digital Behavior

London — Behavior often changes in response to a crisis and there's probably been no bigger global crisis than the current Covid-19 pandemic. In this Top Story Russell Southwood looks at how some of those changes in behavior are emerging but also how this kind of change is complex and not always positive for everyone.

Winston Churchill is said to have coined the phrase:"Never let a good crisis go to waste." What he meant was that however awful a crisis might be, it always held the possibilities of new opportunities. People forced to change might never return to old ways.

mPesa was first rolled out in Kenya by mobile operator Safaricom in 2007. It grew phenomenally after a period of post-election violence that started in 2007 kept people housebound and unable to go out and make cash payments. Housebound? Does that sound familiar?

What follows is an attempt to grapple with how changes in behavior are already happening. The contradiction running through all these changes is that as ever, the "haves" rather than the "have-nots" are the ones able to take advantage of digital changes. But it's also worth saying that the digital divide already exists and that now is a good moment to look at how it can be closed.

All these behavior changes have push and pull forces acting on them: some things are so advantageous that people will do them without asking whereas others require encouragement from peers, Government and other agencies.

Mobile Money

In mid March according to a Safaricom press release President Uhuru Kenyatta issued a a directive to the Central Bank "to explore ways of deepening mobile-money usage to reduce risk of spreading the virus through physical handling of cash." Measures taken included a waiver on charges for transactions under KS1,000 and an increase in the size of payment allowed from KS70,000 to KS150,000.

In Rwanda, Pay TV customers are getting themselves comfortable at home and paying for content bouquets using mobile money:" "We're making good money from Pay TV and people are paying using mobile money."

And as Tayo Oviosu, CEO, Paga tweeted:" Mom just called me. Her @DStvNg is out of credit. @mypaga to the rescue...easy peasy. Two clicks and she is back on..." But this home use of mobile money is also coming about from changes imposed by the lockdowns in different countries. I asked Oviosu by tweet whether use was growing and he responded:" Use of our self-use channels, yes. Agent Network is affected."

The key question here is what age groups will get to grips with m-money who haven't used it before. Low-cost handset vendor KaiOS carried out a survey in Nigeria (pre-crisis) which found first-time internet users or non-internet users had a mistrust in online payment systems as they had a fear of fraud. Mobile money usage in Nigeria has increased in recent years, but for more costly items such as phones, people tend to prefer using cash. They also opt for offline phone shops. They believe these are the only ones offering warranties, in addition to more choices and better prices. They also believe they are more likely to sell authentic devices. (more of which in a forthcoming issue).

Home delivery

I could have labeled this section e-commerce but it's really about getting goods to your door when you're locked down. If there were ever a time for home delivery to take off and remain "a thing" it would have to be now.

In Kenya Twiga Foods has signed a distribution deal with Jumia to deliver fresh and processed food direct to the homes of consumers. The service dubbed 'Jumia Freshi powered by Twiga', will allow customers to shop on Jumia for their fruits and vegetables and also get same-day free delivery on the platform in Nairobi.

" This will save customers money - as Twiga cuts out the middle men by buying directly from farmers and FMCG manufacturers across the country,"said Jumia Kenya's Chief Executive Officer Sam Chappatte.

"This partnership with Jumia is a great milestone for us. It allows us to scale up in terms of products, retailers and cities served through this platform, as we continue executing our mission to feed and supply Africa's urban population with traceable, quality and affordable products. Significantly, this partnership ensures that we pass on to our consumers the price benefit of sourcing directly from farmers and manufacturers " said Peter Njonjo, Twiga Foods Chief Executive Officer adding that its Twiga Fresh bundle is offering a 50% discount to the prevailing market prices.

The deal aims to cover home delivery into most of Nairobi's suburbs, leveraging Twiga's existing infrastructure of depots in Dagoretti, Donholm, Embakasi, Thome, Ruaka, Kaloleni, Nairobi West, Syokimau, Waiyaki Way and Kilimani. Customers outside of Nairobi are clearly not yet on the radar.

In South Africa, with the collapse of Uber rides during the lockdown, it has launched Uber Direct, with a view to keeping people out of Uber cars. Uber Direct is an on-demand and scheduled last-mile delivery solution for businesses. Businesses can use Uber Direct to move their goods within their supply chain, and between locations to better balance supply and demand, ensuring customers receive their orders when required.

"This is our broadest effort yet to help businesses meet unprecedented demand for delivery, and helping people stay at home while still getting the items they need," Alon Lits, Director for Uber Sub-Saharan Africa explains.

"Uber Direct also allows us to unlock economic opportunities for delivery people and drivers now and beyond the lockdown. Safety continues to be a top priority, and we are regularly providing drivers and delivery people with information to help them stay safe."

Uber has partnered with the Western Cape Department of Health and The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to deliver medication to South Africa's citizens most vulnerable to COVID-19.

Dr Giovanni Perez, Chief Director of Metro District Health Services at the Western Cape Government Department of Health says, "This partnership is a great example of how the public and private sector can work together, regardless of any challenges, for the well-being of the people."

In the first two weeks of the partnership, over 25,000 people received their medication, with many more safe and contactless deliveries being made daily.

In mPharma, Gregory Rockson's mPharma has found itself launching and marketing its home delivery product during Ghana's lockdown, which has now been somewhat eased. By all accounts, it is taking off.

In Nigeria, Olukayode Kolawole wrote a report in IT Pulse describing this new reality:"Looking out from my window, I noticed a heavy presence of delivery men on the roads as they moved around the town delivering people's orders - food, medicines, water, and other essential goods. I quickly did some google search and found out that most of the e-commerce operators are very much in operation and that I could order for my needs and have them delivered to my house even in this period of lockdown.

I found out that Jumia Nigeria, for example, is not only in full operation but has even expanded its scope of operations in order to satisfy its customers during the period of the lockdown. Jumia's customers can log on to its platform and do all the shopping they need, including food, medicines, water and other essential goods, pay for them and have them delivered to their doorsteps using a contactless approach, all in the comfort of their homes.

I called on other members of my family and we logged on to the Jumia food App and placed orders for our individual favorites away from the home cook which was becoming boring - main dishes and desserts and made the payment online. About one hour later, I heard a knock on my gate and it was a box containing our orders and the delivery man, standing about three meters away.

The delivery man explained that the distance is in compliance with the social distancing rule by the National Centre for Diseases Control (NCDC). From the way my family members relished their meals that day it was obvious everyone was tired of the home dishes that we all used to look forward to. Variety is the spice of life, they say.

The experience also exposed me to another reality - how Jumia and, maybe, other e-commerce platforms, are assisting owners of micro, small and medium scale enterprises (MSMEs) stay afloat in this period of the lockdown - running their businesses and providing for their families by doing so. And another reality, how the operations of the online platforms provide sustenance to the citizens doing daily paid jobs. Most of the delivery men are paid daily and would have lost out on providing for themselves and their families, were it not for the operations of Jumia and its likes".

Also not wishing to lose sight of the bigger picture, Facebook has invested roughly $5.7 billion for a 9.9% stake Reliance Jio. Both share a vision of controlling the online route to the customer in the years to come, providing much needed competition to Amazon.

At the end of last year, it launched a payment facility on the popular WhatsApp platform. In the press release, Reliance Jio has stated the focus will be India's 60 million micro, small and medium businesses, 120 million farmers and 30 million small merchants, suggesting WhatsApp could play a significant role.

Increase or decrease digital divide - online education

Another 'frontline' in the Covid-19 crisis is the need to provide online education while pupils are out of school. This provides the most vivid example of the Covid-19 digital divide. About 56 million learners live in locations not served by mobile networks, almost half in sub-Saharan Africa, according to figures compiled by the Teacher Task Force, an international alliance coordinated by UNESCO, on the basis of data from the UNESCO Institute for Statistics and the International Telecommunication Union.

Half of the total number of learners - some 826 million students - kept out of the classroom by the COVID-19 pandemic, do not have access to a household computer and 43% (706 million) have no internet at home, at a time when digitally-based distance learning is used to ensure educational continuity in the vast majority of countries.

Disparities are particularly acute in low-income countries: in sub-Saharan Africa, 89 per cent of learners do not have access to household computers and 82% lack internet access.

"While efforts to provide connectivity to all must be multiplied, we now know that continued teaching and learning cannot be limited to online means", stated Audrey Azoulay, UNESCO Director General. "To lessen already existing inequalities, we must also support other alternatives including the use of community radio and television broadcasts, and creativity in all ways of learning. These are solutions we are addressing with our Global Coalition partners".

On the home front level, David Campbell, CEO, Mediae, producers of TV, online and print school education materials in Kenya told me:" "The high end schools are all online but that's why we're going on TV with the Knowledge Zone revision programme. You can get it on Citizen or on our YouTube channel. And in about 8-9 days time there will be leaflets and booklets for exercises after each lesson. There's a real issue about parents needing to learn how to access content through the internet."

Initiatives like the partnership between DigitalBack Books and the City Library in Abuja are to be applauded. The library has recently upgraded its Virtual Section, to provide a digital library of titles for the Abuja reading community.

According to Neemat Abdulrahim, Director of the FCT City Library "We are making the right decision at the right time as our community will now have access to a rich and diverse collection of Africa-Centric online resources, including fiction and non-fiction titles, academic works and digital magazines curated from publishers globally".

Gersy Ifeanyi Ejimofo, Managing Director and Founder of DigitalBack Books, said:"Working with the Library team to make this happen has been immensely satisfying as Abuja City Library now also joins a growing community of partner institutions harnessing the use of technology to provide access to an exciting plethora of Africa's stories."

Home streaming drives demand on fixed lines and fibre

Often now derided as unnecessary because of ubiquitous mobile use, fixed lines are coming into their own during the Covid-19 crisis. Why? Because it's hard to imagine hours of watching films or TV on a small screen.

In the case of Tele10 in Rwanda, its Pay TV offering has been its economic savior (in the absebce of advertising) according to its CEO Eugene Nyagahene:"We're making good money from Pay TV... I've not seen the same growth with our VoD offering because people are more comfortable with the big screen. But there has been a lot of demand for Netflix and Showmax on the big screen".

Netflix gained 15.8 million paying customers from January through March, bringing its global total to 182.9 million. Netflix had predicted it would add 7 million during the period. It rarely breaks out by region but Sub-Saharan Africa is almost certainly a part of that global growth.

So don't forget fixed lines and fibre connections ... the numbers will be bigger than you think. We've gone through the Africa's a mobile continent and will come out the other side with new digital home uses driven by entertainment... And for the mass market, that will not be Netflix.

Online governance

This last section on online governance proves that it's harder to change some things than others. The UK's parliament - never one to be in the vanguard of digital change - has adopted a hybrid way of operating: partly allowing online presence and physical presence of a small number of MPs, appropriately socially distanced.

In South Africa, the Democratic Alliance in the Western Province has gone online with its #Covid19 Oversight Committee. But beyond that, I couldn't find any examples of Government, parliaments or politicians operating online in the crisis. Nothing ever changes? Or perhaps you can all surprise me with some good examples.

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