Over the past decade, the mobile technology industry in West Africa has exploded. Nigeria continues to dominate headlines and lead the way among regional mobile markets – this week, Lagos hosted the sixth annual Mobile West Africa conference (20-21st April).
But Fiifi Baidoo, Co-Founder and Chief Technology Officer of iSpace – a co-working space for Ghanaian tech innovators – says Ghana’s mobile technology market is catching up fast.
“Nigeria usually comes across as the leading market,” Baidoo explains, “but that’s mainly because of the numbers they have. Ghana is adaptable and ready to embrace the [mobile tech] market.”
The landscape is evolving in Ghana – traditional IT companies that used to focus on SMS are shifting their business from B2C to B2B, providing services for tech giants like Google and Facebook.
What are the risks?
Where Nigeria does have an edge is in its management of existing mobile companies – an area in which Ghana has room for improvement.
“They have a good system to enforce policies and regulations where Ghana doesn’t.”
This is one issue that potential investors should be wary of, says Baidoo, along with past implementation failures among companies introducing new mobile services to Ghanaians.
For example, one company’s virtual wallet app had a lot of potential, but the technology wasn’t absorbed by mobile users due to integration failures.
“Ghanaians are used to cash,” Baidoo explains. “If you’re going to replace cash with technology, it needs to be efficient and reliable.”
Baidoo says this is where there is a need for the government to step in and aid in facilitating the transition. As of now, the country lacks e-commerce and data protection policies and some confusion exists over which government ministries should be responsible for meeting such needs.
Additionally, most mobile money companies don’t have their own locally run exchange points, leaving them dependent on larger international companies like Visa and Mastercard. This type of arrangement is dangerous because if Visa, for example, suddenly makes a significant change, it has a direct (and possibly devastating) impact on the mobile money service connected to it.
Despite these concerns, mobile technology markets continue to thrive in Ghana. Mobile payment solutions, in particular, have been successful. At present, twelve different (predominantly indigenous) mobile payment companies are operating in the country as restaurants, hotels, insurance companies and hospitals take advantage of mobile payment platforms.
Other mobile companies are providing microfinance loan savings services, allowing borrowers without credit history to access loans by making contributions through a mobile platform.
Foreign players have also arrived on the mobile technology scene in Ghana. Through funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and in collaboration with Ghana Health Service, the Grameen Foundation is using a mobile app to address maternal and child health needs in rural areas of the country where residents lack access to healthcare facilities or services. The Motech Mobile Midwife program provides pregnant women with reliable advice via SMS and voice messaging throughout their pregnancies.
Similarly, international messaging platform WhatsApp is exploring mobile software as a tool for universalizing access to education.
About the OnFrontiers Expert consulted for this article
Fiifi Baidoo is an expert software designer who specializes in optimizing efficiency by developing software solutions based on user need analysis. He previously spearheaded Google’s app deployment across sub-Saharan Africa. To speak with Fiifi or similar experts, reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org.
To gain additional insights on policy reform, infrastructure, tourism or other opportunities in frontier markets from top industry professionals, contact OnFrontiers today at email@example.com.
Founded in 2014, OnFrontiers is a global advisory network and research firm that provides rapid access to targeted, high quality insights in hard to reach frontier markets.