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Africa Tech Trends: The growing power of mapping

Africa Tech Trends is a fortnightly column by Tom Jackson. It focuses on the most important developments in Africa’s technology industry and how it is disrupting the way business is being done on the continent.

iAfrikan has partnered with Ushahidi to launch a tool named Report Xenophobia. In real-time it allows individuals to submit reports and alerts of xenophobic incidents in their areas via SMS, email, Twitter, the Ushahidi app and directly on the site.

iAfrikan has partnered with Ushahidi to launch a tool named Report Xenophobia. In real-time it allows individuals to submit reports and alerts of xenophobic incidents in their areas via SMS, email, Twitter, the Ushahidi app and directly on the site.

The growing power of mapping in Africa

Online mapping in Africa goes beyond Google, Apple and TomTom. The last few years have seen the development of a number of different mapping platforms, with uses both social and economic.

It has been a dark few weeks in South Africa, with a number of lives lost and many more people injured in a wave of xenophobic attacks. In a bid to combat this, iAfrikan has partnered with Ushahidi to launch a tool named Report Xenophobia. In real-time it allows individuals to submit reports and alerts of xenophobic incidents in their areas via SMS, email, Twitter, the Ushahidi app and directly on the site.

Reports are verified before being placed on an interactive map allowing users to see evacuation areas, police activity and where there have been xenophobic incidents, giving people a clearer picture of the situation. Tech is also being employed by the City of Johannesburg in partnership with Vodacom to tackle the issue, with the public able to report xenophobia-related incidents via mobile.

Kenyan company Ushahidi is a master at this type of mapping. Developed in the aftermath of the disputed presidential election in the country in 2007, when it crowd-mapped incidents of violence, it has since been used to map humanitarian efforts following the 2010 Haiti earthquake, locate assistance during Russian wildfires, and even track corruption in Macedonia.

Mapping has certain economic value as well. In Cape Town, entrepreneur Rowan Polovin has launched Mapped in Cape Town, which covers the city’s start-up ecosystem. The map shows the positions of start-ups, investors, co-working spaces and Wi-Fi hotspots within Cape Town, and describes the start-ups listed. The tool connects start-ups with each other, or investors looking to connect with start-ups. It also shows mapping can make good business sense as well as tackle social issues.

Continuing support for start-ups from major players

This column has discussed the increasing involvement of global giants in Africa on a number of occasions. Apple could be building a bigger operation in South Africa, Uber is spreading its tentacles, and the likes of Facebook and Google are making a play for Africa’s unconnected.

Increasingly, however, major players are turning to the continent’s start-ups in a bid to offer support and ensure access for themselves to the next wave of innovative products to spring from the continent. I have discussed in a prior column that mobile operators such as Millicom, Safaricom, Airtel and Orange are making investments in African start-ups, but this week Samsung went one step deeper by pledging to get involved in their planning and development.

The company has partnered with Ghana’s Meltwater Entrepreneurial School of Technology (MEST) to support start-ups at the early stage with tech, mentorship and internships, and give Samsung the opportunity ahead of others to invest in or implement solutions developed at the incubator. MEST has entered into similar partnerships with the likes of Vodafone Ghana. It seemed the trend at the end of last year was for major companies to back start-ups. Now it looks like they are getting involved a few steps earlier in the process in a bid to assist small African companies.

On-demand in demand

It was always likely to happen, but the on-demand start-up is truly in vogue right now. With internet and mobile penetration soaring in Africa, and Africans becoming more used to using the internet for acquiring goods and services other than obtaining information, the on-demand start-up is Africa’s new big thing.

It didn’t all begin with Uber, though the phrase “Uber model” is often bandied around when it comes to on-demand start-ups. The concept has spread from sector to sector, with on-demand start-ups now available and attracting investment and users in everything from taxis, to food, to couriering, to music. This sector is only going to grow, and is one that will continue to prove attractive for both entrepreneurs and investors alike.

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