The rise of the African super app

By Conrad Onyango, bird

A burgeoning digital-savvy, youth population and the growing need for access to multiple services-on-the-go, together with an influx of low-end smartphones, is giving rise to the African super app, according to a report.

Until very recently, planning a wedding or coordinating a sight-seeing outing with family and friends in Africa required that the organiser juggle mobile apps to make arrangements.

The announcements and logistics would require an app like WhatsApp, fundraising activities might take place on a money platform like M-Pesa, while rides to different venues would be arranged through a hailing app like Uber or Bolt. According to a new report covering the Middle East and Africa, all of these activities are now being combined on African super apps, which conveniently combine pay, commerce, mobility and communications applications on one platform.

A MasterCard and Economist impact report highlights that a burgeoning young, digital-savvy population together with massive investment in fintech and other emerging technologies offers fertile ground for the development of super apps.

“Africa is home to a young, digitally savvy population with an appetite for new technologies and innovation. This dynamism is evidenced across the region, including through the emergence of super apps,” said the report.

The report, “From online bazaar to one-stop-shop: The rise of super apps in the Middle East and Africa,” shows the continent has at least five super apps shaping up with high prospects for many more in the coming years.

In North Africa, there is Halan, an Egyptian fintech start-up that started by offering users buy-now-pay-later financial services and which has since added microfinancing, ride hailing and grocery delivery services.

Algeria-based Temtem recently launched Temtem ONE, its very own version of a super app, incorporating e-commerce, transport and delivery. Like Halan, Temtem started out as a ride-hailing app.

Kenya’s biggest telecommunication company, Safaricom earlier this year launched its M-Pesa super app, with plans to add more services like ticket booking, deliveries and low-data-consuming mini-apps, in addition to the mobile money services it currently offers. Safaricom users can already shop, via its e-commerce platform, Masoko, as well as play games, access learning materials, apply for job opportunities and read daily e-newspapers.

Ugandan-based ride-hailing firm, SafeBoda, like its north African peers, also recently expanded into super app territory, while Nigeria’s Gokada, a courier service, has begun allowing its users to send packages, order food and hail cabs on one platform.

South African-headquartered telecoms provider, MTN Group, is bundling instant messaging with m-commerce transactions carried out via mobile phones, together with entertainment, in its Ayoba super app.

According to the report, Africa is following in the footsteps of China to grow the uptake of super apps by leveraging on low-end smartphones.

“In many countries, the advent of cheap smartphones has led populations to leapfrog desktop technology and adopt mobile apps first … super apps provide the natural option for saving precious storage and broadband,” said the report.

Low-end smartphones, the report said, accounted for 85% of all smartphones shipped into Africa in Q1 of 2021.

The International Data Corporation (IDC) quarterly Global Mobile Phone Tracker, published in August, shows smartphone shipments into Africa grew 13.2% year-on-year in Q2 2021, to total 22.8 million devices.