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Pandemic Sparks Innovation in Africa’s Tech Ecosystem

In March, Kenyan telecom operator Safaricom announced a move that on the surface appeared counterintuitive. For a 90-day period, it made free all person-to-person (P2P) transactions under $9 on the popular mobile money service M-Pesa, which revolutionized mobile payments globally. Daily transaction limits on the platform have also been increased from $660 to $1,415 for small and medium-sized enterprises. Safaricom earns a quarter of its revenue from M-Pesa’s 20.5 million customers, mostly in Kenya and Tanzania, so it is effectively agreeing to risk losing some of those earnings. But it’s a gamble the telecom firm appears willing to take to pull in more low-income users at a time economic, sociopolitical and cultural activities stand disrupted across the continent due to the global coronavirus pandemic. With social distancing in effect, there’s no telling when the storm will subside. So fintech startups and others in the tech ecosystem are reappraising their services to try and cater to the economically vulnerable who are most affected — an audience that they would hope to retain once the crisis passes.