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chatbots in Africa
Businesses are slowly introducing chatbots in Africa, as more local users opt for mobile interactions through social media. At the end of 2015, 46 percent of the African population subscribed to mobile services, which is equivalent to more than half a billion people; interestingly, this percentage is expected to increase to 54 percent in 2020.

With such a growing use of smartphones, a chatbot revolution in Africa is not very far away.

 

The Chatbot Revolution

For starters – a chatbot simulates human conversation and are interactive. Using Artificial Intelligence (AI), a chatbot is supported across different messaging platforms including Twitter and Facebook. Here are three chatbots in Africa automate services that are convenient and available 24/7 to users.

 

1. Leo

Recently, the United Bank of Africa (UBA), the Nigerian multinational financial institution, hired Leo — a chatbot. At the launch, Leo displayed a unique way of how bank customers could use social media platforms to carry out their banking activities.

UBA’s chat banker is a Facebook bot, something which the company says is “necessary in today’s fast-paced world with demands for quick-time transactions.” Customers will be able to carry out basic banking facilities like opening a new bank account, checking balances, transferring funds and receiving instant alerts. Additionally, customers will be able to pay bills, get answers to loan queries and applications and check balance statements.

 

2. Nuru

Nuru is created by UXstudio, a Budapest-based Hungarian start-up, and currently is available to users in Kenya and Ghana. This AI chatbot assists users in matters relating to agriculture, classified ads, finances and healthcare.

African farmers looking to sell can use Nuru to set prices. The chatbot automatically configures a price based on the type and the amount they have. The activation of the deal can only occur once the farmers are satisfied. Once activated, the buyers can reach out to the farmers through message or phone call.

For mobile money transactions, users in Kenya heavily rely on mPesa. Nuru integrates the transaction through Messenger — the chatbot asks for a password and, once authenticated, the transactions can successfully take place. Nuru also provides health tips based on questions asked by users.

 

3. Keirabot & Hazie

Keirabot is one of Botsza’s six tailor-made chatbots in Africa.

Botsza’s chatbots currently work across many industries like hotel reservation, flight booking, e-commerce, banks, finance, insurance and customer services. Currently supported on multiple messaging platforms, two chatbots are already operational for users — Haziebot and Keirabot.

Keirabot relieves users from the tiring process of searching homes by utilizing browsing functions via Facebook Messenger or Skype. Various tasks are performed using AI including credit checks, tenants, and comparisons between selling and buying a home.

Hazie, on the other hand, is a recruitment chatbot in Africa that allows job seekers to acquire ideal jobs. Users can simply apply for jobs using social media platforms like Facebook Messenger and Twitter.

 

Challenges

Despite extensive benefits, the revolution of chatbots in Africa faces challenges.

According to The World Bank, African mobile and wireless markets are highly concentrated; in 27 countries, one player has more than 50 percent market share. Monopolies are still present in Africa: eleven in international gateway services and six in wireless internet services.

Additionally, with more than half of the population yet to subscribe to a mobile service, a big challenge for Africa is to connect the unconnected and unleash the economic potential of increased connectivity. Such challenges would also involve the problems of moving text-based interactions to chatbot technology.

 

The Potential Solution

But the African youth may be the answer to such challenges. Sixty percent of Sub-Saharan Africa’s population is under the age of 25, making Africa the world’s youngest region, according to World Economic Forum. Social media giants like Facebook and Google are already developing programs for the people in Africa.

In September 2016, Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg visited Nairobi to learn more about mobile money and meet entrepreneurs and developers. The U.S. social media giant later announced that the center would host an “incubator program” to help develop technology start-ups while simultaneously training 50,000 Nigerians in digital skills.

In 2017, Google expanded its Africa initiatives following CEO Sundar Pichai’s visit to Nigeria. Alphabet also plans on increasing the funding for African startups by providing $20 million in grants to digital nonprofits. In April 2016, the company also launched Digital Skills for Africa, an initiative to provide free training (online and face-to-face) to people across 27 countries in Africa.

With such promising ventures, innovative technology in Africa could allow the country to stay on par with the rest of the world.

– Deena Zaidi

Photo: Flickr

Known to be one of the poorest countries in the world, Malawi relies heavily on international aid, as well as support from financial institutions. They are a country which suffers from climate change, as well as a lack of resources to provide economic opportunities towards their population. As part of the IMF’s Poverty Reduction and Growth Facility (PRFG) program, the aim is to continue with their economic agenda; emphasizing transparency and robust policymaking. Landlocked in Sub-Saharan Africa, they have been recipients of numerous international aid packages. The most recent case of humanitarian aid to Malawi came in 2016 and 2017 when a drought resulted in the direct aid to some 6.7 million people – 40 percent of the population.

When it comes to the word “drone,” negative connotations are usually affiliated with the term due to the influence of agencies such as the media and stories that relate to wars and violence. However, the creation of a revitalized air corridor in recent months by the United Nation’s UNICEF has the potential of distorting the misconceptions and revitalizing the way humanitarianism works. Africa could well have their hands on the first humanitarian drone to access remote areas far easier to provide assistance to some of the most vulnerable. The drone focuses on three primary areas:

  • Generating and analyzing aerial images for developing areas and assisting during humanitarian crises
  • Exploring the possibility of using drones to expand Wi-Fi or cell phone signals
  • Transporting medical supplies

According to Malawi’s Minister of Transport and Public Works Jappie Mhango, these drones will not be used for the first time, as they have been previously used to respond to natural disasters. One of the contingent uses for the drones will be to deliver medical supplies to cater to the 1.2 million people (or a quarter of the population) affected by HIV/AIDs.

The lack of infrastructure impedes the ability for other vehicles to reach rural destinations where people are in need of the right medical testing kit and samples. With the humanitarian drone corridor now being tested, local communities will be able to observe the reduction in waiting time in receiving immediate medical assistance.

Moreover, this project has the potential of rejuvenating the way humanitarian aid to Malawi is operated, with many companies eager to test the use of this new air corridor. Apparently, 12 companies have already jumpstarted to apply and test this new device since its announcement at the end of 2016.

Over the last decade, Malawi has been in constant reliance on IMF aid packages, directed towards reforming government social protection programs. Much skepticism has been drawn from their human rights record under their former leader President Bingu wa Mutharika. Under his leadership, international organizations retracted the amount of aid they have administered in the past. According to Country Watch the “number of people facing food shortages in Malawi had increased since 2011 to 1.63 million.” With 65.3 percent of their population living beneath the poverty line, deployment of aid packages in destitute areas will be an effective tool in providing basic humanitarian aid to Malawi.

– Alexandre Dumouza

Photo: Flickr