Coronavirus: Health and economy to gain from boost in Africa’s mobile payment

Back in March, Africa had been designated by many as the “lost continent” when it comes to fighting Covid-19. It comes now as a surprise that the death toll and number of infected people are far below everyone expectations.

Africa so far has registered fewer deaths caused by COVID-19 than USA in one single day. That may turn out differently in the coming months, which means everything must be done to limit the risk of a larger contamination.


The first strategy, which was the same in other continents, was a series of measures to minimize people’s movements as much as possible. In a continent where nearly 95% of jobs are informal, this is not only very difficult to enforce but quite dangerous economically speaking.

People need to go out and earn money every day since they receive no state subsidy. Which is why this first strategy is now coming to an end and as Senegal’s President Macky Sall said: “We will have to learn how to live with the virus”.

Living with the virus = limiting cash

Living with the virus means limiting the risks of contamination. If people try not to touch each other, they still exchange banknotes, every day, in the streets, as cash is by far the primary payment method across the continent.

“Mobile money is an African innovation…

Limiting cash is then a primary focus of the long-term COVID-19 response by African governments, and we have seen Kenya, Ghana, West African Economic and Monetary Union (WAEMU) and Tunisia’s central bank in favor of mobile payment.

They have capped the cost of mobile money and credit card transactions, facilitated account creation, and digitized subsidy programs. But much more is needed to really reduce cash transactions in the long run.

“Mobile payment is still in its infancy”

Indeed, mobile payment is still in its infancy, making up only 10% of all mobile money transactions. Cost is not the only issue; customer experience and merchant adoption are bigger issues. In order for other African countries to replicate Kenya’s success with mobile payment, an emphasis on improving the overall experience for consumers and merchants must be considered.

It must be simple, with a one-action trigger, such as a non-contact swipe or QR code scan. It must be cheap and easy for small merchants, with simple mobile applications that everyone can use to accept payments and monitor transactions.

Governments can show the way by largely adopting mobile payment in the public sector and promoting digital transformation in the private sector, such as using tax incentives, for example.

Battle against cash

A war against cash might be a good response to fight COVID-19 contamination, but it is also an extraordinary opportunity for the continent to accelerate its digital transformation at a time when the world economy is restructuring.

Mobile money is an African innovation and a large success with a 50% penetration across the continent in 2020. It must now serve as a platform for digital innovation inside the continent, with the capability to create thousands of direct jobs: street agents, compliance officers, engineers, business to business (B2B) sales force, and finance managers.

But the real value is in all the indirect jobs it can create by unleashing the potential of small startups that can leverage mobile payment to address a much larger customer base, expand beyond their national borders, accept payment from anywhere in Africa and sell goods and services to a one billion strong customer base.

Bottom line: Agriculture, transport, energy, health, education, finance, E-commerce has some 618 active tech hubs across the continent (according to GSMA ).

Thousands of startups are ready to grow and create jobs. They just need easy access to digital payment, and steady investment (which already doubled last year see Partech study).


Thierno Mademba SAKHO