A TechCabal roundup about the
impact of the coronavirus pandemic
on Africa’s tech industry

MAY 3, 2020
This newsletter is a weekly special focused on the effect of the novel coronavirus, COVID-19 on African tech and innovation ecosystems. Subscribe here to get it directly in your inbox every Sunday at 3 pm WAT. This edition is brought to you in partnership with Helium Health.


Countries around the world are slowly easing lockdown restrictions and it is both scary and exciting.

This is the 6th edition of our weekly update where we examine the impact of the pandemic on tech and innovation in Africa. Glad to have come this far with you on this journey. In case you missed them, catch up on the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th and 5th issues.

I really hope you are well and keeping safe?

As of today, among other updates,14,328 have
recovered in Africa and infections are not flying through the roof, at least by global standards.

Talking about flying, today, we will examine a different breed of flying machines that have become a fad and what they might mean in the new wave of easing lockdown restrictions

Here’s what’s happening:


To help in the fight against COVID-19 and ensure care provision continues during this pandemic, Helium Health is giving hospitals and clinics across Nigeria free access to its telemedicine software. To sign up or get more information, contact team@heliumhealth.com.
Hurry!! Offer is for a limited time.


Can drones help?
As lockdowns are being lifted across the continent and physical distancing is becoming voluntary, the question everyone is asking under their breaths is if we are ready. This question is masked by a feeling of relief, and the stark economic reality of continuing the lockdown.

Tomorrow, May 4th, Africa’s most populous nation, Nigeria will join this growing list. Devastating economic implications are a major reason for lifting this lockdown, and measures are being taken for safety. Contact tracing is the major bet.
But, is Nigeria equipped for this?

Is Africa as a whole?

Ten days after lifting the 21-day lockdown, Ghana reported 403 new cases, reflecting a 24% increase. President Nana Akufo-Addo said these were not new cases.

As there are no specific drugs, vaccines, or even
sufficient testing, physical distancing still remains the best bet, and drones seem to be a viable option.

In April, Ghana became the first documented country in the world to collect COVID-19 test samples with the aid of an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV),

The drones from medical logistics company, Zipline, delivered test samples from rural areas to labs in Kumasi and Accra. And they also carried PPEs and medical essentials, and will continue to do so.

Zipline CEO, Keller Rinaudo, said; “Using contactless drone delivery to transport Covid-19 test samples will allow the government to respond to the
pandemic and help save lives more quickly.”

Even before Ghana, the Rwanda National Police had announced earlier in the month that it was using drones to “raise awareness.”

The drones pictured in Rwanda had megaphones strapped to them to blast public announcements through the streets.

Drones deliver COVID-19 announcements in Rwanda. Source: Rwanda National Police

Nigerian-based drone manufacturer, Arone has signed partnerships with the Nigerian Military Defence Research and Development Agency (DRDB), according to its CEO, Emmanuel Ezenwere. It is also working on partnerships with health logistics companies. “We are starting with medical supplies deliveries within a 50km radius,” Ezenwere told Disrupt Africa.

Arone is positioning itself to help in the fight against COVID-19 by transporting test samples from hospitals, clinics and primary health care centers.

With some of the highest infection and death rates on the continent, South Africa has also gone the drone enlightenment way. In
the Greater Tzaneen Municipality in northern Limpopo Province, drones beam Mayor Maripe Mangena’s voice down from the sky.

Mangena said; “We are able to access all people. A drone… when it flies, when it hovers above the communities, it fascinates, it intrigues people. People want to listen. People want to hear what is the message that is being said.”

As economic realities force more countries on the continent to relax lockdowns, unmanned drones would be the best bet for testing samples, contact tracing, information dissemination, and distribution of palliatives and necessary materials.

But will this solution be deployed?

Maybe, but it won’t be easy.

For the longest time, with the exception of Rwanda, South Africa, and Namibia, there has not been any legislation or laws around the use of drones in African countries.

They are even outrightly banned in 5 countries; Senegal, Côte d’Ivoire, Madagascar, Algeria, and Morocco.

In 2020, Kenya finally lifted its long term ban, and as far back as 2016, the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) had banned the unauthorized use of drones and set up permit requirements that are almost impossible to meet.

This rigidity around drone penetration might be a hindrance to the mass adoption of the solution across the continent. But this might change soon as governments are already seemingly proactively aligned.

Three weeks ago, TechCabal received an email from Confidence Odionye on how his company Beat Drone is working with the Ondo State government in Nigeria to situate “a $1.2 million factory [that] will enable us produce over 3,000 drones to aid in disinfecting all 36 states and the FCT and ensure Nigerians can go back to their business activities.”

It is audacious, what this company is claiming to do, and naturally there were a lot of
questions so I called Odionye.

“We are going round all the states in Nigeria and showing administrators there how feasible and more efficient it is to use drones to fumigate the environment, and as I speak to you, we have covered the 6 states in SouthWest Nigeria. And we are looking at a 3 to 4-month timeline to be up and running,” Odionye said.

Traditional ruler in Nigeria looks on to a demonstration of drone fumigation.

Beat Drone will produce 80% of the components required for the drones, and import the rest and this is where, according to Odionye, the problem is.

“The current lockdown on international air travel has been a hindrance to getting German machinery and expats into Nigeria, but with government assistance we hope to get permits soon,” Odionye said.

For funding, Odionye said they are exploring a mix of unnamed angel investors, and the Central Bank of Nigeria’s ₦50 billion credit facility for the pandemic.

It’s all very lofty, but thinking about it in the light of Norman Vincent Peale’s quote about shooting for the moon, the effort makes sense. And most importantly, it shows an encouraging and increasing government participation in using drones.


A catalyst for the digitization of Africa’s informal economy.
As physical distancing practices have seen a reduction in cash transactions, the global pandemic is forcing an uptick
in digital payments
on the continent; from South African Yoco, to Nigeria’s Paga, and Kenya’s M-Pesa. From financial inclusion to anti-money laundering, there is a lot to be gained from digitising. But regardless of its antifragility, there are still lots of challenges with digitisation in Africa.

African VCs are poised for post-pandemic wins? On a global stage, many super startups were born one or two years after the recession of ‘08; Instagram, Venmo, Slack, Uber, and Pinterest to mention a few. While pulling strategic partnerships and drastically restructuring, African VCs are confident about the future.

“The stage we play in by default requires thinking long-term as well as investing in founders that can adapt in unusual situations,” Dayo Koleowo, a partner at Nigeria-based Microtraction said summing up the view of most of the investors.

Eghosa Omoigui on why Africa is the dream destination for capital. In the second
of our TechCabal Live series, veteran investor, Eghosa Omoigui, Founder EchoVC shared his “bull case” for investors to keep looking for deals on the continent even amidst the pandemic. According to Omoigui, African companies have built up the ability to overcome uncertainty and pressure that comes with adverse economic conditions.


The FDA has authorized emergency use of remdesivir, an experimental antiviral drug, to treat COVID-19.
The drug was originally made for the ebola virus, and according to CNN, the benefits of the drug outweigh its risks in patients, and an emergency-use authorization is a lower regulatory bar than full FDA approval.

The FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn, “This is an important clinical advance that showed a statistically significant reduction in time to recovery for patients with Covid-19 and is the first authorized therapy for

CNN has more here.

The UK has met a 100,000 daily test target, but there are concerns. A large percentage of this number counts self-test kits sent to citizens in their homes. And as proud as Health Secretary, Matt Hancock should be by this achievement, there are concerns that the home kits will provide
incorrect results. According to this Sky News report, getting samples requires manoeuvring that doctors warn may be impossible for people to perform on themselves.


When exactly should we expect a vaccine?
There is a general consensus that vaccines are the world’s best shot, pun intended, of completely returning to normalcy, or at least a semblance of it. As at press time, there are reportedly around 254 therapies and 95 vaccines in the works for the coronavirus, COVID-19. The New York Times talked to a bunch of experts on when vaccines are likely to reach you.

With approval and distribution issues topping the list of challenges, we are looking anywhere from 12 to 18 months tops, fingers crossed

Answering pressing questions about COVID-19 The MIT Technology Review sent out a survey to its readers, selected 17 of the biggest questions from the pool, and answered them in this detailed article.

Best wishes for a great week

Stay safe and please observe all the guidelines provided by health experts.

You can subscribe to our TC Daily Newsletter; the most comprehensive roundup of technology news on the continent, and have it delivered to your inbox every weekday at 7 am WAT.

Follow TechCabal on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and LinkedIn to stay updated on tech and innovation in Africa.

– Victor Ekwealor, Managing Editor, TechCabal

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