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

APRIL 26, 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.


In the last week, so much has been happening around the world and we are being bombarded in real time on social media as these events unfold. Occasionally taking a break from social media platforms is a coping mechanism that can help you get through these

For some semblance of good news, recoveries on the continent are on the rise. In over 48 hours, there has been 4,834 according to our live Coronavirus Update counter.

This week, ride-hailing is back and fully settling in across the continent. Let’s see how two of the continent’s biggest players; Uber and Bolt, are adjusting to the “new norm.’’

A journey in progress on a ride-hailing platform. Credit: Guardian Nigeria

A slow comeback
In the last few months, the coronavirus pandemic caused disruptions in major African markets where ride-hailing startups operate.

In Nigeria, operations ground to a halt following extensive lockdowns in key states that lasted for over a month.

In South Africa and Kenya where it was operational, social distancing rules curtailed the movement of people, and in effect business.

Curfews in Nairobi caused Uber to halt nighttime rides in March, and this was the topic of our first ever version of this newsletter.

This particularly hit the ride-hailing giant hard as data showed that its most popular request period fell into the curfew time frame.

Even though the Greenlight Hubs, its physical offices, were shut across South Africa, the company said operations would be based on the availability of drivers.

Its competition, Bolt had also faced similar challenges. But things are starting to return to normal.

More African countries are lifting lockdowns and loosening curfews in phases and this has seen people physically returning to offices as businesses reopen. Ease of lockdowns may have also resulted in a seeming reduction in hysteria and people have begun moving about their lives more actively.

Africa was predicted to be the next epicenter of the pandemic, with infection rate projections as high as 250 million, current numbers however dreary, are still incomparable with anywhere else in the world.

Cautiously testing
Regardless of this return to seeming normalcy, both services are going the extra mile with safety measures.

Bolt had earlier launched an Isolated Car service in South Africa with 500 vehicles that “have a protective barrier installed between the front and back seats, providing a physical shield between the driver and their passenger, limiting the airflow between the drivers and riders inside the cars”

The ride-hailing startup claims that demand for this service has surged so much that it had to increase vehicles to 3,000.

This figure was released one day before South Africa recorded 3,267 new cases; its highest jump since the pandemic began. The country is the hardest hit on the continent, second only to Egypt. Local courts have declared
total lockdowns illegal and if movement is to continue, Bolt will need more vehicles on its Isolated Car service.

As both companies drive basic safety campaigns for riders and passengers; open windows, compulsory face masks, contactless payment, Uber is taking it up a notch with verifications.

Globally, drivers are required to complete a ‘Go Online’ checklist before every ride, and also take verification selfies to show they are wearing masks. After these checks, riders are also informed in-app that their driver
is compliant.

This checks were put in place on the 18th of May, and Uber says it hopes to keep them up until the end of June when it will reassess situations.

A tale of two realities
Like every business in the world, the pandemic has affected both platforms, but one seems to feel it more.

Over the last two months, as CSR, Uber has asked riders to stay at home unless they have to go out for essential trips. But as phased reopenings are happening, it also needs to start moving people as soon and as fast as possible because its future may depend on it.

Uber has always bled costs without a clear path to profitability. And after losing $2.9 billion in the first quarter of 2020, recent drastic cuts to jobs and even units, the pandemic seems to have deepened the wound and highlighted a need for urgency.

Bolt on the other hand looks healthy. The company raised €100 million two weeks ago at a €1.7 billion valuation to further its expansion in Europe and Africa.

CEO and co-founder, Markus Villig, had earlier told CNBC that there won’t be layoffs, and that Bolt was on a path to profitability.

“Luckily we come from a background of being very frugal from the get go.Our approach has always been to build a lean, cost-efficient organization,” he said.

Regardless of their contrasting realities, Africa’s largely youthful and upwardly mobile population is pivotal to the ride-hailing future of both startups. And in the coming months, especially with the emergence of more competition in the industry, their pace and approach towards moving riders on the continent will be important.


How Africa’s tech industry can kickstart job market post-COVID.

Job losses across the world have reached unprecedented levels. The US alone has lost 39 million jobs in 9 weeks, and with a 0.8% GDP contraction in Africa, 20 million in the formal
and informal sectors are already at risk.

Kay Ugwuede examines the
tech industry’s
significant capabilities in resuscitating the labour market post-COVID

Taking university classes with WhatsApp and Telegram
With schools closed, academic sessions have been disrupted significantly. Universities around the world have switched to digital learning, but most tertiary
institutions in Nigeria cannot do this because the National University Commission (NUC), Nigeria’s university regulatory body, does not recognise “online universities.”

Abubakar Idris explores the implications of this and how students are taking classes on instant messaging apps.


Everyone in Wuhan is getting tested.
Four days ago, Time reported that the Chinese city, where the first case of COVID-19 was reported, had tested nearly 10 million people in 19 days and found just 300 cases of the coronavirus.

Wuhan was the hardest hit in China and as the Asian country continues a phased
reopening, this will be a confidence booster.

Stronger Zoom when you pay
Regardless of all the issues it has faced, the teleconferencing platform, Zoom has been one of the biggest winners in this pandemic.

It recently told Reuters that it will add stronger encryption to only its paid customers’ video calls. This is most likely a move to further monetization.


Don’t worry about the coronavirus mutations.
This one is more watching than reading.
This 5-minute video from the Verge, explores mutations of the coronavirus, and its implications around the world.

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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