Due to some technical issues and simply taking my time to enjoy being back in Ghana, Inventive Africa has not been very active recently. Having said that, it is great to see that some of you have still been scrolling through the content and being inspired by African Innovation. For a while I have been writing the Inventive Africa blog and getting very excited about all the new ideas that are being created across the continent, but I have not been there to see them first hand. I have spent my time in Ghana getting myself acquainted with some of the most recent changes.
Mobile money has taken off in a big way across the continent. Although Kenya leads the way with M-Pesa, Ghana was also one of the pioneer countries for mobile money. They have fallen behind somewhat in recent years, but the cashless system is still making great differences in the lives of many. Some told me that not too long ago, they were travelling from the village to the capital, Accra, to pick up owed money in cash. Of course, as well as being inconvenient and time consuming, this also meant that some of money was used up paying for transportation. This is no longer a problem for many. Even with the most simple of phones, people are capable of receiving large amounts of money, instantly, from all over the country. I though, as it has been mentioned so many times on the blog, that I should try it out for myself.
In the closing days of my trip, I needed to send about $250 from Accra to a village in the Volta Region. I knew I was not able to get back to the village before leaving and I did not want to force people to come to the city and back in a day. Mobile money was the only option. I found a vendor in Osu, a busy area of Accra and sat with my well filled envelope. Initially, I was a little concerned, handing over what to many is a large amount of money in plain view of everyone, so I asked to sit in a more discreet location. After the money had been counted, and after a few interruptions from others doing transfers, buying phone credit, and buying pure water, the transfer went through instantly.
I have to admit, I was a little nervous before and during my first use of mobile money. I am someone that is used to technology, and happy to be an early adopter, but for some reason, I felt a little uneasy sending money through someone else’s phone next to a busy street. It goes to show how willing people in Ghana and across Africa are to adopt new technologies. I was worried, having transferred money using various different methods in the past. Africa is taking up this technology without having extensive prior experience, and utilising it incredibly.
One other innovation that has made changes through out the continent is Uber. It is not an African business, but when it touched down on the continent, it created opportunities for African companies to recreate their business models, not just in the taxi sector. I hadn’t used an Uber before getting to Ghana, even though they have been written about on many occasions on Inventive Africa. I used it a few time in Ghana, mostly with great success. Although people seemed to believe Uber was cheaper than a regular taxi (during non surge periods), I found that they were slightly more expensive. I am not sure if others do the same, but I found myself using the Uber rate as a bench mark for the price and as a bargaining tool with regular taxis, which seemed to work well.
All the Ubers I took, apart from one, functioned well with the GPS and the maps in Ghana. One struggled to find me because of poor GPS, and it took him a very long time to find me. The drivers were all very polite (sometimes over polite), and one even let me pick up a stranger, because she was about to try and find a taxi in a potentially dangerous area. That is another great thing about Uber. In certain areas, not just in Ghana and Africa, but all over the world, standing at night looking for a taxi can be dangerous. Ordering an Uber combats this issue, but the problem comes is when their surge pricing is so extreme (in some cases over twice as much) that you are tempted to stand by the side of the road anyway and put your self at risk.
I have now seen first hand how these new technologies are changing lives. They are saving people money and time and they are enabling people to live in a safer way. If you know of an innovation that is changing lives, or you want to be a guest blogger get in contact with us on Twitter @InventiveAfrica or via email, and please share the blog with your network on Twitter and Facebook. Also, we have a new Facebook page! Please like it, and carry on the dialogue about African Innovation there!