Every year, the AFD Digital Challenge rewards ten innovative African start-ups that build creative solutions to challenges linked to development. For the fourth edition in 2020, we list the top 10 projects that help to create inclusive, resilient and sustainable urban infrastructure in Africa.
Mali - Map Action, the sustainable city app
For Boubacar Keita, the situation is as clear as it is dire: “There is no doubt that the capital of Bamako has some of the most serious environmental issues in the world.” Excess waste, sanitation problems, fragile infrastructure, pollution of the Niger River, and so on. “With its 2 to 3 million inhabitants, the city is in a critical state,” says the Malian environmental engineer.
To tackle this problem, in 2017, he launched a mobile app to map and analyze environmental issues. Developed by his company Kaicedra Consulting, Map Action, can be downloaded onto a smartphone. “It’s an app for citizens that anyone can access. To report a problem, users simply video-record or take a photo of it, or they can leave a voice message on our server.”
The data is then sent to the start-up’s public partners, who start work on finding solutions: “Thousands of problems have been identified and more than 15% have already been solved or are being assessed,” says Map Action’s inventor. Having been rolled-out in Bamako, the application is expected to be available in other cities across the country, such as Kayes and Koulikoro.
Morocco - Indar, the intelligent flood prediction platform
In Morocco, isolated regions and certain urban basins are regularly hit by flooding. “Every year, the devastation caused by flooding in Morocco costs almost half a billion euros on average. Cities such as Casablanca and Marrakesh are also affected,” says Mohamed Tabyaoui, founder of the engineering start-up Prev-Dev.
Based in Rabat, this fledgling company has developed a flood prediction system called Indar, meaning “alert” in Arabic. This platform informs risk managers of potential flooding 48 hours before it occurs. It constitutes a warning system that anticipates the dangers of natural disasters in urban areas. “With the time thus saved, the most at-risk populations can be evacuated, and equipment and fragile infrastructure can be protected,” says Mohamed Tabyaoui.
For this information systems specialist, Indar, tested across a 4,000 km² inhabited area in south-east Morocco, “will help make tomorrow’s cities more resilient.”
Tunisia - WiniCari, the Real-Time Solution For Urban Transport Operations
Digital technology has not yet been fully adopted in a number of cities in the Mediterranean. “This is particularly true of the urban transport sector. For example, the ticketing systems in Tunis are all still based on a manual system,” says Amor Sahnoun, co-founder of the Tunisian start-up Bus Software, along with colleague Makrem Erguez. “Real-time management statistics for bus fleets are virtually non-existent, which severely slows down the decision-making process.”
To overcome this problem, Bus Software developed WiniCari – software that collects and analyzes data from ticketing terminals and other on-board devices, providing passengers with up-to-date traffic information. Transport companies can use this technology to process operational information in real time. At the same time, Bus Software is running a project on artificial intelligence with the Miracl Research Laboratory in Sfax.
This innovation should result in the “automation of the entire bus programming service in Tunisia,” says Amor Sahnoun, who predicts that this could be achieved within the next three years.
Further reading: “Shared Innovation”, all articles
Nigeria - GIVO, using the internet of things to optimize domestic waste management
In Nigeria, the most highly populated country in Africa, waste management is a crucial issue. “The situation in Lagos is particularly catastrophic,’ says Victor Boyle-Komolafe, a young entrepreneur and head of the start-up Capture Solutions West Africa. In the country's capital, which is home to more than 20 million residents, one of two items of domestic waste is not collected.
But why? “The value chain is not sufficiently taken into account,” says the entrepreneur. Along with his teams, he is finalizing the Garbage In, Value Out (GIVO) project, with the specific aim of optimizing urban waste recycling and management. “This system uses the Internet of Things (IoT) to provide solutions, such as connected bins, and to promote a circular economy model,” says Victor Boyle-Komolafe.
In practice, each waste collector becomes a micro-entrepreneur, making something out of salvageable waste, and earning a fair wage. “We are working in partnership with online financial service providers such as Paga, to improve economic inclusion for each collector.” Waste is eco-recycled and transformed into consumer goods such as facemasks, plastic vases, flowerpots.
Ghana - SnooCODE, an app for finding your way in cities with no street names
In Ghana, as in many developing countries, finding your way around in cities can be bewildering. “In some countries, there are no addresses with postcodes, street names or house numbers. To find a specific place, you have to use landmarks: a crossroads, a building, or a shopping mall,” says Zara Abbey, marketing manager at Tiny David.
This start-up has just developed the SnooCODE app, which generates a code corresponding to the targeted location, using smartphone geolocation systems. With this app, no need for an address: “you simply go to the place indicated by the code,” says Zara Abbey. The brainchild of Sesinam Dagadu, founder of Tiny David, the SnooCODE app is already being used by thousands of people in Accra, the Ghanaian capital, and is particularly suited to the needs of emergency services.
Dagadu hopes to see SnooCODE used across the whole of Africa: “We are considering launching the product in neighboring countries and we hope that a number of emergency medical services in Africa will adopt our app in 2021.”
Benin - Alivo, a tool for intelligent traffic light regulation
In Benin, road accidents cause several hundred deaths and thousands of injuries every year. “Accidents are particularly frequent in cities. Between motorcycles, trucks, buses and cars, the traffic is crazy,” says Franck Kangni, project manager for the start-up Alivo Technologie. The company is designing a solar-powered intelligent traffic light system in Cotonou.
The technology is linked to a remote-control center, and equipped with on-board electronics that adapt routes according to traffic conditions. “Our system assesses traffic congestion levels at each exit of a junction and regulate user flows accordingly,” says the company’s project manager. With Alivo, messages can also be disseminated to raise awareness of road safety good practice in urban areas.
“These messages can also indicate to visually impaired pedestrians when it is safe to cross the road.” Alivo Technologie is currently installing an industrial unit to increase its production capacity. At the same time, the start-up is in the final stages of developing software to optimize urban travel using satellite geo-location data.
Ivory Coast - Digital Smart Trash, connected trash cans
In many African countries, urban populations have little or no knowledge about recycling waste. “In Côte d'Ivoire, recycling services are not tailored to the needs of both households and businesses,” says Coulibaly Tenon, a software engineer. “Waste collection is disorganized in a number of areas, and lacks collection infrastructure and waste treatment plants.” To overcome this major environmental challenge, he co-founded Digital Smart Trash.
Since 2018, this start-up has been working to optimize the management chain for household and similar waste. Now being used in some districts of Abidjan, this digital system offers geo-localized selective recycling bins, equipped with fill-level detection technology. “Digital Smart Trash ensures waste traceability for users, from its collection to its reuse in treatment and recycling plants,” says Coulibaly Tenon. “We intend to use this tool to reduce the negative impact of human activity on the environment.”
In 2021, the start-up hopes to roll-out Digital Smart Trash across the Ivorian capital and also plans to collect other types of waste such as so-called special waste.
Kenya - Flare, an emergency hotline
Flare is an organization devoted to saving lives. “With our digital Rescue app, we operate the largest ambulance network in Kenya,” says Caitlin Dolkart, who together with Maria Rabinovich, founded the start-up in 2018, after many years’ working in the Kenyan health care industry.
“This network allows us to identify all available ambulances via a single digital platform. Our team is made up of both medical dispatchers and software engineers.” As soon as an accident is reported, the platform dispatches a health care response team as quickly as possible. “It’s an emergency hotline, just like number 18 in France or 911 in the United States, says Caitlin Dolkart, who estimates that only 5% of the African population has access to emergency services. Flare has the potential to be rapidly expanded beyond Kenya's borders to other countries in the region.
Rwanda - SafiRide, the app for safe and non-polluting motorcycle taxis
Like other big cities in Africa, the air in Kigali is suffocating at rush hour from traffic jams and pollution. In the Rwandan capital, “fuel emissions from motorcycles and other vehicles are the main cause of air pollution,” says Tony Adesina, a prolific entrepreneur who manages several local start-ups. The industrial engineer, who trained at the American University of Pennsylvania, launched one of his projects, SafiRide: a green app for electric motorcycles, in 2018.
With this mobile app, users can book and prepay for transport on two wheels, equipped with rechargeable batteries that can travel up to 150km on a single charge. “The use of electric motorcycles in Rwanda should reduce dependence on fossil fuels, lower air pollution and promote efficient transport alternatives, which support green growth and innovation,” says Tony Adesina. “Our app also helps us to better manage our drivers’ conduct on the road which minimizes accidents.” Accessible in five cities across the country, SafiRide could be launched in the Republic of the Congo, Tanzania and Kenya, as early as 2021.
Togo - SOS System, the e-health solution for faster emergency care
It was an idea born of a tragedy all too common in road traffic: A staff member of Togolese start-up Dashmake witnessed a fatal road accident. “The emergency response team were unable to get to the victim in time, which is something that happens every day in Togo,” says Sénam Akpaka, director of this fledgling company. “We launched SOS System to help solve this problem.”
It sparked the idea for SOS System, an e-health app using geolocation to locate emergencies and provide initial assistance. For the app to work, the victim must have a special bracelet, equipped with a QR system, which emergency responders use to access their geographical location and any personal information provided beforehand (such as their age, blood type and medical history).
“This information is essential for fast and effective treatment,” says Sénam Akpaka. SOS System also makes it easier to report accidents to insurance companies. In 2021, Dashmake intends to roll out its e-health system to other countries in the region, such as Ghana and Côte d'Ivoire.
The AFD Digital Challenge is a competition focused on innovation in Africa, addressing the dual issues of making the digital transition and rendering cities more sustainable. The ten winners selected for the fourth edition of this competition were announced at the virtual Emerging Mediterranean event, organized in Marseille on December 14.
Each of the ten winners receives a grant of €20,000, as well as one-year’s support from a specialist in training businesses in the digital transformation process.