DAKAR, Senegal — Senegal is becoming a technology hub thanks to Microsoft’s 4Afrika Initiative and start-ups such as MaTontine, SunuBus, CoinAfrique and SudPay. There has been increased interest in Senegalese start-ups. In 2017, the country raised almost $11 million for start-ups. President Macky Sall, who was re-elected in February 2019, helped create the Emerging Senegal Plan (ESP) that aims to diversify, increase investment in the private sector and provide economic stability. Senegalese start-ups around the capital Dakar have directly affected Senegalese by providing apps related to micro-loans, insurance, agriculture, financial inclusion and personal safety.
Microsoft and 4Afrika
Microsoft has operated in Africa since 2007. Through its 4Afrika Initiative, which launched in 2013, it has introduced more than 300 start-ups in Africa. DARAL, one of the first local projects for 4Afrika. It is a mobile solution that helps prevent cattle theft for Senegalese farmers. Two other start-ups that teamed up with 4Afrika are SunuBus and CoinAfrique.
SunuBus is a Senegalese-based transit app that allows users to find public transportation faster and easier. The app helps the user find buses, monitor arrivals and share bus positions with other Senegalese, which grants rewards. SunuBus currently has 74 bus lines in Dakar. The Senegalese start-up is also collaborating with 4Afika to migrate to the Microsoft cloud and update their business model to expand across Africa and the Middle East.
Based in Dakar, CoinAfrique is a free classifieds platform that allows users to buy and sell used products. As of March 2019, more than one million people have downloaded the app. The team behind the app is looking to reach 10 million active users across French-speaking Africa. “Microsoft 4Afrika has supported…our goal of becoming the number one francophone classifieds marketplace,” said Matthias Papet, founder of CoinAfrique.
Improving the Business Environment
As a result of widespread tax fraud, the Senegalese start-up SudPay created the app TownPay in 2017. About 70 percent of taxes from small businesses go uncollected in the country. TownPay is an answer to uncollected taxes, allowing municipalities to digitalize tax collection to reduce fraud and collect taxes for use in improving the general welfare. Since 2018, more than 2,600 businesses have started to use TownPay.
Money collected could be funneled toward improving education and healthcare. A typical Senegalese municipality uses 70 percent of taxes for healthcare services, education, infrastructure and waste collection. The app helps collect money to improve the livelihoods of almost 50 percent of Senegalese that live in poverty.
Women Utilizing Advanced Technology
MaTontine is another Senegalese start-up that provides automated solutions to micro-loans and insurance. Fewer than 25 percent of adults in Senegal have bank accounts. People rely on ‘tontines,’ which are informal savings services. Since February 2018, MaTontine grew to 1,052 active users, more than 80 percent of which are women across the five regions of Senegal. The app has saved people more than $90,000, and the users benefit from micro-loans and insurance services that are offered through the app.
Diariata N’diaye launched the app She-Calls to help prevent violence and abuse against women. The app records and transmits the sound of a possible incident and releases the information, including the GPS location, to three contacts. An additional wristband could be used if the user wishes to not draw unwanted attention before a possible incident. It functions via Bluetooth to the mobile device and costs $33. The app has more than 8,000 downloads across Senegal, the United States, France, Canada and Morocco.
Fast-Growing Tech Ecosystem
Many more technology start-ups are operating in Senegal. The African country’s transformation into a tech hub is ongoing, yet poverty is still high in Senegal. In 2017, Dakar opened a free computer coding school that saw more than 10,000 applicants for 50 locations, expressing the country’s push to advance in technology use and training. With apps such as TownPay and MaTontine, Senegalese start-Ups are welcoming private investors to help grow the economy and provide a better environment for its people.
– Lucas Schmidt