As our contributor Kurt Davis Jr. wrote last week, “the cell phone is ubiquitous in Africa.” Accordingly, the number of African apps in recent years has proliferated. While you may have heard of M-PESA or Ushahidi, here are five innovative African apps that you probably haven’t heard of.
1. Frontline SMS
The idea for Frontline SMS, an open-source software that allows NGOs to communicate with people in areas lacking internet access, first started in 2004 when Ken Banks was working on a conservation effort in South Africa’s Kruger National Park. It was difficult for NGOs to collaborate with locals as it was often impractical to travel great distances. Banks discovered that many locals had mobile phones, yet no way to connect to the internet. Enter Frontline SMS, software that supports text messages from mobile phones and computers without the use of internet. The app has since grown to include Frontline SMS:Credit, Frontline SMS:Learn, Frontline SMS:Legal, Frontline SMS:Medic, and Frontline SMS:Radio. Today, Frontline SMS has been downloaded over 20,000 times and has helped countless organizations improve communication in remote areas.
2. Mimba Bora
Created by MTL Systems in conjunction with a team of certified doctors, Mimba Bora, Swahili for “best pregnancy,” aims to provide expectant mothers with all the information they need to have a healthy pregnancy. Targeted at women in rural areas who might find it difficult to locate clinics or access information on pregnancy and childbirth, the app is freely available. Once a user registers, she is welcomed into the Mimba Bora network and receives information on the clinics nearest to her and advises when she should visit. During her pregnancy, she will also receive helpful tips on how to deal with her changing body, and learn about how her child is developing. Mimba Bora also supports HIV-positive mothers, and provides all users with special access to information regarding health insurance, lamaze classes, counseling, legal services, and more.
Founded in Ghana in 2007, mPedigree seeks to protect consumers from the issue of counterfeit pharmaceuticals. Although counterfeit drugs exist in U.S. markets, they are most prevalent in developing countries: a recent study conducted in four African countries revealed that between 26% to 44% of antimalarial drugs did not meet quality standards. mPedigree operates by connecting mobile phones to a registry containing information about the pedigrees of brand pharmaceuticals. Users input a serial number and are then notified via text message of the authenticity of the given product. Reports conducted in Accra and Kumasi revealed that mPedigree was largely successful in identifying counterfeit medicines, and in 2011, mPedigree won the Netexplorateur Grand Prix at UNESCO in Paris.
Though only introduced in 2011, Afrinolly already has a list of accolades, including winning the Google Android Developer Challenge in Sub-Saharan Africa. Operating on Android, Blackberry, Nokia, and Java, Afrinolly gives users access to all things film with a special focus on Nollywood. The app, created by Chike Maduegbuna, allows users to watch movie trailers, music videos, and concert videos; catch up on the latest entertainment news; follow movies, shows, and celebrities; share thoughts via a host of social networking sites; and discover and review movies and music videos. In less than a year after it was released to the public, Afrinolly was downloaded nearly half a million times.
Launched after having won the IPO48 competition, M-Farm is a mobile version of software and agricultural business company MFarm Ltd. The app is a transparency tool that allows farmers to access information about retail price of products, purchase goods directly from manufacturers, and get in contact with potential buyers. M-Farm’s goal is to give a voice to farmers in rural areas by eliminating the need for a middleman, thus ensuring that prices are more fair for everyone involved. To use the app, farmers simply send a text message to 3555 using an SMS service.
Which of these African apps do you think is most interesting? Most useful?