Emerging Technologies in East Africa

The world economy has changed rapidly in recent years, where globalization has created a significant impact on technology transfer and information sharing. East African countries, like other parts of the world, have not lagged behind in the world of globalization. We can easily observe emerging technologies in agriculture, media, telecommunications, financial sectors, etc.

This newly emerging technology has significantly impacted business and entrepreneurship in East Africa. It facilitates entrepreneurship by simplifying communications, money transfers, information sharing and financial inclusion. Technology itself is business, in which entrepreneurs can develop and sell software, apps, data and other technological products. There is a number of emerging technologies in East Africa including mobile money, digital media, block chain, mobile applications and other ICT technologies which together create opportunities for growth for the SME entrepreneur. This article will help us to review newly emerging technologies and their impact on SME development in East Africa.

New emerging ICT and mobile technology as prospects for East African SME entrepreneur development.

There are newly emerging entrepreneurs in East Africa in the technology sector, especially ICT and digital business. There is an opportunity for the ICT and mobile industry to engage, collaborate and partner with entrepreneurs to build a thriving digital entrepreneurship ecosystem in Kenya for mutual benefit (GSMA 2014). A number of a high-performing local indigenous companies in East Africa have been established as a result of ICT technology growth. These companies have succeeded in growing their capital to the multimillion-dollar range after only a few years, such as Celullant in Kenya and Maxcom in Tanzania. Also, the ICT technology revolution has resulted in thousands of retail and mid-sized companies that sell various ICT products and services.

The room for growth for more entrepreneurs in the ICT sector is still huge. The mobile evolution occurring in the developing world is creating unparalleled opportunities for digital entrepreneurship (GSMA 2014). Over a few years, a number of small and mid-size hubs and incubators have started across all East African countries. If we further explore emerging mobile technologies, we may have many more entrepreneurs in East Africa in the next few years. It is vital that entrepreneurs explore these opportunities on fast-growing business in information and communication technology.

Newly emerging mobile money technologies in East Africa as a prospect for SME entrepreneurship development.

From 2007 onward, we have seen gradual growth in mobile money technology in East Africa. It has grown in terms of technology, the number of user accounts and the number of mobile money agents. Mobile money has accelerated SME entrepreneurship and business growth. It has result in the growth of digital entrepreneurship, the proliferation of mobile money agents and the facilitation of cash collections in an easy and safe way. Digital entrepreneurs are also benefiting, as mobile payments platforms provide a mechanism for startups to collect cash from customers interacting with their service or application (GSMA 2014).

Thousands of businessmen and women operate in East Africa as mobile money company agents and they get paid at the end of the month by commission base. Mobile money has simplified money transfer from one point to another. Widespread adoption has created an unparalleled opportunity for digital entrepreneurs because mobile money services, such as Safaricom’s paybill and ‘Lipa Na M-PESA’ are making it easier for businesses to accept payments (GSMA 2014). SME entrepreneurs may easily sell across East Africa and receive payments through mobile money. Moreover, mobile money paves the way to facilitate international trade since it is integrated into international money payment systems such as VISA, MasterCard and PayPal. Mobile money has also played an important role in motivating the digital entrepreneur to come forward in all East African countries. As such, many startups build businesses that use mobile money platforms, including several that extend M-PESA services to merchants and financial institutions such as Kopo Kopo and Zege Technologies (GSMA 2014). The entrepreneur may explore these opportunities brought by the mobile money revolution as they aim to start a digital business, increase profit, simplify their operations and explore the international market.

Newly emerging mobile USSD and mobile applications as a source of loan and credit for SME entrepreneurs.

Financial inclusion is very important for improving business and entrepreneurship in East Africa. In a few past years, we have seen a significant change in the financial sector, which has gone more digital than ever. People can access their bank account through mobile phones and make all transactions in an easy and simple way. SME entrepreneurs and businessmen can now access credit facilities without hard conditions through their mobile phone number by either short-code (USSD) or from credit apps like TALA and NALA in East Africa. Borrowing through mobile is easy, without any difficult conditions and takes only a few minutes compared to other available borrowing facilities. These newly emerging mobile credits have a positive impact on the growth of both men and women’s SME entrepreneurs in East Africa. According to UNCTAD (2014) the study also noted that ICT is increasingly used to promote women entrepreneur’s access to finance, including by micro-finance institutions. SME entrepreneurs may explore this opportunity as it solves longtime challenges of financial inclusion. This will help them to expand their capital and thus expand their business.

New emerging digital media and social media as prospects for SME entrepreneur development in East Africa.

 A few years ago, East African countries decided to move from analog to digital media. This has played an important role in increasing entrepreneurs as middle agents, who have established the business of selling and servicing the digital decoder. There are thousands of small and middle entrepreneurs who act as the agent to digital media. Furthermore, there are a number of newly established online media companies which benefit large numbers of media entrepreneurs in East Africa,  such as Ayo Tv in Tanzania. The wide use of smartphones has increased the access of social media to SME entrepreneurs and even to their customers. Social media such as Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp and others has played an important role in enabling SME entrepreneur’s product advisement and promotions. Social media is a cheap method of advertisement and provides more value as the number of users has recently increased. This emerging opportunity acts as a prospect for further growth since it enables entrepreneurs to access more of the market, advertise products and engage with customers.

 Impact of emerging ICT technologies on farming SME entrepreneur’s growth in East Africa.

The farming entrepreneur may access modern farming education through emerging ICT technology. Information technology is being utilized more than ever to improve agriculture in East Africa. The development of the internet and mobile applications may simplify the market searching for agricultural products. For example, in East Africa, the farming entrepreneur can easily engage with buyers of their products through a mobile app like Kilimo online shopping and NINAYO. Newly emerging technology may simplify input procurement and also enable SME entrepreneurs to verify the input to assess whether it is genuine. Through these new emerging ICT technologies, SME entrepreneurs may lease tractors and other agricultural machines through a mobile app and also control their farming operations through the computer.  

New emerging block chain technology, artificial intelligence, robotics, drones, 3D printing and its prospects for East African entrepreneurship development.

Newly emerging technologies have spread widely and are expected to transform the world economy in the upcoming few years. Block chain technology has revolutionized the current global money transfer and payment system. In some parts, traceability and transparency that block chain and IoT bring will help organic farmers and local producers finally get the premium they deserve. AI and robotics have brought fantastic change to the modern world’s industrial outlook and automation. 3D printing is expected to transform the world manufacturing economy in the next few years, in which we will be able to print different products such as houses, cars, etc. Drones and other related technology may transform the delivery of small-sized products. East African SME entrepreneurs have not lagged behind on the uptake of these new technologies. We have seen how different entrepreneurs have tried to use these new emerging technologies from a business perspective. In Tanzania in 2015, we have seen how BitPesa has introduced their services of converting digital currency such as bitcoin into the local Tanzanian currency. We also see how drone technology was used in Rwanda to deliver medicine to rural areas. These technologies will benefit SME entrepreneurs only if they decide to explore the opportunity they bring.

In conclusion, this article has shown how newly emerging technologies bring innovative opportunities to SME entrepreneurs in East Africa. The emerging technology has a significant impact on the development of SME entrepreneurship in East Africa. The newly emerging technologies have played an important role in growing digital entrepreneurs and improving entrepreneurs’ business operations. East African entrepreneurs have explored only small parts of these newly emerging technologies. There is great room for growth, from small to middle to large entrepreneurs, if they explore the opportunities brought by these newly emerging technologies at full capacity.


UNCTA (2014), “Empowering women entrepreneur through information and communication technology”, New York.

GSMA (2014), “Digital Entrepreneurship in Kenya 2014”, London.

Intellecap (2017), “Imagine Africa 2030: Technologies that will shape Africa’s tomorrow”, Nairobi, www.intellecap.com/imagine-the-future/africa 


AAE is a volunteer-run organisation coordinated by a network of national teams.

View all posts by AAE →