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Coronavirus in Africa: an opportunity for innovative investment

In depth
This article is part of the dossier: Corona Chronicles: 10 May – 15 May
Kurt Davis Jr.
By Kurt Davis Jr.
Investment banker

Kurt Davis Jr. is an investment banker focused on Europe, Middle East, Africa, and Turkey and is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. He earned an MBA. in finance, entrepreneurship and operations from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business and a J.D.. in tax and commercial law at the University of Virginia’s School of Law. He can be reached at kurt.davis.jr@gmail.com.

Posted on Wednesday, 13 May 2020 17:07, updated on Tuesday, 26 May 2020 14:27

Virus Outbreak South Africa Daily Life
People wearing face masks to protect against coronavirus, walk on the street in downtown Johannesburg, South Africa, Monday, May 11, 2020. (AP Photo/Themba Hadebe)

The last couple months can only be characterized as unprecedented, as many countries and markets went from indifference of the pandemic to visible panic. In many emerging markets, the flight of capital coupled with slowed investments has further complicated fragile situations. Yet these unexpected and difficult times still present opportunity for investment.

The question is more so whether an opportunity is a product of the current time or will it be long-lasting.

To better answer this, let’s look at the following three sectors that can easily expect to survive and even thrive as African markets continue to navigate and prepare for a post-COVID-19 world.

Information Technology (Not Simply Fintech)

Technology companies usually are not the biggest winners during tough economic times. The storyline, however, is quite different this time. Zoom Video Communications (ZM) has performed particularly well during COVID-19. In fact, their stock is up more than 45% since end of February 2020.

Microsoft Teams communication has been a boon to Microsoft. Work environments during and post COVID-19 will continue with less in-person meetings as businesses shift towards more remote working, distance learning/training, and consequently more videoconferencing.

Digital-anything and everything may become the name of the game for telecoms.

A similar technology bump can be expected in markets already utilizing technology to leapfrog its maturation process. Netflix, which saw more than 15 million new subscribers in the first quarter of 2020, is betting on Africa with certain series, such as Queen Sono by South African writer/director Kagiso Lediga.

READ MORE Technology to fight COVID-19 in the Developing World

Taking a page out of Netflix’s book, investing in Africa-focused technology solutions remains a big opportunity in the post-pandemic era for several simple reasons:

  • Global travel, including across Africa, will never be the same, for example, with keyless check-ins at hotels and airline check-ins with less contact.
  • Cash is dirty, given many germs and hands touch the paper money and coins. Therefore the growth of mobile money and contactless transactions will be even more essential to everyday life.
  • Education will (and should) include more digital teaching. The quantity and quality of the options has been improving but most parents suggest there is more to be done here.

Telecom and Power

The theory on investing in telecom can be oversimplified by the number of subscribers and Average Revenue per User (ARPU). COVID-19 in Africa has shown how the ARPU number can shift drastically with business trends and lifestyle changes.

The reality of today’s world is more data and more power consumption in a physically distanced world.

The pendulum of life across the continent has surely swung from constant in-person interaction (see above discussion on information technology) to distance-everything interaction. Distance-everything means even more data is important.

That said, how can telecom (and telecom-like) companies ride this new business wave, particularly in Africa? Which companies will create data plans and solutions to match consumer needs and ability to pay? Are there opportunities for partnerships with schools and the government to strengthen digital education, especially for communities where mobile and internet access remains low? Digital-anything and everything may become the name of the game for telecoms.

READ MORE Coronavirus is triggering deep digital change in African fintech

A similar theory involving users and ARPU on investing in power has always existed, but again, the same questions built around the industry’s ability to adapt and modernize remain. Mini-grid solutions will be critical to energy and internet access in the absence of connections to the larger grid and of wireless internet connection.

Affordable and renewable solutions to help reduce usage of kerosene in lighting and cooking also remain intriguing. The reality of today’s world is more data and more power consumption in a physically distanced world. So how can players in telecom and power industry help make this trend easier and affordable for consumers?

Healthcare

Healthcare systems across the African continent still require much investment beyond the typical hospital and clinic.

READ MORE Nigeria Lagos states healthcare ‘mission impossible’

The new reality is any country’s ability to protect and provide good healthcare in a post COVID-19 world will need to be technology-enabled to do so.

Such things as simple as Chatbots via Whatsapp are already reshaping how African markets interact. Similarly, creative solutions for fragile systems and vastly dispersed communities is vital to transforming life across Africa. How can diagnosis and assessment be conducted from afar? Also, beyond basic communication, how can telemedicine evolve in an African context?

Simple components of the healthcare system, such as record-keeping and scheduling, will have to surpass traditional mechanisms in other markets. We are already seeing unique solutions for prescription management and delivery.

 

For example, Zipline, a drone-delivery start-up is delivering medical supplies, including blood and vaccines to hard-to-reach health clinics across Ghana and Rwanda. It is this type of creativity that will drive the next phase of health care on this continent.

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Coronavirus: Food insecurity fallout from Nigeria’s lockdown

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