This is part of a series of posts on the impact of Rich Interaction Applications (RIAs).
On August 8th, Kenya voted in its fifth round of elections and elected Uhuru Kenyatta as the winner with just over 54% of the votes. In the past, Kenya’s voting procedures have been overrun with corruption and inconsistencies, but in this election cycle Rich Interaction Applications (RIAs) were used to ensure a freer and fairer election. RIAs were found in Kenyan polling stations to promote transparency. Real-time numbers, electronically transmitted by officers at polling stations, were posted to various social medias by election observers. Other RIAs used during the elections allowed mapped voting, tracked communications from activists and civil society, and helped to alert officials about violent outbreaks and possible cases of fraud.
The application of mobile technologies in the Kenyan election is an example of the increasing use of RIAs across many African nations. This technology has allowed those nations to skip the landline phase and go straight into the digital age, bolstering economic and social development. The rise of mobile technologies in Africa has been fast. In 2002, 1 in 10 people owned a mobile phone in countries like Tanzania and Kenya whereas at the same time in the United States a little more than half the country had cell phones. Today, cell phones are just as common in African countries like South Africa and Nigeria as they are in the United States.
With higher cellphone adoption, Africans have found new ways to communicate and engage in commerce through RIAs, which facilitate “rich interaction” with messaging, mobile banking, and photography or videography components. RIAs are growing in popularity across the world and have contributed to a $5.6 trillion increase in global GDP for every ten percent increase in RIA usage. The rising popularity of RIA in African countries parallels the increase of RIAs globally. Beyond facilitating economic growth, RIAs are helping combat major issues in African countries like poor education, high unemployment rates, and low economic growth.
RIA usage has had a great impact elsewhere in Kenya, providing new opportunities for small businesses and merchants. Kiondo basket weavers in Kenya use an app called Mifuko, from a small Finnish company, to communicate daily via instant messaging, text, and pictures. Mifuko imports Kiondo woven baskets from five small Kenyan villages and helps weavers address production issues by providing key information like order statuses. Additionally, Mifuko uses M-pesa, a mobile payment service, to pay the Kiondo weavers. Mifuko supports local, Kenyan workshops and the people in those small Kenyan villages with regular income, good working conditions, and education. Mifuko is not the only RIA that aids Kenyan business endeavors. Ongair, a small business centered in Nairobi, Kenya, aggregates different messaging services, like WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger, onto a single platform to facilitate an easier communication channel for businesses and their clientele. Ongair allows businesses to directly interact with their clients — a void that remained unfilled in the instant messaging space. Ongair helps bolster business in Kenya because it challenges the notion that in order to fix African problems you must start at home. Ongair’s success has led them to not only be a major global player in the RIA field, but also demonstrate to the world that small startups in Africa can have major global impacts.
Similar effects can be seen in South Africa. WumDrop is an RIA that enables local delivery services in Cape Town, Johannesburg, Pretoria, and Durban. Couriers and users coordinate via WumDrop to pick up and send packages across South Africa. Couriers meet users at agreed locations to pick up packages and users can track packages and receive delivery notifications. The RIA also allows couriers to be paid by mobile banking. South African businesses continually deal with major delivery issues that can hurt their bottom line. Delivering to homes and individuals is difficult in South Africa because the mapping data is often inaccurate and unreliable. WumDrop solves that issue by deliver to people wherever they are — not just static addresses. WumDrop’s reliability and customer service have increased business productivity in South Africa.
In Egypt, an RIA is being used to address Egypt’s high illiteracy rate. Around 14.5 million people across Egypt, around 25% of Egypt’s total population, cannot read or write — especially in Egypt’s rural communities. The Vodafone Literacy App is trying to change that. The Vodafone Egypt Foundation in conjunction with other NGOs created the RIA with the goal of helping Egyptians learn how to read and write by using the pictures and talkback features of the RIA. The Vodafone Literacy App helps make learning more accessible to Egyptians and it has been successful. More than 360,000 Egyptians have completed the program since its launch in 2011. Even the Egyptian government has recognized the RIA’s success in helping to improve literacy throughout the country.
These are just a few examples of how RIAs have truly changed lives across Africa. People in developing countries and least developed countries in Africa now have greater ability to communicate, educate themselves, and build sustainable enterprises which results in personal independence, economic boosts for African countries, and overall development. With Africa’s technology economy growing more every day we can expect to see more RIAs and continued development.
Jessica Gandy is a Legal Intern at CCIA and a rising 2L at American University Washington College of Law.