Category Archives: Google

Nairobi Hub Spaces in 2022

Interesting times in Nairobi the last few weeks as Microsoft launched its Africa Development Centre (ADC) office. The Kenya ADC, was launched three days after another one in Lagos, Nigeria that will serve the West Africa region. Across Africa, the company now has 450 staff and engineers working at ADC’s in the two capitals.

The new office also houses the Microsoft Africa Research Institute, its first on the continent as all as a Microsoft Garage, an incubation hub, joining others located in the USA, Canada, Israel, India, and China.

Visa launched an innovation studio in Nairobi, its first in Sub-Saharan Africa to showcase payment solutions and innovations. Visa will co-create e-commerce solutions for the future with partners in the new space that was launched by Patrick Njoroge, the Governor of the Central Bank of Kenya. Visa has other innovations centres in Dubai, Singapore and USA (San Francisco) – which is its flagship “One Market”. There are already partnerships in Africa with Paga and Safaricom.

Who’s next?

It’s not just about technology; NSE-listed agricultural firm Kakuzi has launched an online “Avocademy” hub for farmers to learn about the processes of growing and managing avocado – the current “green gold” crop.

Other Hubs and co-working spaces:

Amazon announced that a new AWS Local Zone would be available in Kenya providing cloud infrastructure. Companies can use it to host their applications by connecting through Amazon local partners including Safaricom.

Google has announced that they will be opening a product development centre in Nairobi and is now hiring engineers, product managers, software engineers, user experience (UX) designers and researchers. Perfect timing as their pioneer Country Manager, Joe Mucheru will continue to serve as Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary for ICT, Innovation and Youth Affairs for the next few months.


UNCTAD report shows an unequal digital global economy

The increased use of digital platforms in everyday lives across the world is leading to a divide between under-connected nations from hyper-digitalized societies

The Digital Economy Report released by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) shows that China and the USA have done the most to harvest the digital economy and now dominate the rest of the world and leading to an unequal state of e-commerce. The two countries host seven global “super-platform” companies – Microsoft, Apple, Amazon, Google, Facebook, Tencent and Alibaba that account for two-thirds of the total market value of the seventy largest digital platforms with Naspers as the only African company in the group.

Google and Facebook collected 65% of the $135 billion spent on internet advertising in 2017, while, in Australia, Google took 95% of the “search advertising” revenue while Facebook took 46% of the “display advertising” revenue.

Europe’s share of the digital economy is only 4% while Africa and Latin America combine for 1%.  In Africa, progress has also been uneven with four countries – Egypt, Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa accounting for 60% of digital entrepreneurship activity. They are followed by a second tier of Ghana, Morocco, Senegal, Tanzania, Tunisia and Uganda (with a combined 20%)

The Report showed that the evolving digital economy has a major impact on achieving sustainable development goals (SDG’s) and calls for governments in developing nations to focus efforts on things like:

  • Skills development & re-education e.g. consider that in the Western world, you can do a whole university degree online.
  • Revising policies on data privacy & sharing e.g. have restricted local data sharing pools and have tariffs on cross-border data.
  • Revising competition regulations e.g. curb the tendency where platform companies tend to capture/acquire young promising companies in the developing world.
  • Taxation e.g. developing country governments should seek to tax digital platform companies.
  • Employment e.g. by setting minimum wages & work conditions for gig-economy workers.
  • Break down silos: no longer think of government as being separate from academia, private sector, civil society and tech communities.
  • Also, while the US and Europe have divergent views on data protection, it cites a survey which found that Kenyans had the least concerns about data privacy (at 44%).

Speaking at an unveiling of the Report in Nairobi, Dr. Monica Kerretts-Makau said that the world is trending towards a captive society where you have to be on a platform to transact in an economy and that presents problems and opportunities in the African context.

The 2019 issue of the Report, that was previously focused on the “information economy”, can be downloaded here.

EDIT June 2020: The Kenya Revenue Authority announced the introduction of Value-Added Tax (VAT) on digital marketplace suppliers in the Finance Act 2019. Member of the public can send their views on the draft proposal  by June 15 to

Media Moment: Kenya Landscape Report

This morning a, joint report by TIFA Research and Reelforge Media Intelligence was released about the media landscape in Kenya.

Excerpts from the report

  • Advertising remains a key source of revenue of media. Also the media, while still powerful faces many challenges including global competition for advertisers (Facebook and Google), and for consumers from other digital platforms.
  • Audiences are fragmented, with people interacting with five radio and 3 TV stations every day. TIFA has tried to improve on the traditional data collecting methods for audience measurement by using an app in the phones of test subjects.
  • For brands, Facebook is the most effective – used by 71% of corporations to reach audiences, followed by Twitter 26%. Least used are podcasts, email and surprisingly WhatsApp – despite its prevalence (all below 2%).
  • Social media and content marketing are the most effective ways of reaching consumers, according to the report. The least effective methods are email campaigns, public relations and outdoors advertising (all below 8%).
  • Whatsapp and Facebook are the most popular platforms with internet audiences – used by over 80% of the respondents – and this is largely because they are free from Telecom providers.
  • The top media spender in 2019 is projected to be Safaricom with Kshs 9.7 billion. In 2018 it was gambling company Tatua which spent Kshs 5.3 billion. In 2017 it was the Government of Kenya which spent Kshs 8.6 billion in that was an election year. Spending by gambling companies has been on the rise with half of the top advertising companies now being betting firms.
  • Radio remains attractive because it is free for audiences access. It also had the has the highest advertising over the period – mainly by political parties during the  2017 Kenya elections.
  • Newspaper circulation continued to decline, and the authors estimated at circulation went down by 33% between 2013 and 2018.
  • Digital migration has increased the reach of TV. Today, Kenya has 173 radio stations, 68 TV stations and 9 newspapers. 

The report by TIFA and Reelforge is now available for download.

Google bans short term loan adverts

Google just announced some changes to their adwords rules. They often review these and the ads that they support and .. in 2015 alone, (they) disabled more than 780 million ads for reasons ranging from counterfeiting to phishing. 

The main change is that they will be banning payday loans and loans whose repayments are less than 2 months (i.e short term) as..research has shown that these loans can result in unaffordable payment and high default rates for users so we will be updating our policies globally to reflect that.

Short term loans are increasing in volume in Kenya, thanks to mobile phone penetration. This week, both Equity Bank and Safaricom released financial results and there were some interesting notes about short term loans, mainly processed via phone.

  • Safaricom M-Shwari: had Kshs 10.0 billion loans at year-end (March 31).
  • KCB – MPESA loans were Kshs 1.47 billion.
  • One million people have taken mobile phone loans at Equity Bank, totaling about Kshs 4 billion. The loans are now one month in duration, and they will progressively increase this to 3 months, then 6 month, and eventually one year as they get better at understanding their users after profilng and checking their credit (with credit reference bureaus). The loans are  approved within a few seconds of application and disbursed directly to the borrower’s mobile phones.

The banks don’t have to advertise these loans on google, as they are right in the user menus of every phone.

$1 = Kshs 100

Cashless Bus Payments from Google & Equity Bank

Someone said that a matatu owner is the seventh or eighth person to get paid at the end of a busy day, only getting residual cash after the driver, turn boy, tout, tax man, council person, policeman, and sometimes the driver’s girlfriend have taken their cut. But on Tuesday, April 30, Google and Equity Bank unveiled BebaPay, a cashless way for commuters to pay for transport in buses in Kenya – and which propels owners right to the front of that queue.

The transport sector has many challenges and is known for some unpleasant habits like reckless driving, price hikes when it rains, bribing traffic police, ill-treatment of passengers, having unroadworthy vehicles etc. – but some investors who purchase the vehicles that can cost an average of Kshs. 4 million ($47,000) believe that a common thread behind these habits is the amount of liquid money that the sector generates and which is easily diverted to make many payments, even illegal ones.

BebaPay enables commuters to pay their fares by using a card, which is then tapped to a phone in the bus enabling exact payments (even small ones like Kshs 20 [~$0.25] to be deducted from the user’s card and uploaded into the owner’s accounts that are at Equity Bank.

Currently, many owners only get to know how much money they have earned at the end of the day, but with BebaPay they are able to monitor their cash receipts online or via Equity banks’ mobile phone platform – Eazzy247.

Another feature is that users who purchase & register cards will get SMS notifications each time the cards are used – and this can be useful for parents who send their kids to from school on public transport to track when and where their kids pay for transport using the card. Also, users can send money to people on buses to pay for transport, and the system will also link with M-pesa which is ubiquitous in Kenya.

Obtaining a free BebaPay card takes about 20 minutes at an Equity bank agent – this is to enable them to take down ID and Gmail details (even create a new one), and to create a BebaPay account in which a commuter inputs a password. This enables one to get an SMS notification each time the card is topped up and to monitor their card activity online.

Other Comments at the Launch

  • The Chairman of the Matatu Owner’s Association said he expects some resistance to the changes. He also called on the government to institute training for people who work in the sector and for legislation to eliminate cash payments for transport.
  • One vehicle owner said that gangs run bus stages in downtown Nairobi and have to get paid daily before a bus is allowed to stop & pick passengers.
  • The Equity Bank CEO said the public transport sector is the bigger consumer of notes & coins and that handling all that cash comes with costs & risks that can be eliminated with BebaPay.
  • The Deputy President of Kenya said cash-less payments that go directly into business people’s accounts will enable banks to lend based on cash flow, rather than collateral.
  • The two permanent secretaries (who currently double as acting ministers) both revealed their past unsuccessful attempts to invest in the matatu business.
  • The Nairobi Governor said that the government will train new traffic marshals to manage traffic at roundabouts which will create employment for the youth and free up policemen for other duties.
  • Every day, 1.5 million Google Android phones are activated and 1.5 million Kenyans use matatus.

Other Reading:

  • Bloomberg: Major banks in Sweden have stopped handling cash in many of their local branches as many people rely on credit cards, the Internet and mobile phones to make all their payments…bank notes are only used in about 20% of shop transactions. 
  • The official Google Africa blog notes that BebaPay uses smart cards powered by Near Field Communication (NFC) technology, plus software from Google. The NFC technology means that payment can take place offline, even when there is no power or network connectivity.
  •  Juuchini blog asks Is Kenya ready for public transport debit cards?
  • Quartz: It is becoming increasingly inaccurate to call Google an internet company and the free BebaPay app turns any NFC-enabled Android phone into a card reader, which means that shops, traders, and small businesses can use BebaPay to accept payments from customers, without needing expensive tills and cash registers. 
  • Think M-Pesa: Is Google trying to replicate m-pesa?

EDIT June 2020: The National Transport & Safety Authority announced its intention to re-introduce mandatory cashless payments for public service vehicles. The announcement happened during the Coronavirus pandemic, and the new digital platforms will also facilitate contact tracing through the maintenance of a digital passenger manifests. Service providers are to send in solutions  to NTSA by June 16.