Happy New Year everyone! I hope your passage from 2022 to 2023 went well and you are all set for another year. As is normally the case I always enjoy doing a blog post at the start of a new year that is a retrospective list of the previous year in terms of the biggest digital trends that happened in Kenya. I hope you enjoy this snapshot of Kenya’s biggest digital trends in 2022:
Safaricom Officially Launches Its 5G Network In Kenya.
It feels like it’s been a long time coming but after running a pilot of sorts for many months in Nairobi and a few other cities in Kenya, Safaricom officially launched its 5G network in October 2022. The initial launch included 35 active 5G sites spread across Nairobi, Kisumu, Kisii, Kakamega, and Mombasa with plans to expand to 200 5G sites across the country by March 2023. As of this writing, I am yet to fully experience Safaricom 5G as I don’t seem to live or work in areas that have coverage, and not all 5G enabled mobile devices are necessarily and immediately compatible with Safarcom’s 5G network so it seems to me that this will take years to have the kind of ubiquity we see today with Safaricom 4G. Another caveat to Safaricom’s 5G uptake is going to be the availability and affordability of 5G capable devices at scale so this too will take some time to accelerate. That being said, 5G is finally in Kenya and we can look forward to amazing possibilities going forward.
Digital Lending Service Providers Are Finally Regulated In Kenya.
The Central Bank of Kenya (Digital Credit Providers) Regulations, 2022, were gazetted on March 18, 2022. The Regulations, which are now operational, provided for the licensing and oversight of previously unregulated Digital Credit Providers (DCPs) by CBK. Digital Lenders were required to apply to the CBK for a license within six months of the publication of these Regulations, that is, 17 September 2022, and failure to comply by this date meant that they would be required to cease operations in Kenya. The regulation of digital lenders became necessary due to protect borrowers from predatory lending practices such as not getting full access to information on pricing, punishment for defaults, and recovery of unpaid loans.
Safaricom’s M-Pesa Powered GlobalPay Virtual Card Is Launched In Partnership With Visa.
In June 2022, Safaricom in partnership with Visa launched their GlobalPay virtual card which uses M-Pesa to make payments via the Safaricom M-Pesa mobile app. The virtual card opened up global shopping for Kenyan consumers who use Safaricom’s M-Pesa mobile money service by enabling them to have cashless payments at merchant locations in over 200 countries through Visa’s global network. The virtual card is exclusive for international, online payments outside Kenya that aims to protect customers from incurring forex conversion costs on local online payments billed in Kenya Shillings. Given that Safaricom’s M-Pesa has over 30 million users in Kenya the Visa card has massive potential for growth going forward.
Electric Mobility Becomes A Thing In Kenya.
It seems to me that 2022 was the year when electric mobility started to happen in Kenya. We saw companies like ROAM and BasiGo begin trialing their electric buses in Kenya for the public transport sector with financing coming from KCB and Family Bank. We also saw the likes of Hyundai start selling their Kona Electric Vehicle (EV) to corporate fleets like the International Red Cross and KenGen. KenGen committed to rolling out 30 EV charging stations across the country in 2023. On top of all of this, we generally saw consumers also invest in used EVs such as the Nissan Leaf. The reality is that EVs have become a thing in Kenya since 2022 due to the sharp increase in fuel costs as well as concerns around carbon emissions as organizations and individuals want to become more sustainable.
Digital Taxi Services Become Regulated & Revenue Share Commssions Capped.
Ever since the arrival of digital taxis or taxi-hailing mobile apps in Kenya a few years ago, the whole transport sector has been transformed in a myriad of ways. The cost of commuting by taxi has been upended making it much more affordable for customers. However, on the flip side, many drivers for services like Uber and Bolt have often complained had strikes owing to what they see as a lopsided commission structure in favor of the taxi-hailing apps. Uber and Bolt on had to reduce their commissions to 18% as mandated by the National Transport and Safety Authority (NTSA). Uber used to charge a 25% commission while Bolt was at 20%, whilst Little Cab was only charging a 15% commission all along. NTSA in October 2022 also gave all digital taxi-hailing services like Uber 14 days to apply for licenses as transport network companies.
Crypto Goes Mainstream At Scale For Consumers & Businesses.
One thing that really happened in Kenya in 2022 was that people buying and selling cryptocurrencies (crypto) like Bitcoin and Ethereum became massively mainstream! Indeed it’s no longer just the younger demographics like Millenials and Genzers who are trading in crypto but even older consumers are using these currencies as a way of making and receiving payments for a myriad of use cases. We are also seeing an emerging class of entrepreneurs and creators who are making digital assets such as Non-Fungible Tokens or NFTs that they sell using crypto. Companies like Binance which is the world’s largest crypto exchange actually opened an East African office and hired a regional manager given that Kenya alone is estimated to have over 4 million crypto users. This trend caught the attention of the Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) which mentioned in the media that they are investigating how to tax crypto assets in the future for Kenyan businesses and consumers.
Kenya Revenue Authority’s (KRAs) Digital Tax Impacts The Costs For Using Global Digital Platforms.
The Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) launched its digital service tax or DST back in 2021. However, in many instances, consumers and businesses would only pay for DST in a somewhat discretionary manner. In 2022, this changed as massively as leading global platforms operating in Kenya started adding taxes directly to their payments. This meant for instance if you paid for services like Zoom or Skype to do virtual meetings you would now be presented online with a surcharge of 16% value-added tax (VAT) as part of your payment. More recently, when running Facebook Ads you can see that 16% VAT is added directly to your payments on what is probably the most popular digital advertising platform in Kenya. In a nutshell, digital taxes became far more common and seamless via digital platforms used by millions of businesses and consumers in Kenya.
Several Technology Startups Exited The Market Due To Funding Challenges.
Kenya has been one of the bright spots for technology startups in Africa for the better part of a decade under its now well-known moniker of being the ‘silicon savannah’. However, 2022 was the year when we saw several promising technology startups exit the market due to funding challenges. Startups like Kune Foods, Nopea Taxis, SWVL, and SkyGarden all failed to continue operating when they could not raise additional rounds that would enable them to sustain operations. This is not only in Kenya but globally we are seeing many technology startups folding due to funding constraints owing to the current global economy that is going through many challenges such as rising fuel costs, the war in Ukraine, and a myriad of other factors that is requiring everyone to tighten their belts financially. This suggests that we could see more exits from Kenya’s technology startup ecosystem in the coming year as a result of funding constraints.
The Digital Disruption of Kenya’s Media Industry Saw Massive Cost-Cutting Measures.
One of the things that the COVID-19 pandemic happening in Kenya did is that it accelerated digital transformation across the board for consumers and organizations. One of the industries that bore the brunt of the negative aspects had to be the media industry whereby many consumers now no longer consume media as they did pre-pandemic. Consumer behavior in Kenya where media is concerned has gone massively online with possibly the exception of radio and to some extent TV. The majority of us now stream content such as Netflix, ShowMax, Spotify, and YouTube. Print media such as newspapers and magazines have seen a massive drop in uptake as consumers gravitate towards social media as well as mobile apps and websites for the same content. Ultimately, by the second half of 2022, we saw the major media houses like the Nation Media Group, Standard Media, Royal Media Services and Capital Group all announce layoffs and restructuring to remain viable. My sense is that this is just the beginning and it will get a lot worse in 2023. Digital disruption is real!
Kenya’s Data Privacy Laws Go Into Full Effect.
During the last few years, one of the areas of major interest where the global digital ecosystem is concerned has to be privacy. We saw the arrival of digital privacy laws like GDPR that have had major implications for consumers and organizations in an increasingly sensitive privacy-first environment. Kenya implemented its digital privacy act in 2019 but it only really gained currency in 2022 with the Office of the Data Protection Commissioner (ODPC) becoming much more active. We had the instance of OPPO the mobile device manufacturer being fined Kes. 5 million for using a person’s likeness on an Instagram campaign without their consent. This was clearly a wake-up call for many and the reality is that digital privacy has been an afterthought in Kenya, up until this point. Many have cases under review with the ODPC and complaints are piling as consumers become much more aware of their rights as far as digital privacy becomes top of mind for all. Organizational compliance with ODPC guidelines and licensing will accelerate going into 2023 on the back of what happened in 2022.
Talent Wars Between Local Startups & Global Technology Businesses Escalate.
Something interesting is brewing in Kenya’s technology talent landscape. Once upon a time, it was larger and well-heeled Kenyan businesses that would poach the best talent from startups and small businesses. Now, as things stand, the best talent is also being poached from Kenya’s largest businesses by some of the world’s largest technology businesses that operate locally and internationally such as Google, Microsoft, and Facebook. This is due to the fact that many of the global players are running development hubs in places like Kenya and they are offering interesting work with much better compensation and all sorts of perks to boot. This is interesting in that the offset over time is that there will be talent wars of the likes seen in Silicon Valley for the best technology talent to build the most successful businesses and products at scale, and local startups will probably be the biggest casualties. That being said, we will see how this plays out in 2023 but 2022 was the moment where we saw even the likes of Safaricom complaining that they could not hold on to their best talent due to this trend.
The Fintech BNPL Space Became Increasingly Active In Kenya Targeting Consumers & Businesses.
Buy Now Pay Later or BNPL has become one of the largest trends globally when targeting consumers and businesses. This is a trend that came to the fore in Kenya in 2022 with the likes of LipaLater, Apsira, and Watu Credit all tying up their offerings with technology products and services. BNPLs are basically fintechs that use technology to determine if a borrower is a good candidate for their offerings with a funding model to back it up. As a result, consumers and businesses are financing purchases like smartphones, computers, tablets, digital cameras, etc using BNPLs to do so in Kenya. Even more interesting is that when SkyGarden closed in Kenya LipaLater stepped in to buy the e-commerce platform and will integrate their BNPL system into the same. This all points to BNPL fintechs becoming an even more mainstream aspect of Kenya’s digital consumer ecosystem going forward.
Safaricom’s M-Pesa Super App Becomes Kenya’s Most Downloaded Local Mobile App.
This is the third mention of Safaricom in our biggest digital trends in Kenya for 2022 so they must be doing something right! In particular, Safaricom’s M-Pesa Super App became the most downloaded local mobile app based on my research. In total, according to Safaricom’s half-year results for 2022, the app was downloaded 6.3 million times with an activity rate of 18%+. In addition, the app had great retention with almost 40 transactions per user per month as well as close to 225 million transactions valued at Kes. 604 billion. The app also generated Kes. 3 billion in revenues and had over 1 million monthly active users (MAUs) who transact via the app. I want to restate that this is a locally developed and managed mobile app and not one of the other larger ones from the global platforms. All things considered, this was a major tipping point as far as local apps are concerned in Kenya albeit from the largest local business in Kenya.
Short-Form Video Content Dominated Social Media Platforms With TikTok Coming Tops.
One of the biggest trends from 2022 is that we saw short-form videos becoming increasingly popular on social media in Kenya. In particular, we saw a big campaign from YouTube to make their Shorts offering popular by encouraging regular consumers to upload their videos for incentives. YouTube also courted creators across the African continent to prioritize YouTube Shorts. This is also a follow-up from how Meta has made their Reels video format front and center of their social media platforms Instagram and Facebook. However, by the end of the year, we could see that TikTok was the most downloaded social media app in Kenya making it the undisputed leader of short-form video content in Kenya, even as YouTube, Facebook, and Instagram all try to topple them. It’s also interesting to note that CapCut which is a popular social media video creation app which also was among the top 10 most downloaded mobile apps in Kenya recently is owned by ByteDance, the same Chinese business that owns TikTok.
Podcasting & Social Audio Exploded At Scale.
Podcasting really took off in Kenya in 2022. We saw the arrival of many local podcasts covering every kind of genre under the sun and audiences tuned in to listen and watch them at scale. The obvious caveat to this trend is that consumers are foregoing listening to the radio when they can listen to podcasts that they love to listen to on-demand on essentially any kind of topic that captures their interest. In tandem with the growth of podcasting in Kenya, we saw brands and agencies start sponsoring podcasts that had good audience numbers which is creating a whole new avenue for monetization by content creators and media businesses. In tandem with podcasting growing social audio also grew massively on platforms like Twitter Spaces and Club House. I can’t go a day without seeing a good number of active Twitter Spaces that are either live or recorded. This again must be eating into the listenership for radio stations in Kenya in more or less the same way that podcasts are also doing. Both podcasting and social audio really started to grow in Kenya as a result of the pandemic a couple of years ago and 2022 is when both moved from the fringes to the center of consumer attention.
Telkom Kenya Is Fully Acquired By The Kenyan Government.
In October 2022, Telkom Kenya was fully acquired by the Kenyan Government for around Kes. 6 billion for a 60% stake from the UK-based private equity fund, Helios Investment Partners (Helios). The acquisition was contrarian in that state companies in Kenya are normally privatized rather than nationalized as was the case for Telkom Kenya. Telkom Kenya has had something of a rocky history since it was privatized when France’s Orange invested in 2007 before sold selling its stake to Helios in 2015. At this time, nothing has fundamentally changed at Telkom Kenya in terms of the leadership as well as products and services being offered but clearly in 2023 much could change with the possibility of another private sector investor coming in again to manage the business.