SINGAPORE: Singapore-based artificial intelligence startup Sqreem was already present in South Africa, when the COVID-19 pandemic broke out.

As such, it was able to leverage on technologies it had been working on since 2014 to develop a real-time contact tracing and COVID-19 communication system for the South African government.

“We built a COVID-19 tracking and tracing platform, and then we introduced it to some of the companies which were working for the South African government in contact tracing,” said Mr Ian Chapman-Banks, CEO of Sqreem Technologies.

“We are in the process of building out the contact tracing into more of a pandemic early response, which we will absolutely want to roll out.”

Sqreem is one of many Singapore companies riding the digital wave in Africa.

“There is a great respect and regard for technologies emanating from Singapore,” said Mr G Jayakrishnan, global markets executive director at Enterprise Singapore, whose remit is to help Singapore companies internationalise.

He said that almost 60 per cent of the projects that Enterprise Singapore has facilitated this year have been in the digital space.

Africa as a continent offers businesses many digital opportunities.

The mobile phone opened up opportunities for banking, money transfers and payments on the continent.

According to the African Development Bank, 20 per cent of Africa’s 1.4 billion population owns mobile accounts. Eighty per cent of SMEs have mobile accounts, which allow them to make digital payments.

It is estimated that only about a third of those mobile phones are smartphones, so there is potential for further growth in the sector.

“They leapfrogged to mobile, but only about 35 per cent to 40 per cent of those mobile phones are smartphones. And I think that as you get more cheap mobile phones and smartphones, that again will increase,” said Mr V Shankar, CEO of Gateway Partners.

Africa is unique in having a large unbanked population, while also having a mature electronic payment system.

In 2007, M-Pesa was launched in Kenya. It allowed subscribers to send cash to other phone users by SMS.

This made Kenya one of the earliest countries in the world to have this capacity – and it all took place at a time when more than 80 per cent of the population was excluded from the traditional financial sector.

The growth of this tech and startup infrastructure has earned areas like Nairobi, Kenya the tag of “Silicon Savannah”, offering a myriad of opportunities for companies to tap.

“We see huge opportunities for Singapore firms that are providing solutions, be they fintech solutions, edtech solutions, health tech solutions, or even solutions that are related to track and trace situations,” said Mr Jayakrishnan.

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