Homegrown Super Apps Shape the Future of Mobile-First African Market

Super apps, Africa, mobile payment

In discussions of super apps, a handful of Asian mobile apps such as AliPay, Gojek, Grab and WeChat are often cited as notable examples.

Meanwhile, a handful of American multinationals are also increasingly staking a claim for super app status. PayPal, Facebook/WhatsApp and Uber have all diversified their functionality in recent years and now offer a range of services under the umbrella of a single app.

Read more: The Super App Shift

On the question of what an African super app would look like, Vimal Kumar Ambat, CEO of Airtel Mobile Commerce (AMC), made some insightful comments to PYMNTS.

He pointed out that although everyone looks to WeChat as the quintessential super app, in the context of Africa’s low smartphone penetration, that model doesn’t have the same success prospects at present. He said that “a super app predicates that you need to have a smartphone [and] you need to be a user of content.”

He added that even people who own a smartphone often default to unstructured supplementary service data (USSD) payments.

See also: Central Bank Gives Nod to Mobile Money Licenses; Airtel Fast-Tracks Plans to IPO Mobile Money Unit

In fact, the preference for USSD mobile money wallets in many African countries could prevent many of the international Big Tech super apps from gaining traction on the continent unless they become better integrated with the mobile money ecosystem.

However, there are a number of homegrown African applications that have USSD interoperability built in.

Related: 3 Telco-Driven Apps To Watch in Emerging Markets in 2022

Africa’s Homegrown Super Apps

A list of these super apps could potentially include dozens of apps and services from different corners of the continent, but here, PYMNTS takes a look at three contenders that have established themselves as multi-service apps on the continent.

Safaricom’s M-Pesa

Building on its mobile money wallet, Kenyan telecommunication company Safaricom launched the M-Pesa super app in 2021.

The all-in-one app has an offline feature that allows customers to use the M-Pesa service to make payments even without data bundles or when offline. What’s more, the super app has also integrated PayPal into the platform, enabling users to receive and initiate PayPal transactions from their M-Pesa wallet.

On top of that, M-Pesa users can access a range of services such as ticket booking and bill payments from within the app thanks to “mini-apps” that allow third parties to integrate into the M-Pesa platform.

In the Kenyan context, Safaricom’s business practices have previously come under scrutiny from the country’s competition watchdog. However, as the company’s dominance in the telecommunications and mobile money space is increasingly challenged by new entrants, its products are evolving to be more open-ended.

When PYMNTS spoke to Safaricom CEO Peter Ndegwa, he called the company “an enabling ecosystem” rather than a single-minded payment solution.

Read more: ‘Innovation Mindset’ Critical to M-Pesa Success

For example, Safaricom has opened the M-Pesa mobile money network to other operators so that customers of competing mobile service providers, such as Telkom Kenya and Airtel Kenya, can pay for products and services through M-Pesa.

JumiaPay by Jumia

When pan-African eCommerce giant Jumia launched JumiaPay in 2017, it was hard not to speculate that the payment solution would follow the trajectory towards super app status set out by AliPay and PayPal.

Like those apps, JumiaPay started out serving a specific niche as a payment method for shoppers using the Jumia eCommerce platform. However, in the years since its launch, it has proliferated its range of payment services and now functions as a fully-fledged digital wallet for online payments, as well as a mobile money wallet and money transfer platform.

See also: JumiaPay Transactions Account for 34% of Total Orders in Q1, Faces Increased Competition

In a sign that the payment solution is gaining traction, figures show that the percentage of payments on the Jumia website made using the JumiaPay app account for over a third of all transactions.

Related: Jumia’s Payments Unit Now One-Third Of Marketplace Revenue

At the same time, Jumia has also expanded the super app’s offerings. In April, the company announced the launch of an eHealth subscription service, which gives Nigerian JumiaPay app users access to a licensed doctor through an integrated eDoctor service.

Squad by GTCO

An extension of GTCO’s payment solution HabariPay, Squad is an all-purpose solution that brings several financial technologies together under a single roof.

Combining a payment gateway, eCommerce platform and point-of-sale app that allows merchants to accept contactless NFC payments, GTCO is positioning Squad as a one-stop shop for all things payments.

Read more: Nigeria’s GTCO Shows ‘Super App’ Ambitions With Squad Launch

Ultimately, there is space in the African market for a multitude of players. To date, global Big Tech super apps haven’t had as much traction on the continent as they might have hoped, but that doesn’t mean they have given up.

For Africa’s homegrown super apps, including the three discussed here, different combinations and configurations that cater to the idiosyncrasies of African markets — such as the higher preference for mobile money compared to other parts of the world — have proven key to their success so far.

For all PYMNTS EMEA coverage, subscribe to the daily EMEA Newsletter.