Businesses in Africa are beginning to explore what more they can do with the internet. Beyond social media presence and having a website. Entrepreneurs are also looking at how to solve problems by plugging in existing infrastructure. And, there’s seems to be one area they are all picking interest in. Chatbots.
Last week, at the F8 conference, Mark Zuckerberg said:
“Facebook has seen good momentum for messenger business with more than 300,000 business bots and 8 billion messages exchanged between them and users.”
“People are now spending more time in messaging apps than in social media and that is a huge turning point. Messaging apps are the platforms of the future and bots will be how their users access all sorts of services.” — Peter Rojas, Entrepreneur in Residence at Betaworks
UBA is not alone. In the recent past, there has been a series of chatbots developed from across the continent.
South Africa’s ABSA launched its ABSA ChatBanking bot in July 2016. To “let customers conduct banking without having to leave the social media platform.”
Budapest-based Hungarian start-up, UXstudio, also developed Nuru, a chatbot to “meet the needs of people in Kenya and Ghana.” This includes “searching for seasonal jobs”, calculating “current market prices” as well as “daily tips on how to live a healthier life”.
South African-based BotsZa also has two bots Keirabot & Haziebot. The company says that it provides solutions in hotel reservations, flight booking, e-commerce, banking, finance, and insurance, as well as customer care services.
In Uganda, a group of entrepreneurs developed Panya. The chatbot worked for both Facebook messenger and Telegram. It allowed one to “order an Uber, search for jobs, do their shopping” as well as “receive the news”.
Towards the end of last year, Quartz Africa reported that World Food Program, WFP, was “using chatbots to beat world hunger.” The United Nations, UN, the agency was exploring the use of chatbots to asses food needs in areas it's operating.
“This year, they expanded to using chatbots on the Facebook messenger platform. Approximately 170 million Africans use Facebook, mostly on their phones,” wrote Quartz Africa.
So far, there are some successes among those who have built chatbots as solutions.
Last week, Ventureburn reported that “Canadian social enterprise firm 1001 Squared Artificial Intelligence has acquired a Nigerian AI-enabled chatbot and SMS-based directory service QuickHelp for an undisclosed amount.”
According to Maxime Biyen from GSMA, “out of the 65 start-ups that pitched at Seedstars, 12 are actually using chatbots in one way or another.”
“Startups using chatbots include Gifted Mom’s ‘healthcare bot’ (Cameroon), Langbot‘s gamified language teaching chatbot (Ethiopia) and 3oun using a chatbot to assist its users to find handymen in Jordan.” - Maxime Biyen.
All the above events signal a bright future for chatbot based ventures in Africa. Especially, when the continent is touted to be mobile first. An attribute that's key to the adoption of chatbots. Plus, with an expected over half a billion smartphones by 2020, a great opportunity lies ahead.