Saturday, December 24, 2022

Brastorne Connects the Unconnected in Africa

Digital inclusion is not universal and a growing digital divide is excluding entire segments of our society from the potentially limitless benefits.

In Africa, 650 million of the continent's one billion people own mobile phones, but the majority lack meaningful digital access.  About 760 million people are unconnected in Africa. 

Economic realities are driving this digital divide. Africans use feature phones in large numbers, leaving only a few people who have both smartphones and the data plans required to be online. Yet more and more aspects of modern life have moved online - access to information, economic opportunities, and how we interact with our social circles are all reliant on access to the internet. 

Access to this near-limitless online world leads to empowerment for those with ready access. When they have a smartphone, digital access comes at a crippling cost. 

One gigabyte of mobile data costs an average of $6.44 in Africa, which is equivalent to a week's wages for the majority of the continent's rural poor. There are many efforts globally to promote digital inclusion, but Africa is still left behind. 

Brastorne acknowledges these realities and has implemented disruptive solutions to dissolve the barriers to digital inclusion in Africa. Using existing infrastructure, standard telco networks, Brastorne’s technology turns the continent's ubiquitous feature phones into internet portals for less than $0.05 per day. 

For these feature phone users, Brastorne's solutions provide an experience similar to that of a smartphone mobile app. This is accomplished through a suite of technology solutions including USSD, IVR, or Voice to promote digital inclusion through Brastorne’s applications Mpotsa, mAgri and Vuka.

Mpotsa, which translates to "ask me how?" in English, is a two-way telephone-based question/answer platform that aims to provide users with information on almost anything. It provides information to users by acting as a Google-like service that uses the user-friendly technology of Voice/IVR. 

Farmers use mAgri to access advisory services, wikipedia, weather/pest alerts, crop prices, and financial services, as well as trade, chat, and email in their native language. Vuka facilitates and accelerates convenient communication through USSD, allowing users to chat, send in-person messages, or broadcast messages on both low-end phones and smartphones. 

These solutions empower numerous communities that rely on feature phones by giving them access to essential information such as employment opportunities, health advice, and legal services.

Through Brastorne’s flagship product Smallholder Farmers experience increased access to communications and Women Smallholder Farmers see increased Crop Yield and increased revenue. 

In 2021, 36 000 farmers gained access to information, markets, & communication in Botswana through mAgri. 

Furthermore Brastorne users realized 85% Monthly Savings in costs of information and communication access compared to alternatives (data bundles, physical travel costs etc), which can cost $15+/month. 

Brastorne users in total have realized $3.4 million total annual savings across all 60,000 subscribers in 2021. 

These savings can now be put to use to improve their farm, feed their families, or buy much-needed personal items. 

Brastorne’s information access service Mpotsa has brought the power of the internet to new users, giving them increased access to information, medical treatment, COVID vaccinations, and access to jobs. 

The service is a literal lifeline with an estimated 60% of Mpotsa subscribers who cannot otherwise afford digital information. 

In 2021, Mpotsa connected 25,231 total youth, over 15,000 of whom would otherwise have remained unconnected. This resulted in $60,554 total information access cost savings. 

With its mission of connecting 760 million Africans who lack meaningful access to today's digital world, Brastorne plans to expand its solutions to 19 different African countries. 

Brastorne is currently operational in Botswana, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and most recently Cameroon (, having launched in October through partnerships with mobile network providers such as Orange. 

It plans to address the realities of Africa's lack of connectivity by enabling digital inclusion and its dividends through mAgri and Vuka.

Monday, November 28, 2022

No need for more benchmarking trips to pass Uganda National Health Insurance

By Esther Nakkazi

Each year parliament allocates 3billion Uganda shillings or USD $ 800,000 to the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS).

Uganda urgently needs an NHIS. It should be universal, fair, with only one pool, said Fredrick Makaire, the Executive Director, Save for Health an NGO that coordinates community health insurance schemes across the country.

After many years since it was first proposed, the Uganda NHIS is not operational although discussions about how it should be implemented are on going in Parliament and among stakeholders.

One of the activities for which the UGX 3 billion allocated is spent is the benchmarking exercise by members of parliament. This involves travel to different countries.

Twenty years since talks about starting the Uganda NIHS started divisions on whether the benchmarking is even relevant anymore are raising eyebrows.

Stakeholders are divided on the way forward. While some think the exercise is not relevant arguing that if the funds for benchmarking were to be saved they would have jump started Uganda’s NIHS by now others say ‘seeing is believing’ so the new members of Parliament need a physical assessment to support it.

Makaire says there’s no need for fresh benchmarking as there’s already enough data gathered over the last fifteen years.

Joel Ssebikali Yoweri, the Vice Chairperson of the health committee in parliament says the new members of parliament on the health committee who are 32 out of the 36 team need to get proof of how NIH systems work. 

Next month, for the fourth round of benchmarking 36 members of parliamentary health committee will visit Rwanda in December and proceed to Kenya and Tanzania in early 2023, participants attending the 6th National Community Health Financing two-day conference held in Kampala heard.

Previously, MPs visited Rwanda, Namibia, Ghana and France to benchmark for the bill that was passed by parliament in 2021.

However, the Bill was rejected by president Museveni who refused to accent to it.

The bill has been in parliament for four terms. The assessment is that there is zero political will to pass it. At some point it even disappeared and could not be tabled.

“It becomes embarrassing, as politicians we get ashamed when we talk about it. We have wasted government money because we benchmarked all over the world that money was wasted, efforts were futile and time,” said Ssebikali.

He advised stakeholders to start engaging smaller groups individually. “If we finish smaller groups without achieving this we shall be ashamed.” Financing healthcare in Uganda remains a nightmare. Maybe times Ugandans who go to hospitals come out poorer.

At least 1.5 million Ugandans are pushed down the poverty line because of health care expenditure. This was even more so amplified during the Covid-19 pandemic.

As well about 40 percent Ugandan households use out of pocket expenses to finance health care. The World health Organisation (WHO) recommends 15 percent out of pocket expenditure. 

At the East African Community level only Uganda and South Sudan lack an NHIS. Uganda has only 30.9 percent health coverage compared to Rwanda at 95 percent.

Now the Bill is back at the Ministry of Health for review. Dr. Charles Olaro, the Director curative Services in the Ministry of Health, says returning the Bill back to the Ministry of Health has enabled them to consult - engaging members of parliament, private sector and they have managed to get a consensus and a ‘win-win’ situation’ for most of the items that were not accepted. 

He noted that they are ensuring that everything that missed in the 2021 bill including the fate of community health schemes and private providers are well catered for in the new document.

Leticia Nakimuli Irumba, the Board chairperson, Save for Health Uganda says if the country puts all its resources in one pool we shall achieve universal health Insurance coverage.

“We are glad that we back and counting to advocate for the bill. We are sure that an opportune time we shall have the Bill signed.”


Friday, November 11, 2022

Africa food cooling technology to be expanded

The African Centre of Excellence for Sustainable Cooling and Cold-chain (ACES) has announced at COP 27 that it will work with global cold chain provider Carrier to help advance cooling development and training in Africa.

“Turning food loss into nutritionally available food is essential for Africa’s sustainable development, as well as building the food systems that are used to feed people in times of uncertainty," said Toby Peters, Centre for Sustainable Cooling Director and Professor of Cold Economy, University of Birmingham and Heriot-Watt University.

Global leaders have recently agreed that the only way to overcome food insecurity is by working together to create innovative partnerships within the global community,” 

Carrier will collaborate in the development of the ACES cold-chain centre in Kigali, Rwanda - providing capacity building for farmers and refrigeration technicians, skills development for students and supply chain professionals, and demonstration of best-in-class sustainable cooling technology.

More than 475 million tons of the world’s food can be saved annually with effective refrigeration, and more than 50% of all perishable food loss could be avoided by using cold chain technology.

The University of Birmingham plays a leading role in ACES, which is developed with the Governments of UK and Rwanda and UN Environment Programme at the University of Rwanda.

Additionally, progress continues on the collaboration between Carrier, WFP and other leading companies to build a world-class Transport Training Centre in Accra, Ghana, aimed at enhancing transport and logistics capacities across West Africa. 

The centres are expected to inject new expertise into local transport markets, equipping them to deliver goods more efficiently throughout their respective regions.

 “We’re pleased to partner with ACES and WFP to make a meaningful difference across Africa, as the potential benefits of these collective efforts are far reaching and can positively impact the cold chain from farmers and manufacturers to consumers with wide-reaching benefits,” said Tim White, President, Refrigeration, Carrier. 

The University of Birmingham and the Indian State of Haryana recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to develop a Haryana Centre of Excellence on crop post-harvest management and sustainable cold chain.

The agreement builds on ACES and will conduct state-of-the-art applied research and provide capacity building and training, an innovation and business hub and technology testing/demonstration centre. 

It will connect experts, investors, agri-food business, farmer cooperatives, and energy or logistics providers to deliver sustainable cooling. 

It also follows an MoU signed earlier this year with the Indian State of Telangana for a Telangana Centre of Excellence. The UK and UN Environment technical assistance programme is funded by DEFRA.

Carrier is a leading global provider of healthy, safe, sustainable and intelligent building and cold chain solutions. 

ACES’ partnership will support Carrier’s focus on expanding the cold chain – improving health outcomes and reducing hunger, food insecurity and carbon emissions. 

ACES is being highlighted at COP27 through a series of side-events. Professor Peters will be presenting at the Clean Heating and Cooling Forum on Monday, 14 November. 

The event will explore policy, technology, and models needed across both the sustainable cooling and clean heat challenges.

As outgoing COP 26 President, the Rt. Hon. Alok Sharma MP, said when he visited ACES during CHOGM: “ACES is a demonstration of how we can work together, to help tackle rising emissions and keep alive the goal of limiting average global temperature rises. Cooling and refrigeration are the fastest-growing source of greenhouse gas emissions in the world, especially in developing countries. But this challenge gives us the opportunity to develop innovative, energy efficient technologies of the future.”

Orange Launches first 5G commercially in Botswana

Orange Botswana is the first Orange affiliate to launch 5G, with a coverage of 30% of the population, including greater Gaborone and Francistown. Other cities will follow in early 2023.

It follows the launch of Botswana’s first Orange Digital Centre this morning, which will help bridge the digital divide and prepare Batswana youth for employment in a blossoming digital ecosystem.

This 5G launch will further support innovation and digital inclusion in the country, putting Botswana at the forefront of 5G in Africa and is closely aligned with the government’s ambition to leverage Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) innovation towards transforming Botswana into a knowledge-based economy, leaving no-one behind.

Orange Botswana is the first Orange ( affiliate in Africa to launch 5G commercially. New healthcare, education and security services will be enabled in the country by the 5G technology.

5G, with its ultra-high speed and low latency, will support new disruptive services such as e-health, connected vehicles, connected cities, real-time gaming, smart homes and learning through VR and augmented reality. 

It offers a new world of possibilities to companies, innovators and society at large.

Orange Botswana has partnered with MRI Botswana to create a “Connected Ambulance” project that will allow Doctors to guide Paramedics through life saving procedures on their way to hospitals. 

This telemedicine intervention will change lives and would not have been possible without 5G. Orange Botswana is looking forward to collaborating with government and enterprises to implement 5G-based use cases.

Orange Botswana introduces new 5G fixed broadband services and mobile data bundles. The offers are available for residential customers, small and medium enterprises and include value added services.

The fixed offers are available from15Mbps for Prepaid and from 20Mbps for Postpaid with a monthly rental from BWP 699 (€53 per month). The subscription of Prepaid offers is accessible through Orange Yame App, USSD and Card to Wallet.

In other countries, regulation boards still have not officially initiated the 5G licenses attribution process although many of them, such as in Cote d’Ivoire showed a clear will to make the 5G spectrum available in 2023.

Meanwhile, Orange is collaborating with several regulatory bodies to help build a 5G deployment roadmap while testing the technology and developing use cases that fit with the local populations’ need.

Africa: Of 23 countries studied only two-thirds publish data on bid opportunities

By Esther Nakkazi

Although one-third of government spending is done through public contracting, most African governments do not publish the information needed to track public spending on procurement, according to a regional analysis of 23 African countries conducted by the Open Contracting Partnership (OCP).

According to OCP research, while nearly all African nations analysed (91%) publish at least some information online, only two-thirds publish data on bid opportunities (65%) and 57%, publish data on who is awarded contracts.

“Over the last few years across Africa, many governments have struggled to procure, build, and institutionalise electronic government procurement systems despite tens of millions of dollars in headline Public Financial Management reforms from donors,” says Edwin Muhumuza, Head of Africa at Open Contracting Partnership.

The data is based on Fulfilling the promise of e-procurement reforms in Africa, OCP's latest comparative study on e-procurement in Africa provides guidance for making digital public procurement reforms more efficient, fair and transparent across the continent.

There is also the issue of how governments publish their procurement data. 

Only five African countries, Cameroon, Kenya, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Uganda, publish data in machine-readable formats, dramatically limiting how the information can be used to ensure that public contracts benefit society as intended.

The analysis is based on the Global Data Barometer, an independent study of the quality and use of open data worldwide.Nigeria stands alone as the only country that publishes some data across the full procurement cycle including planning, tender, award, and implementation.

Transparency in public contracting is important because it is the main way governments hire companies to deliver vital goods, public services and infrastructure to citizens.

Bad procurement policies mean run-down roads, under-resourced schools and non-existing healthcare centers, and quite often, elements of state capture.

Transforming manual and often paper-based public procurement to electronic government procurement systems can make government more efficient, fair and transparent.

“Public procurement has a reputation as being bureaucratic, inefficient and wasteful,” says Muhumuza. 

“But doing it better is possible. And it’s critical if we want to make sure that government spending improves the lives of people. Our new report provides specific guidance and tools for governments implementing reforms and builds on best practices from the region.”

The report provides eight key recommendations in addition to practical tools built on the latest research by experts around the world as well as insights from practitioners in five countries – Ethiopia, Nigeria, Rwanda, Uganda, and Zambia.

National and county governments in five countries are publishing open contracting data, including Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Uganda and Zambia. Five more places have committed to open contracting reforms including Sierra Leone, South Africa, Tunisia, and the city of Tangier in Morocco.

"It will be important to build a coalition of change, comprising stakeholders from various parts of government as well as non-government champions, to overpower blockers so that enough winners accrue from the new system that ‘escape velocity’ be achieved, and the system is actually appreciated and used," says Muhumuza.

A procurement ecosystem has grown in Africa in the last decade. Investigative journalists such as Nigeria’s Dataphyte, civil society organizations such as the Uganda-based Africa Freedom of Information Centre (AFIC), and prominent anti-corruption campaigns in Kenya and South Africa have shown how public procurement data can be used to track money going into vital projects such as primary health care centers, schools and public works. This kind of civic monitoring ensures better value.

“Those leading e-procurement reforms need to engage civic actors, service beneficiaries and business stakeholders to build a coalition. A program of change needs to be designed and built ‘with them’ and not ‘for them’,” says Muhumuza, the author of the study.

Monday, October 24, 2022

New app will cut the cost of sending money from Europe to Uganda by a quarter

By Esther Nakkazi 

A new app  will just make the cost of sending money through mobile channels from Europe to Uganda four times cheaper.

The app, ‘PostalPay’ will enable people located in the EU to send remittances in a cheaper, but also faster and safer way from their mobile phones.

It was created through a joint effort by Inpay, the UN’s International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), a cross-border payments company, and its subsidiary company Eurogiro, a global postal cross-border payments networkand Eurogiro in collaboration with PostBank Uganda and Posta Uganda.

“By using our cross-border payment technology, we are cutting the total costs of remittances to 2.5 per cent, helping migrant workers get a fairer service and helping us in our mission of democratizing payments in every corner of the world,"said Thomas Jul, CEO of Inpay and Eurogiro.

"We are incredibly grateful for the cooperation with IFAD, the EU and our partners in Uganda in this joint project. We look forward to working with local members of the Ugandan community in the Netherlands and Sweden to further support app uptake,” said Jul. 

In 2021, the remittance flows to Uganda (US$1.08 billion) represented almost 3 per cent of national GDP. Uganda ranks in the top 10 of remittance recipient countries of sub-Saharan Africa. 

Currently, money can take days to be delivered and costs exceed 10 per cent of the amount sent, including the foreign exchange margin, adding unnecessary strain and cost on migrant workers and family members back home.

Money can either be instantly transferred to a PostBank bank account or received as a cash pick-up in multiple Posta Uganda and PostBank Uganda locations. 

“PostBank and Posta Uganda wide outreach through their branches makes picking up cash far more convenient for recipients in Uganda; we also believe that the trusted name of the Post and Bank will help foster market adoption,” added Jul.


IFAD’s EUR 369,000 grant will support the launch of ‘PostalPay’ in Sweden and the Netherlands, two European countries with an established Ugandan diaspora.

The IFAD contribution is part of the PRIME Africa Programmeco-financed by the European Union with the additional support from the Government of Luxembourg. Inpay and Eurogiro are jointly contributing EUR 172,000 to co-finance this venture over the next 18 months.


“We are delighted to work with Inpay and Eurogiro to promote financial inclusion in marginal rural areas. Facilitating people's access to savings and credit will help them to participate in the rural economy and improve their livelihoods. Inpay technology provides low-cost and secure cross border payments and Eurogiro’s access to the global postal network makes it a valuable partner,” said Pedro de Vasconcelos, Manager of the Financing Facility for Remittances at IFAD.

“These remittances are a lifeline for rural people. However, the cost of sending money to Uganda is still far above the SDG target 10.c of reducing the cost of migrants’ remittances to less than 3 per cent by 2030. Mobile channels offer a great opportunity to achieve this goal,” added De Vasconcelos.

The partnership builds upon a previous IFAD grant to Postbank Uganda (PBU) and Posta Uganda between 2017 and 2020. 

IFAD support helped extend financial services, including remittances, to rural and refugee communities, and supported the refurbishment of 30 post offices, opened new mobile branches, and procured mobile cash management vans in rural areas.

Thursday, September 1, 2022

Grey expands virtual international banking to East Africa

Grey (, a fintech has raised $2 million in seed funding. The service offered by Grey enables its customers to have virtual international bank accounts for free and enjoy a seamless foreign payment process.

Grey was started by two Nigerians to simplify sending and receiving foreign payments for Africans in 2021 to empower people to live a location-independent lifestyle.

“I believe that the least of your worries as a freelancer, remote worker, or digital nomad should be sending or receiving payments, so we’ve made it easy. We like to say that we’re on a mission to make international payments as easy as sending an email," CEO of Grey, Idorenyin Obong, says. 

"We want to do impactful work to improve how Africa as a continent interacts with money across its borders. I am delighted that we’ve acquired an extensive and fiercely loyal user base.”

On Grey, you can create a foreign USD, GBP, and EUR bank account for free, send money to the UK and Europe, and receive payments from over 88 countries. The company also offers conversion directly to your local currency so that you can spend it easily on the app. 

Grey allows users to receive foreign payments in their preferred foreign currency and withdraw directly to mobile money or their local bank account.

In addition to the funding announcement, Grey also announced Its expansion into East Africa, starting with Kenya, and partnerships with payments giant Cellulant and ed-tech leader Moringa. Travelling to Kenya is much easier with Grey ( because you can pay vendors directly to M-pesa. 

For example, suppose you’re a traveller on a trip to Nairobi. In that case, you can convert any supported currencies to Kenyan Shillings and pay for services directly to M-Pesa, or other mobile money accounts. 

Grey is the easiest way to send money abroad and between African countries. The company plans to expand into more East African countries in the coming months. It has included support for Ugandan Shillings on the app, bringing the total number of supported currencies to six. 

This addition means that Grey customers in Nigeria and Kenya can send money to mobile money accounts in Uganda.

“Sending money worldwide is not just an individual problem; it affects African businesses too. Over the last two months, we’ve onboarded several African businesses to our private beta. Honestly, when I listen to the feedback about how much we’ve simplified a previously complex process, it pushes us to do more,” COO Femi Aghedo says, 

Grey’s seed funding round included participation from Y Combinator, Soma Capital, Heirloom Fund, True Culture Fund, angel investors Alan Rutledge, Samvit Ramadurgam, Karthik Ramakrishnan, and other high-profile investors. 

According to the CEO, Idorenyin Obong, with this new round of capital, they plan to launch into new markets and extend their product suite to include not just remittances but also person-to-person and business-to-business payments so every African can enjoy seamless cross-border payments with low fees.

Grey’s services are available in Kenya and Nigeria via the Grey website (, Play Store (, and App store (