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Impact Of COVID-19 On The Emerging Technology Developments

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COVID-19 disrupted our normal way of life abruptly in 2020. All of a sudden we were wearing face masks, working from home, sanitizing our hands regularly, and keeping our distance from others. We still do these things in 2021 and we’ll continue doing them in the foreseeable future. What would our lives look like if all this never happened? It is very hard to imagine.

COVID-19 not only affected our day-to-day lives but also how we do business forcing them to change and adapt. Those who didn’t go down and those that survived were the quickest to adapt their businesses and technologies to the new normal.

Digital Learning

Unequal opportunities for digital learning worsened the gap between rich and poor. While children of the wealthy continued with their studies online, the poor, most of whom were in public schools continues to stay at home. It is estimated that only 10% of children were able to access the government learning programs through the internet due to lack of devices or inhibitive data costs. However, some 60-70% were able to access government educational programming on the TV. While some 80-90% had access to the radio in some form.

eKitabu’s Digital Story Time was given priority due to the COVID-19 pandemic as the government of Kenya required remote learning solutions that could reach a wide audience. Digital Story time was targeted to deaf and hard-of-hearing pupils through television programs with subtitle’s on local digital TV channels.

Elsewhere in Africa, Edtech Startup uLesson innovated a solution to help bridge network connectivity problems and offering a non-streaming option to help reduce data costs. This is done by offering pre-recorded secondary school education content.

Privacy Concerns & Human Rights

Concerns over our safety and privacy online have increased in the COVID-19 pandemic. The COVID-19 measures put in place by the Kenyan government last year touched on digital technologies that ultimately had an impact on our digital rights as citizens.

In February 2020, Mr. Gire Ali, a Kenyan Airways employee, was suspended for filming a China Southern Airlines plane that had arrived in Nairobi from China. In his suspension letter, Mr. Ali was accused of being involved in the recording of the video. This followed a lockdown of Kenyan borders and the Kenyan government started using electronic surveillance checks on individuals returning from countries affected by the novel coronavirus.

The targeted surveillance was to make sure that the subjects did not spread COVID-19 by travelling or moving to other locations. Individuals were supposed to state their quarantine locations and stay there. Those who didn’t were picked up and taken to government-run quarantine centers. The Standard Newspaper reported of a woman who was picked up after she had come from the UK and reported to her place of work without isolating.

According to the Computer Misuse and Cyber crimes Act of 2018, police officers or the authorized person may only monitor people’s real time locations after applying to the court for issuance of a warrant to monitor. With the COVID-19 pandemic, this law was disregarded and thus the targeted surveillance.

Fake Information

With a majority of the population being able to access the internet and social media tools, Fake and misleading information has been a problem. This was accelerated and spread just like COVID-19 did in 2020. Social Media sites like Twitter added a COVID-19 Misleading Information Policy that included labeling misleading tweets and removing false information tweets altogether.

The ministry of health in Kenta through the Komesha Corona initiative has been doing mass information drives to educate the masses about COVID-19. The website also contains information about vaccine rollouts and new cases updated regularly on their website and on social media as well.

This has come a long way since government websites back the used to be static and with very little information to offer.

Cashless Payments

As long as the COVID-19 pandemic is with us, it will continue to create uncertainties in business. In Kenya, President Uhuru Kenyatta encouraged the use of mobile money in order to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19 through physical handling of cash. This saw transactions under KES1000 become free. There was a significant increase in transaction volumes after this. The mobile money maximum transaction limit was also increased from KES70,0000 to 150,000. 1.7 billion zero-rated transactions valued at KES 4.38 trillion were conducted as a result.

Fintech companies are under stress due to the COVID-19 pandemic on a number of fronts. Access to funding was already becoming difficult as many investors focused on established fintech with clear business models. Many fintech companies took to downsizing their staff as a way of reducing expenses during the pandemic.

Yet as the broader economy shifts from response to recovery, COVID-19 may create new opportunities for some fintech. For example, as social distancing has taken hold worldwide, there has been tremendous growth in the use of digital financial services and e-commerce.

Digital Infrastructure

During the early pandemic days, internet usage had increased by 70%. In Kenya, Safaricom reacted by working with regulators on the allocation of additional spectrum to meet the sudden spike in demand as more customers were working from home.

Up to 1054 sites were upgraded to 4G to meet the significant demand for data for customers without fibre services in their homes.

Safaricom also doubled the fibre internet speeds enabling customers to work from home and partnered gave away 100MB’s of data to help learners access education from home. There were 15 Million downloads of the free 100MB’s.

Gig Economy

The gig economy entails the use of digital platforms like taxi-hailing and delivery apps in everyday life and business as well. In Kenya, the gig economy has been growing steadily over the years with players like SafeBoda, uberBODA and Bolt Rides. However, the COVID-19 pandemic affected operations in the motorbike delivery transportation sector commonly known as bodabodas in Kenya. On November 27th 2020, Ugandan-founded bike-hailing startup paused its operations in Kenya citing disruptions from COVID-19. This may be attributed to the lack of social distancing for motorbike passengers, making a lot of customers avoid them completely.

Not all hope is Lost though, in Brazil 90% of gig workers experienced significant income loss in the first months of 2020. Six months later stabilization and recovery are taking place. 30% percent of respondents reported no month-on-month change and another 30% even realized a month-on-month improvement.

The volume of fast-moving consumer goods sold on Jumia nearly doubled over the past year with food delivery growing by over 40%. This is because of Jumia’s shift to sell more groceries and other items that users order more frequently. This is in contrast to selling flagship goods like smartphones and electronics whose availability has been disrupted over the past year by ongoing global supply chain crises.

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