Africa Roundup: UPS Enters Drone Space, Uber Tests Cash, Facebook Offers Free Internet in Nigeria

More big U.S. corporate names are entering Africa’s tech space and testing new models there.

UPS took its first steps in the African drone delivery space teaming up with San Francisco startup Zipline, and Gates Foundation backed Gavi, to begin unmanned aerial transport of healthcare supplies in Rwanda.

“When we launch it will be the world’s first drone delivery operating at a national scale in the world,” Zipline CEO Keller Rinaudo told TechCrunch in this story.

Increasingly, Africa is becoming a testbed for commercial drone activity, with some of the boldest initiatives shaping up in Rwanda, which were highlighted at the recent World Economic Forum Africa meeting in Kigali.

Another UAV initiative, Afrotech’s Red Line project, plans to launch open source cargo drones and drone routes across Africa, starting in Rwanda. “What we can expect by 2025…is every secondary town in Africa that wants one will have a droneport,” predicted Afrotech Director Jonathan Ledgard at the WEF.

Uber is also expanding in Africa. The mobile transit venture operates in 13 cities across South Africa, Nigeria, Kenya, Uganda, Morocco and Egypt and will launch in Ghana and Tanzania in 2016. Uber is experimenting with things in Africa—such as cash payments and image based directions apps—it doesn’t really do anywhere else.

The company is also likely to start moving more than just people around the continent. Uber Africa is exploring e-commerce based delivery options, explained its GM for Sub-Saharan Africa Alon Lits, in this TechCrunch piece. This could plug into Africa’s online shopping startups, which have been a magnet for VC this year and even produced an outside acquisition.

African tech also got some Silicon Valley attention from Mark Zuckerberg. He announced Facebook’s partnership with Airtel, called Free Basics, which allows Nigerians to access certain internet services free on mobile. Zuckerberg also gave Nigerian employment site some golden PR  by naming the company and its founders as an example of African innovation.

Ghana’s MEST incubator had a management change. Silicon Valley veteran Neal Hansch stepped down as Managing Director to become CEO of San Francisco based VC firm Sherpa Foundry.

Katie Sarro, former MEST Director of Business Development, has taken over as MD. Neal will remain on MEST’s Board of Directors, and intends to stay active in the African tech space, he told me on a recent call. MEST added a VC fund to its foundation backed incubator last year, as reported here at TechCrunch.

More African Stories @TechCrunch

More Around the Net        

  • A brief overview of Africa’s tech industry – and 7 predictions for its future—@World Economic Forum
  • What significant innovations are emerging from Africa?—@WIRED
  • Cameroonian Cardiopad tablet inventor Arthur Zang wins African engineering award—@BBC
  • South African VC Capital Eye raising $100M for Sub-Saharan Africa tech investment—@Disrupt Africa
  • Nigerian Senate drops free speech restricting Social Media Bill—@TechCabal