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  • Writer's pictureID4Africa

Africa, the new model of data sovereignty

By Lionel Baraban, Co-Founder & CEO, Famoco

Africa the new digital model for Europe. The current digital revolution in African countries in payment service and identity management could result in a historical comeback.

What if Africa leads the way for digitalization of the economy. And if, unlike Europe - the ‘Old Continent’ -, it freed itself from the GAFAM domination model to develop autonomous, secure, and affordable identity and payment systems, while maintaining the sovereignty of its data.

The image may seem strong, but it is a new data imperialism that is being played out today. The raw material at stake is no longer oil or cobalt, but the metadata and data that users of smartphones or connected PDAs create with little knowledge about it.

Any mobile application leaves digital traces collected by servers of large American operators (Google, Apple, Facebook, etc.), which then resell them at premium prices to companies, institutions, or other third parties. This data can prove to be strategic for private and also public organizations, enabling them to better understand the behavior, the habits of their customers or even citizens in order to optimize their investments in mobility, access to water, distribution of goods, healthcare and farming.

For Europe, the race for innovation has started with Africa which has many good cards in hand to develop its own environment, while Europe is still tiptoeing in this domain. African countries have embarked on a rapid digitalization of their economy, leapfrogging many stages and steps.

A multitude of startups are developing new services adapted to their tradition and local culture of their population usage, eager for simplification in their everyday life. Whether it’s collecting your salary in mobile money at a local kiosk, paying for your public transport ticket in mobility, paying for your doctor’s visit, school tuition fees and more.

With its unbridled entrepreneurship, Africa can establish itself as a new model, challenging the ‘status quo’. That said and to accomplish this, African countries very much should secure their information systems, which would also guarantee that there is no transfer of metadata to third-party companies. Let Africa remain the owner of their own data. The stakes are high.

The borders between payment and identity have already been broken down. While in Europe, the major players in payments or biometrics impose technological silos, to take advantage of rent situations, the convergence between payment and identity is becoming the norm within Africa. The African model must become a new and bright lighthouse for Europe.

The roles have thus been reversed; innovation is now part of a South-South cooperation and could even now spread from South to North. These days, those who want to know the future of digital payment should go to South, and definitely to Africa. This is where entrepreneurship is moving quickly today. It is easier to pay without cash in Nairobi or Accra than in Paris or London.

Data available to clients, and to clients only

Interestingly enough, it is not only a technological revolution that is happening in Africa like anywhere else but rather the way African people are applying innovation and implementing it to their day to day usage that is disrupting. The technologies that are used are well-known in the industry and already available, as they have fallen into the public domain. That is where African startups are transforming them to create new use cases and applications specific to professions, organizations, events for their users.

Back-end architecture has become obsolete. Large tech groups offer systemic solutions while the world is fragmented, with a multitude of small local players. In some African countries, they are more than 50 different payment methods and that would be simply impossible to integrate with traditional systems.

To facilitate the integration of the various business processes, the solution consists in developing secure infrastructures with connected platforms that are easy to manage and scalable.

This is where Famoco comes in. Our job is to record and validate digital financial transactions by offering software solutions and secure terminals, multi-use while guaranteeing data sovereignty. Concretely, we provide customers with payment combined with identity recognition terminals and adapt our technology to their business. The data is stored on the servers of the client company and at their disposal. Once deployed, our technology creates a virtuous model.

One concrete example of our positive impact in Africa over the last 5 years has been with the United Nations Agencies and their Development programs where we co-developed a new service for their beneficiaries and digitize food vouchers in more than forty countries. These days, beneficiaries are receiving a secure card combining their identity with their entitlements which allow them to go to merchants equipped with Famoco terminals specially designed for this purpose to collect vital goods. The card is specifically designed to protect the person and their identity while restricting the purchase of goods to an appropriate list of items. While causing no digital harm to the beneficiary and the professionals that serve them, the solution can be configured so that only the transaction can take place within a given radius during a specific period of time. And it works for more than 10 million people as of today. Our solution has significantly improved the effectiveness of the Governmental and Non-Governmental programs.

Our solutions can respond to a multitude of opportunities and challenges like financial inclusion, especially to the most vulnerable populations, strong identification of SIM card buyers, validation of transport tickets, and all that African countries could encounter and will develop for their future.

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