Africa, the promised land for commercial drones

Why and how Africans drone start-up are skyrocketing the delivery market?

Landscape drone view

Commercial drones use is expending over the world. Historically, the western hemisphere spearheads the new industrialisation and the innovation trend.

Nevertheless, the first commercial delivery drone project took place in Africa, Rwanda in 2016. The African continent witnessed several drone delivery operations, whether for proof of concept or setting up actual commercial roads, therefore we wondered why and how Africa became so attractive for the drone’s operator.

Mr. Ledgard, director of African initiative at the EPFL and long-time correspondent of The Economist weekly in Africa stated in 2014 some key figures important to understand the emergence of drones in the territory.

Africa will never have enough means to develop traditional mobility infrastructures

It starts with the conviction that Africa will never have enough means to develop traditional mobility infrastructures as we know in the Western world, indeed, the annual deficit in terms of public spending on infrastructure amounts to $93 billion (African Development Bank, 2015) and continues to grow. The wide geographic space transforms a mere trip into a long-distance journey, some routes are simply non-existent and the weather condition often traps the vehicle's wheels in dense and dim mud.

From other hand, most of the world humanitarian aid aims to reach remote African lands, still, according to the Access to Medicine Index, fewer than 50% of Africans have access to medicine. Letitia Adu-Ampoma, of Sandoz, the generic pharmaceuticals division of Novartis argues that this is mainly due to a few health care workers across countries as a ratio to the population, a rise of counterfeit drugs due to the lack of track and trace systems in the medical field, and an extreme focus of health care delivery towards visible factors as HIV and malaria. Despite a growing non-communicable disease like cardiovascular disease, cancer, and diabetes changes in lifestyle and a growing middle class.

Lack of transport infrastructure and medicine unacess or counterfeit

According the Droneii report, let’s have a look at drone project around Africa. Some countries as Rwanda, Nambia and Sierra Leone, have already opened delivery flight roads. Almost all countries start developing drone operations among different sectors within first ahead : Oil & Gas extraction. This primeview sector is logical according to economic equation. A first step before mathing the step of tremendous delivery need.

ince 2016 and even more today, the circumstance reflects the highest need for Africa to obtain an adequate means of medical transportation along with medical care experience and geographic knowledge. In the past, the technological approach successfully overcame challenges as the adoption of the cell phone. Safaricom counts 33.1 million of users, which was 42 times greater than expected in their business plan. According to Mr Ledgard the mobile phone contributed more to anti-poverty efforts than any single development intervention. Indeed the benefits of cell phone granted people with efficient communication, better organisation and even payment method. The capacity of the continent to adapt to the digital market is uncommon and therefore promising for the drone. Nevertheless, the drone emergence in Africa does not benefit from early Western adoption. African regulation must handle the challenge, yet no specific regulation exists. It is also another point which brought companies to flight in Africa: the absence of regulation and therefore the condition to operate along with the state's collaboration, and across fields from agriculture to delivery.

The absence of regulation is one of the major asset for Western companies to operate in Africa.

The actual incentives support the emergence of local projects as drones university, as the first African drone academy in Malawi (World economic forum ) plan to teach 150 students to create the drones delivery for medical supplies, monitor crops or map disease outbreaks’ for 2021. Furthermore, a Cameroonian startup Algo Drone raised, on mars 2019, 2 million euros to conquest the world market for the manufacture of civil UAVs. Others initiative could be stated, yet, despite the difficulties in finding actual numbers (still the drone market growth is about 5% per year) to describe the African’s drones market it’s hard to believe that African drones could cross over Europe or America. The Center of advance for the advancement of digital scholarship (Nichols et al., 2020) writes about the challenges that spill over the drone field but contribute to its slower local growth.

Africa stands as a welcoming place for drone operator and locally tend to clinch the opportunities. The last thought concern the predominance of Western companies who operate on the African’ continent. Few actors are present, but decision making at this stage already shaping the drone market and, as those companies grow, they endorse responsibilities for building sustainable models involving the local community.

To conclude,

economic paradox is taking hold in Africa. A real need at the operation level has been identified, but financing does not seem to be there yet. Companies in the sector are financing themselves through commercial sales, demonstrating the interest of the UAV on the continent. Nevertheless, a development on a larger scale could place Africa as a leader in the UAV market.

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