Africa’s Super App Battle Is Actually A Two-Horse Race That OPay Didn’t Start

By  |  May 17, 2020

Although quite popular in Asia, the term “super app” is only just beginning to catch on in Africa.

Thanks to similarities with the Asian market — which, like Africa, is a “mobile-first” continent where smartphones are the primary internet access point for a majority of internet users — investors are starting to bet on super apps finding a fertile turf in Africa.

Besides that, Africa also holds great potential for super app propagation due to some other factors that mirror the situation in Asia such as the tremendous growth in population and consumer segments and increased mobile adoption. Just like Asia, Africa’s population is young, growing fast, and most are willing to adopt new technologies.

The super app term was first used sometime in 2014 to describe WeChat.  Released in 2011 by Chinese internet giant, Tencent, WeChat has since become one of the world’s largest standalone apps and boasts over 1 billion monthly active users.

According to this article by Pan-African fintech firm, Cellulant, a super app is an all-in-one, multi-functional mobile app that combines several services such as food/gas ordering, movie ticket online shopping and utility bill payments with features that include various payment methods, other financial services (lending/saving), and communication (chats) into a single platform.

By design, a super app should offer a seamless, integrated, contextualized, and efficient experience that collates several single-purpose apps into one app, offering consumers a single portal through which they can access “everything” they typically need.

People who are familiar with Africa’s burgeoning tech ecosystem would agree that the super app term has been mostly used to describe OPay, the Chinese-owned Nigeria-based fintech firm.

After launching quietly in Nigeria as a payments solution in the second half of 2018, OPay embarked on the quest of building a super app in 2019. On the backs of huge funding rounds, OPay rolled out several services including e-hailing, food delivery, lending, savings, classifieds, bill payment, mobile money wallet services, and others — using discounts and freebies to gain traction.

As OPay’s efforts have popularised the super app term and made it part of everyday lingo, one might be forgiven for thinking of the OPay app as the first super app in Africa. But the truth is that Africa’s first super app has been around since before OPay happened. Technically.

Apparently, the first super app in Africa was launched in March 2018 and it’s not OPay. That title sort of belongs to the Jumia One app which has since been rebranded to JumiaPay.

Why is this not common knowledge? It’s probably because many missed the idea that an app that was launched on the side by Africa’s largest e-tailer could be an entire business of its own. Plus the folks at Jumia didn’t call it a super app. But its features suggest that Jumia One (now JumiaPay) was and is a super app as it checks all the boxes.

Jumia announced the Jumia One app on March 21, 2018 — nearly 6 months before OPay first arrived in Nigeria, and many more months on top of that before OPay kicked off its own super app plans.

Upon launching, Jumia One allowed users to make cable TV subscription payment, make hotel reservations, book flight tickets, buy and transfer airtime, renew data and internet, subscription, pay electricity bills, book a bus ticket, place sports bets, book a ride from Uber or Taxify, and order food online. More recently, the rebranded app is also offering digital loans.

All those services are packed into a single app. If it seems familiar, it’s because that is pretty much the same thing OPay set out to do, even though policy and economic changes have presented challenges in recent times.

Apparently, with Jumia One, Africa had been sitting on a super app the entire time without realising it. And like OPay, it currently has over 1 million downloads on Play Store. 

This serves up the tantalising prospect of a “two-horse super app race” in Africa that many didn’t see coming.

Featured Image Courtesy: DW

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