BD Insider, Letter 131: 🦄 Africa's next unicorn—who and when?

BD Insider, letter 131 discusses Nigerian tech national heroes, Safaricom fuliza loans, Telco's ₦80 billion unrecovered USSD debt and the search for the next unicorn.

BD Insider, Letter 131: 🦄 Africa's next unicorn—who and when?
Credit: WeeTracker

Last week Saturday made it 62 years since Nigeria became an independent nation.

Since its independence, oil has been the nation's major gross domestic product (GDP). Sixty years after, the ICT sector is contributing more than oil to Nigeria's GDP. The National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) reported that the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) sector contributed 18.44% to the country's GDP in Q2 2022—while the oil sector contributed 6.33% within the same period.

The performance of the technology sector has seen an increased desire from the government to tax the sector in order to shift their attention from oil-generating revenue. In the Finance Act 2022, Nigeria introduced a 5% excise duty on non-alcoholic beverages including, telecommunication services—which was recently suspended.

The format of Letter 131 involves, BD's pick of the three under-reported but important news of the previous week:

  • the five Nigerian tech entrepreneurs that will receive national awards
  • Safaricom's plan to disburse cheaper loans to Kenyan SMEs
  • Nigerian telecoms operators' plan to disrupt USSD banking services over ₦80 billion debt

and other noteworthy information like:

  • the latest African Tech Startup Deals
  • BD Trivia: The search for Africa's next unicorn
  • opportunities, events, interesting reads and more.

The Big Three

#1. Five Nigerians in tech to become national heroes

The News: Five Nigerian tech entrepreneurs will, on October 11, 2022, be conferred with the highest national awards, according to the Minister of Special Duties and Inter-Governmental Affairs, Senator George Akume.

Why it matters: These entrepreneurs are amongst the 437 Nigerians that are selected for the 2022 edition of the annual award that recognises notable Nigerians and friends of Nigeria who have rendered service to the benefit of the nation.

The five Nigerian tech ecosystem players are Paystack's co-founders, Ezra Olubi & Shola Akinlade; co-founder at Flutterwave & Andela, Iyin Aboyeji, Ola Brown, founder at Flying Doctors Healthcare Investment & Greentree Investments and Funke Opeke of MainOne.

This list includes other notable Nigerians (non-tech entrepreneurs) like: the United Nations' deputy secretary general, Amina Muhammed; director general of the World Trade Organisation, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala; Zenith Bank's founder, Jim Ovia and Tony Elumelu, board chair at the United Bank of Africa (UBA).

Zoom out: Last month, Atiku Bagudu, the Governor of Kebbi state during an address at the Progressive Young Leaders Summit in Abuja claimed that the success of Paystack and Flutterwave is a reflection of President Muhammadu Buhari's efforts to stabilise the economy.

The aforementioned tech entrepreneurs all have ties with these startups.

In 2020, U.S. fintech giant Stripe acquired Paystack for $200 million. Last year, Flutterwave and Andela both became unicorns valued at billions of dollars. Dr. Ola Brown was one of the early investors in Paystack. Earlier this year, Equinix acquired MainOne for $320 million.

Sen. George Akume will have you know that the success of these Nigerian startups are not a "coincidence" but a legacy of President Buhari's administration.

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#2. Safaricom & co to introduce fee-free Fuliza loan

The News: Starting from October 1, 2022, Fuliza Daily Maintenance Fee is waived for customers that repay in three days. Customers who repay after 3 days will also receive a 50% price reduction on the Daily Maintenance Fee.

Why does it matter: According to Safaricom and its partners—NCBA and Kenya Commercial Bank Limited (KCB), the restructuring of the popular Fuliza overdraft facility in a move that will see customers transacting on Fuliza access the overdraft facility at a free daily maintenance fee for the first three days for transactions of KSh. 1,000 and below.

"This restructure aims to reinforce the original purpose of Fuliza – a short-term overdraft facility for four to seven days. From the data that we have, it is clear that the original intent for Fuliza to be a short-term credit facility has evolved," John Gachora, Group Managing Director, NCBA said.

The move will benefit more than 80% of M-PESA's ~50 million active customers who seek to complete their payment transactions with Fuliza credit. Launched in 2019, Fuliza is an overdraft mobile money product. Safaricom claims that the product was instrumental at the height of the COVID pandemic as many customers and businesses switched to cashless transactions.

According to a report published by Kenya’s central bank in collaboration with the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) and Financial Sector Deepening Trust (FSD) Kenya, more than 18% of Kenyans use Fuliza.

What else?: To be announced in November 2022, Safaricom and its partners have announced their commitment to support government efforts concerning Kenyans who are negatively listed in Credit Reference Bureaus.

Safaricom, NCBA and KCB will execute a credit repair mechanism that will see customers who have defaulted on M-Shwari and Fuliza enlist for a credit repair scheme. This will result in the delisting of over four million digital loan defaulters who are negatively listed on CRBs and restore their ability to access formal, regulated credit.

#3. ALTON threaten to disconnect USSD over unpaid ₦80 bn

The News: The Association of Licensed Telecommunications Operators of Nigeria (ALTON) has warned that it will disconnect the unstructured supplementary service data (USSD) banking services over ₦80 billion debt.

Why does it matter: If these operators go ahead with the threat, users who depend on the USSD services will be unable to make transactions using the various Bank short strings.

USSD is one of the major transaction channels in Nigeria. In fact, the Central Bank of Nigeria recently introduced a USSD code to drive the adoption of the eNaira.

USSD has:

  • widespread coverage: Areas with low internet penetration and smartphone availability are included, thanks to the USSD service that runs on feature phones and without internet.
  • widespread adoption among service providers: About 200 USSD codes are currently used in Nigeria, which is more than the total number of deposit money banks plus microfinance banks in the country. Other value-added service providers like betting companies and even the telcos themselves leverage USSD for increased accessibility for their customers.
  • high growth potential: Between January and December 2020, the value of USSD transfers in Nigeria grew by 17x from ₦30 billion ($71.5 million). How much more in the future?

Flashback: In April 2021, ALTON issued a similar threat when the debt was at ₦45 billion, it was suspended following an intervention from the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and the Nigerian Communication Commission (NCC).

Following the intervention, the CBN introduced a ₦6.98 fee for each USSD transaction session to be remitted to Mobile Network Operators (MNOs), who provide infrastructure for the services to operate, directly from customers’ bank accounts.

ALTON alleged that the banks are not cooperating in paying the debt despite interventions from the government. "Banks remove charges from their customers but refuse to pay telecom operators. You don’t expect us to keep rendering services when you don’t pay," Gbenga Adebayo, ALTON chairman said.

🧩 BD Trivia

Today is the first working day in Q4 2022, the African tech ecosystem is yet to produce any unicorn unlike in 2021. Who will be the next African unicorn?

We are opening up for pitches from people who'd like to write an Op-ed on this topic. It will be edited by Benjamin Dada, so, please pitch it to benjamin[at]benjamindada[dot]com with the headline: "Africa's next unicorn"

Note: Accepted pitches would be paid for.

💰 BD Africa Funding Tracker

Between Q1 to Q3 2022, African startups have jointly raised over $3 billion from the 293 deals.

Per the BD Funding Tracker, the three sectors at the top of the funding table are fintech, e-commerce, cleantech and logistics. Also, the Big Four countries—Nigeria, Kenya, South Africa and Egypt—are still maintaining their top positions.

Meanwhile, last week was quite an unusual one compared to the previous weeks as more African tech startups announced funding rounds, find the breakdown below:

Get free access to our carefully-curated, real-time updated Funding Database for 2022.

📚 Noteworthy

Here are other important stories in the media:

💼 Opportunities


Every week, we carefully curate open opportunities in Product & Design, Data & Engineering, and Admin & Growth.

Product & Design:

Data & Engineering

Admin & Growth

Other opportunities:

  • For blockchain developers: Applications are open for Polygon Bootcamp Africa! The eight-week intensive educational course and hackathon combo will put developers in Africa on the Web3 map.
  • For cleantech startup founders: Apply for the AWS Sustainable Cities Accelerator. Applications are due by October 21, 2022
  • For Nigerian final year undergraduates and graduates: Bloomberg will be coming to Nigeria for its Africa Campus Recruiting. The recruitment process requires one to complete a HackerRank upon application submission.
  • For content creators: Apply for the World Nomads Content Creator Scholarship and stand a chance to win 1-of-4 scholarship worth over $5,000


  • GetEquity Startup Festival to hold this November: The Festival which was initially scheduled to hold in July has been rescheduled to November 19, 2022, at Glitz Event Centre, Lekki, Lagos. Reserve a seat! On October 11, Bloomberg Engineers and recruiters will be in Lagos

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