Drone projects in Africa: can they work?

By Polycarp Kazaresam

In our August issue, we featured UPS and its plans to transport medical supplies across Rwanda via drone. In partnership with Gavi and Zipline, the global parcel service will transport vital medicines (e.g. blood and vaccines) to communities in rural Rwanda.  

The UPS project begins this week. It’s the most high-profile drone project on the continent, but not the only one in the works. We take a look at other companies that are using drone technology to overcome what the World Bank calls "the worst infrastructure endowment of any developing region today."


US company Vayu will use drone flights to transport blood and stool samples from rural villages in Madagascar, with support from the US Agency for International Development.


US based Llamasoft has run a virtual pilot for Zipline. Representative Sid Rupani told the Associated Press that Africa has certain benefits for such projects.  The company’s Global Impact Team applies supply chain technology and thought leadership to what it deems to be the world’s most important supply chain challenges. From his South Africa office, Rupani studies how drones can be used in supply chains. "It's not crowded airspace. Not many urban areas to deal with," Rupani said. 

Wings for Aid

Netherlands-based aid organisation Wings for Aid is working on a drone prototype to carry more goods to rural African communities, and for these goods to go further. Wesley Kreft, Director of Business Development and Innovation said up to 100 km of cargo could be delivered to several points within 500 km.  

Despite the ambition of these projects, there are challenges in implementing drone technology in Africa. One concern is that some drone models have limited range or need frequent recharging. Therefore, retrieval can be difficult if they crash in remote areas. Also, some governments are cautious that drone technology may be an invasion of their sovereignty.

Can the above international companies overcome these challenges? As is often the case with new technologies, we’ll have to wait and see whether ongoing drone developments will leapfrog current limitations. It could take a couple of years before anyone can make a verdict.

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