Why West Africa Mobile Awards are celebrating mobile innovators

By Andrew Fassnidge

The provision of mobile connectivity, products, and services is having a fundamental impact on almost every aspect of society and has created a thriving mobile ecosystem in West Africa.

Prior to the proliferation of mobile internet, Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) in the region lived off steady voice, USSD and SMS services with an ecosystem of Value Added Service (VAS) providers beating a path to their offices with a host of new services to launch. From bible phrases to ring tones, agricultural information to news and entertainment services, MNOs had a steady pipeline of new products and little pressure to innovate. The MNO focused on building the network and harvesting revenues while VAS providers relied on the MNOs’ billing platform as no other alternative existed.

Then came the game changer - mobile data. What looked like another gift from above, has unleashed both opportunities and threats for the MNOs’ business model. It has also enabled the growth of a thriving mobile ecosystem in West Africa now developing, building and launching sophisticated mobile services for the new smartphone revolution.

The industry dynamics have now changed. Incubators and investors across West Africa are empowering a new wave of mobile services. Previous bottlenecks such as payments are unleashing new businesses, while Over The Top (OTT) players are forcing MNO’s to be more innovative. Facebook and other services drive mobile data consumption for MNOs, however WhatsApp is cannibalising messaging revenues. This battle will intensify with Google and other players looking to provide more affordable internet access to consumers, circumventing the reliance on MNOs.

The West Africa Mobile Awards (WAMAS) held in Lagos this May were created to measure this progress. The industry Awards shine a light on this ecosystem and celebrate the leading mobile and tech companies from across the mobile landscape.

The vision is to promote inclusiveness within the West African Mobile industry, providing a level playing field for companies regardless of size. Finalists are nominated on merit rather than sponsorship, and entries are free for all. The Awards recognise the global brands, dynamic start-ups, and visionary individuals who are shaping mobile content and commerce in West Africa.

Jason Njoku, founder or iROKO and WAMA winner

Mobile entertainment has also flourished. iROKO, lauded by international commentators as the ‘Netflix of Africa’, has ensured Nollywood has never been more accessible to the rest of the world. Jason Njoku’s contribution was recognised last year when he was awarded the Outstanding Industry Achievement Award at the West Africa Mobile Awards.

While building one of the most successful tech innovations to come out of Nigeria, Njoku more importantly shines an international spotlight on the African tech scene, breaking down barriers and inspiring the next generation of innovators across the continent to flourish globally.

While building one of the most successful tech innovations to come out of Nigeria, Njoku more importantly shines an international spotlight on the African tech scene, breaking down barriers and inspiring the next generation of innovators across the continent to flourish globally.

Founded in 2011 with a Series A venture capital investment of $3M from US-based hedge fund Tiger Global, the original YouTube channel metamorphosed into a dedicated Nollywood platform and iROKOtv was born.

In response to Africa’s challenges surrounding internet infrastructure, and noting customers’ issues with streaming long-format content, Njoku switched off the streaming element of the website on the continent and invested in creating a purpose-built Android app for viewers on the continent, as part of his mobile-first, Android-first, download-only strategy.

Five years later, with offices in Lagos, New York and London, iROKO has become the world’s largest online platform for African entertainment and is one of the most recognised and well-respected African technology brands. iROKO has since closed additional funding rounds totalling $35 million, making the company one of Nigeria’s most well-funded companies and positioning it at the heart of Africa’s exciting tech space.

Stories like this make the West African mobile industry a very exciting proposition, and the West Africa Mobile Awards provide an industry barometer of the innovation taking place. Applications this year are accepted across 10 mobile industry categories and are judged by an independent panel. The panel includes industry leaders, independent journalists, analysts, academics, and VCs. The process will be completely comprehensive, exhaustive and systematic, meaning that the awards and the processes surrounding them are fully transparent. To find out more please visit www.wamas.com.ng.


Andrew Fassnidge is co-founder of the West Africa Mobile Awards and founder of AppsAfrica.com which provides insights and advisory on the African tech scene to a global audience.


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