Swipe left for Africa

Mobile phones have been slowly transforming society within African countries. Many Africans look to their mobile to provide services that their local area may fail to provide. Banking, health, and farming apps have contributed to help manage and improve the lives of many. With 20% of Africa’s 1.1 billion-strong population now online, and 70% of internet users using mobile phones, the impact of applications is set to reverberate across social, political and economic spaces.


MeldKenya’s money-transfer application, M-Pesa, revolutionised day-to-day banking for millions in rural areas who do not have access to traditional banks. KUZA Doctor is an app which gave huge support to farmers with critical knowledge to increase their rates of production while learning the value of conservation farming. A gap in the lack of healthcare provision brought about M-health, an app that provides information about health in general and can even connect patients to qualified doctors. Today, the “needs” have expanded to romance.


Dating apps are already beginning to serve a need; Africans desire to connect with others in a new and instant way. Whether the app results in a long lasting relationship or a one night stand, the development of basic handsets have opened up the continent to a whole new world of fluid connectivity. One can argue if digitalising romance serves to improve the continent. Last year a survey was carried out using information gathered from App Annie, a site that aggregates IOS top apps along with other IT market data. Surprisingly, the most popular dating app on the continent was Grindr, an app specifically designed for homosexual or bisexual men. It was clear that in the traditionally conservative African societies that dating apps were the way around the usual barriers of engagement.


A 32 year old male who works in a beauty salon in Nairobi uses a similar app to that of Grindr to meet other men. He says that he would get fired and lose his house if his employer and landlord find out he is gay. He recounts a bad experience where men caught him with another man he initially met online. The men wanted him to pay 50,000 Kenyan shillings or they threatened to call on Mungiki; a violent criminal gang who put tyres on their victims before burning them alive.


20160211220740-tinderAlthough apps are improving Africa’s access to people and information, its nature still remains unclear in the world of dating and romance. In the case of the beauty salon worker, the dating app could have cost him his life. Does that mean that the app is dangerous or is it simply shining more light on the violent social bigotry that plagues parts of Africa?


What are your thoughts about dating apps? Do you use them and for what purpose? Any success stories? Do you see them as a digital advantage or a personal hindrance to relationship building?  Would you feel comfortable using the app in certain parts of Africa and why?


This summer, we will be celebrating love, sex and all its ramifications at The Royal African Society’s fifth annual literature and book festival Africa Writes. Poets Caleb Femi, Rachael long, Adam Lowe and SA Smythe with Bisi Alimi as host will be bringing an evening of readings and uncensored conversations in a session entitled Sex, Love & Poetry.


By Kelechi Iwumene.

Picture Credit: MadameNoire.com/ Online Dating News & Topics – Entrepreneur.com/ Led by Tinder, A surge in mobile dating apps – NY Times