23 November 2022

Buy Your Airtime Anytime: How Nomanini Wants to Revolutionalise Informal Markets in Zambia

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We just got our hands on a very interesting media release from a company called Nomanini, a South African start up at the intersection of mobile, technology, African and emerging market business and social enterprise. A quick read-through will immediately tell you how the company plans to make life easier for consumers by revolutionalizing informal markets with the Nomanini terminal.

The Nomanini terminal is a colourful box-shaped wireless device that sells cell phone airtime or electricity units. The company also has a terminal for insurance/microloan cash collection, and another one for varied uses for cash collection such as bus ticketing, concert ticketing, lottery tickets and more. The aim of the orange terminal is to improve on (and even replace) the scratch card as a method of buying prepaid airtime in Africa.

We got mindblown when we stumbled upon a Zambian example used by Nomanini CEO and founder, Vahid Monadjem, in an interview with AFK Insider. Monadjem used the pre-paid electricity service in Zambia as a demonstration of access problems. For instance, there are less than 30 points where you can buy electricity and only one that’s open 24 hours. This simple fact may unnecessarily leave you stranded should your electricity units finish at 23:00 hours.
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Airtime availability is also another issue. Imagine running out of airtime late at night but all the stores are closed and all the vendors have knocked off, what would you do? Now imagine if most of the taxi drivers had a Nomanini terminal in their vehicles to sell airtime, how convenient would that be, or even if bus drivers had them on board? These things essentially have the potential to be found everywhere.

How we made it in Africa wrote that Nomanini has also entered into discussions with a company in Zambia that places advertising in minibus taxis, and are looking to add Nomanini’s prepaid airtime devices to their business.

There is a growing number of abandoned airtime kiosks (ntembas) around the country and perhaps Nomanini could resurrect this informal market again. A theory, subject to confirmation, about why the airtime business has slumped is that the business is just not that lucrative anymore. Thus it has become less attractive to be an airtime dealer.

So the airtime transaction works like this: the consumer pays the store/vendor, the store/vendor gives the consumer a card that when scratched reveals a code, and the consumer enters that code into a phone. In this transaction, the store/vendor takes a cut of the sale, a distributor takes a cut for the scratch card, and the telecom company receives the bulk of the payment.

But it is not exactly clear how much more lucrative owning the terminal will be in comparison to selling scratch cards. We’re guessing cutting out the manual cards will mean a much more efficient system. The Nomanini terminal is marketed to small-time entrepreneurs like food vendors, taxi drivers or convenience store owners.

At the moment, the company is operational in South Africa and Kenya, they have recently signed deals with partners in Nigeria and Ghana, and is in talks with potential partners in Namibia, Guinea, Morocco and Zambia.

Today’s media release announces the expansion of its Southern African operations after securing a partnership with a distributor of mobile prepaid credit in Mozambique.

While many mobile money solutions have entered the market during recent years, few have been successful on a large scale. This can be attributed to a lack of understanding that cash remains the most frequently used payment method in most countries. Nomanini seems to recognise the fact that mobile access has improved and will continue to improve the lives of millions living at the base of the pyramid.

Watch this space as there is more to explore with this story as we are now keeping an eye on Nomanini. More information on the company and what it does can be found on their official website. Feel free to share your thoughts and any tips you might have regarding this story by commenting below this article or visiting our Facebook Page or Twitter.