Having fled an economic implosion in his native Zimbabwe, Brighton Takawira was able to support his mother back home with modest earnings from a small perfume business he set up in South Africa.
Then the pandemic struck. Borders closed. The buses he had used to send his cash stopped running.
“I had to send something, even a few dollars,” said Takawira, though it meant sometimes going without bread. So he tried out an online remittance company on a friend’s recommendation.
He is one of many African migrants being pushed towards digital transfer services, often for the first time, during the pandemic.
This is fuelling a boom for Africa-focused money transfer companies, despite predictions from the World Bank of a historic 20% drop to $445 billion in remittances to poorer countries this year due to a pandemic-induced global economic slump.
“We saw an increase of transfers as the diaspora wanted to help their family,” said Patrick Roussel, who heads mobile financial services for the Middle East and Africa at French telecom company Orange – a dominant player in French-speaking Africa.