/ 21 February 2023

Kenyan ‘end-of-life’ services tech startup is digitising mourning

Safiri Salama, kiSwahili for “go in peace” or “travel well”, is a familiar farewell term used during East African funerals.  

Startup Safiri Salama has ushered in an entirely new technology sector for Africa with an end-of-life, e-services platform that offers digital death notices, memorials and a directory of funeral service providers.

Safiri Salama, kiSwahili for “go in peace” or “travel well”, is a familiar farewell term used during East African funerals.  

The startup is taking an unexplored route in Africa, striving to fill a space between the burgeoning funeral industry and a lack of linking threads for grief-stricken families.

“African communities typically avoid death and end-of-life discussions, leaving them vulnerable to exploitation as they are unprepared and emotionally susceptible when a loved one passes on,” said Safiri Salama founder and chief executive, John Nyongesa.

Nyongesa said that the funeral industry in Africa has undergone a significant evolution, with demographic shifts, urbanisation, the growth of free-market economies and mobile phones bringing considerable changes to the traditional image of roadside coffin-and-hearse providers with a new and evolving industry.

The end-of-life platform was conceived in 2018 as a personal memorial website in response to a query from Nyongesa’s son regarding his late grandfather. 

Since its inception, the platform has been refined through research, testing and contributions from bereaved families and funeral service providers. In 2021, Nyongesa welcomed actuarial scientist Steve Lelei and project manager Edith Orwako as co-founders of the platform.

To facilitate the platform’s development, the deathcare startup received an infusion of $100 000 from an American investor. For the past four years, the company has been designing, developing and testing its product in the real world. 

The beta version of Safiri Salama rolled out in Kenya in August, with an ecosystem that is already making a significant impact. 

The prohibitive cost of mainstream media obituaries, which less than 15% of Kenyans currently use, is one of the issues Safiri Salama tackles head-on. With its easy-to-create digital notifications, the platform provides funeral details and arrangements that can be shared across multiple social media platforms.

The absence of a local repository platform for memorials, which can include pictures, tributes and stories, is another issue that Safiri Salama addresses. 

Its Online Memorials product is a one-stop-shop for managing a loved one’s funeral procedures, providing a noticeboard, gallery, wiki-style repository, tributes and anniversary notifications.

The desperate need for an efficient, easy-to-navigate directory focused on death care is the third issue that Safiri Salama tackles with The Redbook. The directory connects thousands of users and service providers, making it easy to plan a funeral and ensure that everything is taken care of.

A B2B and B2C product and services directory, The Redbook includes over 50 categories of direct, indirect and accessory providers. It’s a space in which vendors can subscribe to showcase products, pricing and stock availability and be picked up by search engines.

Nyongesa emphasises that bereaved families face difficulties to conduct proper research and often “pressure buy” due to a lack of published prices in the funeral industry, particularly when grief and urgent decision-making are combined. 

Grieving families are often significantly disadvantaged during this time of “flux” with no clear and user-friendly system for the bereaved, leading to problems like inconsistent pricing, unclear industry standards and difficulties distinguishing between competitors.
Despite Kenya’s considerable levels of internet penetration, smartphone access and e-commerce growth, the end-of-life industry had remained largely unaffected by technological advancements. — bird story agency

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Mail & Guardian.