Despatch from Beijing | International

China powers Africa’s digital dreams

A screenshot from the home page of Ugandan compay Akelo Banker’s website

A screenshot from the home page of Ugandan compay Akelo Banker’s website  


In many African countries, the e-commerce ecosystem is beginning to take root

From Kenya on the east coast to Uganda and landlocked Rwanda a digital revolution, inspired by Chinese icons such as ecommerce giant Alibaba, is in the works. In Kenya’s capital Nairobi, the e-commerce ecosystem, powered by the Internet is beginning to take root. The Global Times, a tabloid from the stable of People’s Daily — the flagship of the Communist Party of China (CPC) — reported success stories from Kenya, where Alibaba’s former head, Jack Ma, has played his hand.

The report pointed to Sarai Afrique Fashion House, an online platform, from where buyers can pick women’s clothes bearing the label of a leading global brand.

The successful ecommerce platform owes much of its achievement to the two-week “eFounders Fellowship” programme offered at Alibaba’s headquarters in Hangzhou, China. In June 2018, Caroline Kuria, the founder and CEO of Sarai Afrique, participated in the course, which was co-sponsored by the Alibaba Group and the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD).

Training entrepreneurs

The aim of the initiative was to help fulfill Mr. Jack Ma’s dream — to incubate 1,000 entrepreneurs in developing countries in the next five years. One-fifth of these would come from Africa alone.

Ms. Kuria’s success did not come without hitting speed bumps on the way, despite the valuable experience that she had gained at Hangzhou.

“There are many concerns from customers in Kenya. They cannot easily trust e-commerce websites. But if there is a physical store, you cannot disappear the next day. Alibaba also has offline stores. That’s exactly what I learned from Alibaba,” she said. But the Sarai Afrique online brand has now taken off. In turn, ecommerce companies in Kenya are also spinning jobs in the courier industry. Mobile payments are also helping African companies ride the digital wave. There are 280 million mobile money accounts in Sub-Saharan Africa, exceeding the number of bank accounts in the region, said Global Times.

The miracle of the digital economy is also permeating into neighbouring Uganda. Akello Banker has emerged as a Ugandan fintech company, which is geared to provide loans to poor farmers. Many farmers are now able to buy tractors, better quality seeds and medical services through loans offered by Akello Banker, which combines user data and technology to make its decisions. “The course during the eFounders Fellowship made me more aware of the mission of our company. Alibaba has so many different products and services, but almost every product or service has risen to the challenge, rather than being emotionally driven,” Jean Anthony Onyait, founder of Akello Banker has been quoted as saying. Mr. Onayait’s enterprise is especially relevant as more than 80% of Ugandans rely on agriculture for their living. But less than 10% of them can benefit from bank credit.

In neighbouring Rwanda, Nkurunziza Mufuth, founder and CEO of Guez Show, was another beneficiary of the eFounders Fellowship. He established Guez Show, a 3D animation and graphics company. The entrepreneur also wants to pioneer training for the gaming industry in his country.

Mr. Mufuth dreams of expanding the Guez Group by adding two subsidiary businesses to it. He hopes that Guez Show and Guez Agent will provide B2C and B2B services in the not so distant future.

“Africa today has tremendous opportunities. Africa, like China 19 years ago, has no good infrastructure, but with the opportunity of digitalisation, Africa will be the most profitable land around the world,” said Mr. Jack Ma.

The green shoots of an economic turnaround with roots in China can be traced to Beijing’s special focus on Africa. Last year, China pledged a $60 billion fund to bolster industry in Africa, counter hunger, and enhance security in the continent.

In his omnibus inaugural address at the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC), Chinese President Xi Jinping was emphatic in declaring that Beijing had become the locomotive of Africa’s all-round progress. He listed eight focal areas of funding. Mr. Xi stressed that out of the $60 billion that were on offer, $15 billion would be disbursed as aid, interest-free loans and concessional loans. A $20 billion credit line would be established, while another $10 billion would be channelled into a special fund for China-Africa development. Another $5 billion would be earmarked as special fund only for African imports.

(Atul Aneja is The Hindu’s Beijing correspondent)

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Printable version | Dec 14, 2019 7:54:37 PM |

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