THE BLOG

The African Connectivity: E-commerce Making Inroads Into Alleys of Africa

19/09/2014 09:56 BST | Updated 17/11/2014 10:59 GMT

There was a time when Africa was all about Safaris, tribal communities and victory against apartheid mindsets. A good measure of poverty, hunger, high infant mortality rate, unemployment, low overall health index, and the recent Ebola scare - all put together, let's say Africa isn't a very 'happening' place. Or, so we thought.

Africa, the continent which was the lap of ancient Egyptian civilization along the banks of Nile river, somehow lagged behind in the race of developed countries in the world. Though home for astoundingly strong communities which possessed ancient knowledge about nature and human coexistence, somehow, didn't come on its own in the modern times.

Till late, Africa made news for mostly dreadful things such as poverty, gender issues, deaths and hunger. The dependence of Africa on the external world, to fulfil the various needs of its people, didn't make it a 'destination' among those who would look for safer shores. Yes, adventure seekers had a lot to take away from this 'dark continent' which lived the title for many years.

But, surely times have changed. India and China, the countries which could have been on the same league as Africa, have come along since years and have assumed some of the most prominent spots in the list of 'developing nations' which may soon be catapulted into the 'developed nations' category. The world is waiting with bated breath for this change of guard to take place, and guess what! Here we have a surprise entry in the form of Africa, which is showing all signs of catching up on the modern times.

Businesses in Africa are much less talked about. There are some local businesses which have grown manifold and have shown the potential of growing into multi-national companies. India and China have set their direction with manufacturing and information technology related services. Africa is still charting its course, but the potential seems more than promising for the world to discover.

The issue today is not about Africa being in poverty. The real problem lies with supply chains which have not been able to set up shops in the area. Reasons for this could be many. The anti apartheid movement, unstable political situations and civilian unrest that surfaces often causing damage to the property, and health index that's abysmally low. The brighter side would be, increasing levels of education, employment opportunities, and abundant presence of natural resources. Human resources is more abundantly available in concentrated areas.

After all, tourism in Africa is a thriving industry which has leveraged on all these factors, and has grown without much strategizing. Much like a wild plant that has blossomed into all its beauty, taking in everything that nature has offered.

But, when one looks at the demand in the region for goods and services, Africa holds out a lot of promise and probably is even home for future markets to grow and explore newer areas.

The world may be oblivious to this, but there are some amazing companies that Africa has been home to and those companies are being constantly referred to as 'success stories from the dark continent' that's emerging from its closet.

For instance, Safaricom, Econet or even MTN, are companies that have carved a niche for self in telecommunications. Safaricom happens to be the largest telecommunications provider in East Africa. There's Nando's which has been tickling the taste buds of residents of Africans since last few years, and has been consistently growing too. Media is a vibrantly shining sector in Africa with Nation Media Group transforming itself into an internet and financial services powerhouse. In the same arena would be Iroko TV which has been adding a lot of glamour to the film industry in Africa.

This quite appears like a pot of gold at the end of a rather invisible rainbow. In the retail sector there is Woolworths, Pick n Pay among the others which have emerged successful too.

Apart from tourism, Africa has been showing strong inclination on ruling the telecommunications sector, much like India took to IT and China took to manufacturing.

This streak of light has been the guiding compass for e-commerce segment which is still in its neo-natal stages in Africa/Egyptian region. But, ignoring the birthing pangs would be to let go of a wonderful opportunity for the 'dark continent' to turn on the flashlights on self.

Online retailer Jumia which has shown strong signs of turning into the 'Amazon' (make no mistake, it's the company and not the forest!) version of the Egyptian markets, has been on expansion mode ever since it was set up barely two years ago, in 2012.

The company operates in Nigeria, Morocco, Ivory Coast, Egypt, Kenya offering more than 100,000 items to its consumers.

Ghana and Cameroon sites will soon be open for functioning. In a splendid example of how the conventional markets are being revived by the technology-driven markets which are essentially taking over the retail space successfully, meeting the demand-supply parameters.

Virtual offices today are making way for physical structures in Africa which has been witnessing some vibrant times with stable political atmosphere and better governance. Though this may be too early to fix the direction of the success yet, it is unmistakably the right track to be on. Looks like technology is the new leveler between countries that are haves, and have-nots, finally benefiting the consumers.