Author Archives: vipiafrica

Transitions to Democracy in Africa

By Paul Ndiho

Africa has seen a decline in the number of authoritarian leaders since 2010.  Multiple countries witnessed significant political change due to popular uprisings, but the number of democracies has not noticeably increased. Screen Shot 2019-08-29 at 7.42.21 AM

The Africa Center for Strategic Studies says a large number of African governments are in a “democratizing stage” and still have a long way to go. So far this year, voters in Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa, and Malawi voted in general elections, but there was no transfer of power.
It’s a new era in Sudan.  Abdel Fattah al-Burhan is the new chairman of Sudan’s newly-formed sovereign council.  Nine other members were also sworn at the presidential palace in Khartoum.  Under the deal, the sovereign council comprises 11 members, including five military members, five civilian members chosen by the opposition alliance, and one civilian selected through consultation by the two sides.

The sovereign council was the result of tense negotiations between the countries pro-democracy leaders of mass protests, which erupted last December against the three-decade rule of former president Omar al-Bashir, and the generals who ousted him in April.
Political analysts say western-style liberal democracy is being tested, especially in countries where some of the world’s longest-serving leaders continue to hold power.  In some cases, a so-called constitutional coup to remove or circumvent presidential term limits by some leaders is alarming.

For example, long-time leaders have exploited ambiguities in the law to extend their terms. President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo of Equatorial Guinea has ruled for 40 years, since August 1979.  He won a fifth seven-year term in 2016.

In Cameroon, 85-year-old President Paul Biya extended his 36-year-rule. Biya is also one of Africa’s longest-serving rulers. In 2008, the Cameroonian Parliament voted to change the constitution, to remove term-limits, so President Biya would be eligible to extend his time in office.

Incumbent President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda is still going strong.  In December 2017, Uganda’s Parliament voted to lift the age limit for the presidency, setting the stage for Yoweri Museveni to rule indefinitely. Museveni pushed to change the constitution in 2005, to abolish the term limits.

Idriss Deby has ruled Chad, for 28 years. He won a fifth term in 2016. And without term limits, he could keep running until he dies. In Congo Brazzaville, Denis Sassou Nguesso repealed term limits in 2015, was re-elected on March 2016 for another seven-year term.

In 2017, Rwandan President Paul Kagame, won with nearly 100% of the vote, securing a third term in office. Kagame’s re-election followed a constitutional amendment which ended a two-term limit allowing him to remain in power until 2034. In Burundi, Pierre Nkurunziza is widely expected to take advantage of recent changes to the constitution that would ideally will enable him to stay in power until 2034.
Perhaps more importantly, not all of Africa is dealing with the lack of democracy syndrome. Other countries are building stronger governance and leadership institutions.  Ethiopia is rebranding and building stronger institutions. Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has embarked on a series of reforms since taking office in April 2018.  Elsewhere, tens of millions of Africans are using the ballot box to deepen the quality of democratic governance and bring about political transitions.
On January 24, Felix Tshisekedi was sworn in as the Democratic Republic of Congo president, marking the country’s first-ever peaceful handover of power after multiple bitterly-disputed elections.
In Senegal, President Macky Sall easily won re-election. Senegal has long been viewed as the region’s most stable democracy, with peaceful transitions of power since attaining independence from France in 1960.
Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari easily won re-election, securing a second four-year term.
New South African president Cyril Ramaphosa is vowing to create jobs and tackle deep-rooted corruption.  Malawian President Peter Mutharika was sworn in for a second term after a contentious election marred by allegations of fraud and vote-rigging.

Finally, Liberian President George Weah and the President of Sierra Leone,  Julius Maada Bio were both democratically-elected through an open and transparent process.

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INNOVATIVE VOCAL APP FIGHTS ILLITERACY IN MALI

By Paul Ndiho

A Malian entrepreneur has created an app for people that can’t read.  It works with voice instructions in several of the languages spoken in Mali and it’s helping small businesses market their goods and services. Screen Shot 2019-08-29 at 7.40.11 AM

Ada Tembeli sells fruits and vegetables on the street in Bamako, Mali’s capital. Tembeli is among a growing number of entrepreneurs who are illiterate, but have found a novel way to do business through social media. It’s called the Lenali vocal app.

Tembeli attracts customers by sending a voiced message in Bambara with her stall’s location, as well as photographs of the fruits and vegetables she has available on the day.

“Here are your lovely fruits. We have nice ripe oranges, apples, bananas. Without forgetting to mention the pineapples. Today we have almost everything to keep you satisfied. To find us go to the third bridge and you will see me.”

She says the app works for her because she didn’t go to school and doesn’t understand French. Tembeli, also said her earnings have tripled since she  starting using the app, which, just like Facebook, provides users options such as ‘likes’ and ‘posts.’  The app’s interface is also available in different local languages.


Lenali was developed by Mamadou Gouro Sidibe, an internet technology engineer from Mali.
Sidibe got the idea to create the app when the manager of a shop he regularly visits asked him to read a message in French on the chat application Viber.

Sidibe took years to develop the app. He left his career in French start-ups to work on what he says is the world’s only voice-based network available in different West African languages such as Bambara and Soninke that are spoken in Mali.
He says he wanted to create an application that could be used by people who could not read or write, as well as help those who need to share information in French but haven’t gone to school to learn it.
” I needed to allow people like him  to understand what they were doing when they try and install it. A lot of people get applications installed for them because they can’t do it themselves. So it was with that in mind that we created vocal guides, vocal instructions in the local language so people can understand what they are doing. Right up to doing up your profile vocally. If you know how to write, you can put it in writing and if not you speak into the application and record it. And after that you can publish vocally, you can comment vocally, and you can do everything in this application without ever having to write a single word.”

Before the application was developed most small business owners in Mali relied on friends, family, and word of mouth to keep them going.  Now they can reach out further afield and attract a wider net of customers through the vocal app and sharing network. Motorbike sales at Boubacar Sidiki Goita’s shop in Bamako are up this year after he started using a vocal social media application to promote his goods and share information with customers who can’t read.

Goita is literate, but many of the people he is trying to reach are not. He says Lenali is popular with young people.

“Since I have been using Lenali, my turnover has gone up 5 percent, and now I can sell 20 motorbikes a day whereas before it was hardwork selling just five a day.”

Only 33 percent of Malians are literate, according to the United Nations.   Sidibe says the free app, available since January 2017, now has over 73-thousand users.   He expects the app to become profitable when it reaches 200,000 users.

SOUTH AFRICAN ENGINEER HAS WON 2019 AFRICA PRIZE FOR ENGINEERING

By Paul NdihoThis a fascinating story about a young electrical engineer whose cutting edge innovation has won him the Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation. E5B86799-1730-44A1-BBC4-A9C3ECA27851.jpeg
A South African has become the first person from his country to win the Royal Academy of Engineering’s Africa Prize, after designing a Pele-Box smart locker system that dispenses medicines to patients with chronic illnesses.

Pelebox was created by electrical engineer, Neo Hutiri, who won $25,000 in prize money for the British-based award.  Hutiri told VOA he decided to develop the technology after realizing patients were spending too much time in long lines, waiting to collect medicines at various healthcare facilities.

In 2014, Hutiri was being treated for tuberculosis and had to wait for at least two hours each time he went to refill his medication.

“I was trained to build solutions and product. The idea was to then say, ‘Can we build a product that is patient-centric?’ That speaks to us first as patient, while still adhering to all the regulatory requirements, and all of the, framework that the department of health wants to exist to improve access to care,”


The smart-lockers are regularly stocked with prescription drugs by health workers. Patients then receive a notification on their smart-phones and use an ATM-like machine and a personal identification number to access the medicine. Gontse is a pharmacist at Stanza Bopape II clinic in Pretoria.

“The machine makes it easier because some patients would say coming to the clinic is stress already for them – and then waiting again for medication, it’s another stress,”

South Africa launched a similar vending machine last year called the “ATM pharmacy” that also dispenses medicine in public hospitals. Hutiri says winning the award came as a surprise. He is now working on channeling the prize money into developing Pelebox further and manufacturing more units.

“It was very rewarding for us, it was very inspiring seeing that actually, the work that we do is on a global level and it can compete, it can scale…”It has multiple country applications. It was this, almost an endorsement of saying: we see you,”

Created in 2014, the Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation is the continent’s biggest award that is dedicated to innovation in engineering. The prize encourages ambitious and talented sub-Saharan African engineers from all disciplines to apply their skills to develop elite solutions to local challenges, while highlighting the importance of engineering as an enabler of improved quality of life and economic development.

 

NIGERIAN TEEN BUILDS MINI EXCAVATOR

 

By Paul Ndiho
Perhaps you’ve heard of the saying, “If your dreams do not scare you, they’re not big enough.”  Well, that doesn’t apply to 15-year-old, Hope Frank, a self-taught mechanical engineer who once dreamt of building his own excavator — and now he’s done it.

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Nigerian teenager Hope Emmanuel Frank is a budding, self-taught engineer, who lives in a remote town in southern Nigeria.   His ability to invent earth moving equipment using wood, and syringes are remarkable.  Frank used his passion for inventing, to design this mini-caterpillar excavator.  He discovered his love for engineering when he was just five years old.  Frank manually controls his excavator using syringes, plungers, and wires as hydraulics, to get his home-made machine to scoop and dump sand.

“I like creation; I like people who are inventors. They say that inventors try many times and still failed. I did this for one year before I succeed it.”

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rEqKb1cnwH8&w=560&h=31

Frank’s latest invention has made him a mini-celebrity in his neighborhood, and it’s paying off as a sign of their support.

“They told me this boy is trying to build an excavator. This is something that I see in Europe, and I am now seeing it here, so I am very grateful and happy for this small boy.”

Frank wants to study engineering, but he lacks the necessary funds and there is no college or university nearby where he can study to realize his dreams.  But, despite the challenges, he remains optimistic.

“There are no materials here in Uyo. We don’t have materials here in Akwa Ibom state, so you need to import, you create your account online to import the materials, so my biggest challenge is money.”

Hope Frank’s mini-excavator isn’t ready for prime time just yet, but he believes with the right support and opportunity he can become one of Africa’s greatest innovators.  And his dream can one day become a reality.

 

POPULAR UPRISINGS IN AFRICA

By Paul Ndiho

Demonstrations led by young adults, the unemployed, professional organizations and religious groups are now a driving force for political change across Africa.

POPULAR UPRISING IN AFRICA -1

Africa’s political leaders are paying more attention to changes in their ranks due to popular uprisings, despite deadly crackdowns on pro-democracy protesters by government security services.   In recent years, Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Burkina Faso, Zimbabwe, and Sudan, have all witnessed major political change due to sustained mass protests.

After lengthy and difficult negotiations, Sudan’s ruling military council and pro-democracy leaders signed a constitutional declaration on Sunday, paving the way for a transition to civilian rule after more than seven months of demonstrations and violence.  Under the agreement, signed in the capital, Khartoum, a joint civilian-military ruling body will oversee the formation of a civilian government and parliament to govern for a three-year transition period leading to democratic elections.

“We have entered these negotiations as partners in national justice. And we have exited these negotiations as one team.  Our concern is the whole of Sudan. We have come out after the national will has been victorious. The result is that there is no winner or loser because the interest of the nation stands above all in this agreement.”

Protest movement leader Ahmed Rabie signed the declaration at a ceremony attended by African Union and Ethiopian mediators.  The declaration was the result of tense negotiations between the leaders of mass protests, which erupted last December against the three-decade rule of President Omar al-Bashir, and the generals who ousted him in April.

“This constitutional declaration, which has just been signed, opens a new page in the history of our nation. It constructs a new milestone for this revolution. It constructs the atmosphere and path for the making of the establishment of a transitional government, which will look to the demands of the revolution, to which Sudan has given the blood of its dear sons and daughters.”

Hundreds of people celebrated in the streets, dancing, chanting revolutionary songs, waving national flags and sounding horns.

In Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe, 95-year-old was forced to resign as President in November 2017. His resignation came a week after the army, and his former political allies moved against him, ending four decades of rule by a man who turned from independence hero to typical strongman.

Wild celebrations broke out in the capital Harare – People danced and cheered as they heard the news, alongside members of the military.

In the Gambia, a similar popular uprising in January 2017, triggered the exodus of long-leader time leader Yahya Jammeh, after he refused to step down and hand over power to Adama Barrow who won the 2016 presidential election.    Under “Operation Restore Democracy” — The Economic Community of West African States decided to intervene militarily in the Gambia.  The intervention ousted Jammeh, who had seized power in a 1994 coup — and had vowed to rule the West African nation of 1.8 million people for “a billion years.”  Before fleeing into exile in Equatorial Guinea, Jammeh ruled the Gambia with an iron fist, amassing unexplained wealth, while the majority of the population lived in poverty.  In his wake, Jammeh left a fleet of presidential planes and luxury cars.  Now the government is looking to sell those items to raise millions of dollars for the country’s health and education systems.

In Burkina Faso five years ago, a popular revolt played out on the streets of the capital, Ouagadougou, as thousands of protesters and activists stormed the country’s parliament as MP’s prepared to vote to allow long-ruling President Blaise Compaore extend his 27-year-rule.

The mass demonstrations lasted two days and marked a turning point in the country’s history, which ended with Compaore being ousted and forced to flee.  He currently resides in exile in neighboring Ivory Coast, where he has become a citizen.  Ivory Coast refuses to extradite him to Burkina Faso.

GOOGLE MAPS NAVIGATION WITH A NIGERIAN ACCENT

By Paul Ndiho
Commuters using Google Maps while navigating through traffic in Nigeria’s commercial capital, Lagos, can now hear travel advice in a local voice.  Google Maps Nigeria -1
Uber driver Maxwell Edet has just received a request to pick up a client on a busy Lagos route, the Lekki-Epe Express Way.  He relies heavily on Google Maps to avoid the city’s infamous congested streets and also to accurately locate his clients.
Until now, Edet says that for the three years he has been at the wheel, he has often struggled to understand the accent used by the app to describe local destinations.  But now he hears travel advice in a local voice on Google Maps, under new features aimed at attracting more users in Africa. The local accents feature, unveiled recently at an event in Lagos, is also available on Google Assistant.   It’s the first move by the U.S. technology giant to offer such a service in Africa.
“It is better now because most of our drivers were not understanding most of the English that the woman was speaking, but now that the woman is speaking typical Nigerian English, I think everyone can enjoy it. It is better,”

Rapidly expanding populations, increased mobile phone penetration, and crowded cities that often have poor sign-posts have led technology firms to identify African countries as potential growth areas.  They are now offering transport features from detailed maps to motorcycle ride-hailing services. Google says it motorcycle directions is set to become available in Benin, Ghana, Rwanda, Togo and Uganda.
The technology behemoth says it is aiming to capture new users and expand its appeal beyond just drivers.  Jeff Albertson is a Google senior product manager who worked on the new development.
“We heard from users that when moving around Lagos, external factors like weather, the traffic situation and the overall business of the Danfo, BRT (Bus Rapid Transit) buses may affect decision making so to help users make an informed decision when planning their travel, I am thrilled to announce a new traffic tap just for Lagos.”
Google partners with local startup Road Preppers Technologies to gather data on different routes and aims to tell users the best options available based on traffic, weather, and road conditions.
The map will include information on the expected fare, travel time, and even photos of the bus stop to help guide commuters. Outside Lagos, Google is expanding its street view imagery to Abuja, Benin City, Enugu, and Ibadan.
“The Nigerian accent, it will help because it is not everybody that understand the American accent sometimes like what is this person saying.  So the Nigerian accent version could like help you know help the common man in the street,”
Rabiat Aparalara, a youth corp member, says he hasn’t picked-up a distinction between the different Google voices.
“I have not noticed this, and I have not noticed the difference between the Nigerian voice and the American voice. I still feel it is still the same thing,”
Google is working hard to expand in West Africa, especially Nigeria, the continent’s most populous country, with an estimated 190 million citizens.
Google unveiled WiFi hot spots across Lagos last year — and in 2017, it launched a program to teach millions of Africans technology skills in order to make them more employable.

CORRUPTION IS GETTING WORSE IN AFRICA

By Paul Ndiho

A new global report, Barometer Africa 2019, released jointly by corruption watch groups Transparency International and Afro-Barometer, reveals that corruption is getting worse on the continent.  STA Africa Corruption Report 2019 CLEAN

Winning the fight against corruption continues to be an uphill battle.  A majority of citizens surveyed in 35 African countries think that corruption is getting worse and that their government is doing a poor job of fighting the vice, according to a new report on global corruption.

But the situation appears to be looking more positive, as the leaders of some countries take measures to address corruption.  The presidents of Nigeria and Kenya, are making clean governance a priority.  Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari is waging a battle against corruption, but it remains rampant under his leadership.
Meanwhile, Kenyan President, Uhuru Kenyatta, while speaking to VOA last year, also pledged to stamp out corruption.


“I believe we’re going to win this war. There is tremendous commitment.  I believe now we have an institutional framework that will be able to deliver reliable results. The political commitment is there. The will of the people of Kenya is committed to seeing an end to corruption. And I believe that this time we shall succeed in that endeavor.”

Kenyatta is making fighting graft a top priority, but critics say he has been slow to pursue top officials. No high profile convictions have occurred since he took office and some activists are very concerned.

“My message to the world concerning corruption in Kenya, we have a serious accountability issue, and cartels are protected, thieves are protected, and we have to bring that to an end.”

On the streets of Nairobi, many Kenyans have their doubts that any graft investigations will see looted funds recovered or culprits prosecuted.

“Unless we see the big fish, given thorough jail terms, for example, five years ten years, then we will say that the government is working, at the moment that has not happened.”

Kenyan Finance Minister, Henry Rotich, has pleaded not guilty to corruption charges linked to the construction of two dams, a rare example of a sitting minister facing prosecution in the East Africa nation.  The country’s top prosecutor ordered Rotich and 27 other officials are arrested and charged over a multi-million dollar contract procurement scandal.

“Given the international nature of these crimes we realize that we cannot fight corruption on our own, and as a strategy to fighting economic crimes, the office of the director of public prosecution has prioritized the tracing of proceeds of crime, benefits, and instruments of crime, asset confiscation, and forfeiture.”

Over 50 Kenyan civil servants were charged in court in May amid an investigation into the theft of nearly $100 million of public funds, in a rare move to hold officials accountable for graft in a nation where it is widespread.

“It is an important step forward, it could be a defining moment, but I would say that it is still too early to say that this is the moment we’ve been waiting for. Of course, opening charges against the person who has been in charge of public finance policy in this country is a significant step.”

AFRICA’S $3.4 TRILLION ECONOMIC BLOC

By Paul Ndiho

Africa’s new Continental Free Trade Area is being hailed as the largest free trade area in the world since the World Trade Organization was founded in January 1995. The economic pact aims to boost cross-border trade by reducing or eliminating tariffs and red tape.Screen Shot 2019-07-25 at 9.07.19 AM

After nearly four years of talks, an agreement to form the African Continental Free Trade Agreement was ratified in Niger earlier this month. The new trade initiative brings together 1.2 billion people, creates a $3.4 trillion economic bloc and ushers in a new era of development.

Shaka Ssali, while appearing on VOA’s Shaka Extra Time internet broadcast, says the timing of this trade pact could not have come at a better time.  He also says credit should go to Rwandan President Paul Kagame, who started this initiative and was one of the first people to sign it in March 2018.

“Frankly we should give credit to the man who can up with the idea and pushed it through  Despite a lot of NAY Sayers and that is the Rwandan President Major Gen. Paul Kagame. There are a lot of people who thought that this idea was not possible, especially because two African giants, South Africa, and Nigeria were reluctant to embrace the concept.”

After months of reluctance over competition concerns, Nigerian President, Muhammadu Buhari, at the African Union Summit in Niger launched the African Continental Free Trade Area agreement by signing Africa’s largest economy into the deal.  But, while there is much hope that pan-African trade will grow, structural weaknesses are expected to make it a slow process.

“I am very interested because I think I will get one of the countries around and open my office, even if it’s a showroom for me to move my products directly.”

Inter-regional trade in Africa currently accounts for only 17 percent of the continent’s total exports, compared to 69 percent in Europe and 59 percent in Asia. Pat Utomi, a Nigerian professor of political economy and management expert, says this trade deal could drive Africa’s numbers up to 52 percent.

“African countries stand to profit also from Nigeria being engaged.  It will not only lead to Nigeria’s economy to becoming bigger but lead to those other African economies to becoming stronger and much bigger.  So together, the mutual benefit of trade will lead to elevating the African status away from the poverty of today.”

African exporters want the free trade area to eliminate barriers and create free movement between states.

“African trade today is conducted on the U.S. dollar, Euro and including the Renminbi, (the official currency of China).  What this is doing is to reduce the use of three currencies in the bilateral trade settlement in Africa.   Because we estimate that that cost Africa between five to seven billion dollars.  Beyond that, it also reduces the trade, because Africa has a scarcity of foreign exchange.”

Brook Hailu Besha, a journalism professor at the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University, says Eritrea, Africa’s only non-signatory to the trade pact, says it will seriously consider signing the agreement.

“It is said that the Eritrean government did not believe in the merits and the goodness of this new Africa trade association and to line up with fellow African sisters and brothers. No country has succeeded in the world by isolating itself.”

Once fully operational, the free trade accord is projected to boost the level of intra-Africa trade by more than 52 percent, by the year 2022, according to the UN Economic Commission for Africa.

 

MOTORCYCLE TAXI COMPANIES TEST THE WEST AFRICA MARKET

 

By Paul Ndiho
Motorcycle taxi companies are expanding in West Africa, thanks to support from investors betting on the sudden rise of two-wheeled taxi firms in Asia.  Can this success be replicated in some of the fastest-growing economies in Africa?

A54 Motorcycle Taxi in Nigeria PKG

Motorbike taxi firms are now battling it out on the streets of Nigeria’s commercial capital, Lagos.  As Nigeria’s oldest motorcycle taxi firm MAX.ng, is planning to expand across the country and launch in Ghana and Ivory Coast.

The company’s app-based platform organizes motorcycle taxi and delivery services for individuals and businesses.  The firm has also recently been infused with $7 million dollars from investors.

Informal motorcycle taxis operate across Nigeria, where they are known as “Okada.” Two-wheeled ride-hailing firms are hoping to lure passengers seeking rides that are safe and fast.


New motorcycle transit companies hope to win a measurable market share by offering teams of trained drivers, safer equipment, and the convenience of booking rides through a mobile app.   Some are looking to turn their ride-hailing apps into one-stop mobile shops offering a host of services from e-payments and deliveries to insurance.

“I see them like they are more executive; you feel more secure. I believe they should be trained before they are allowed to ride on Gokada, unlike common Okada on the road, you see some people that are already drunk, they are already high, so you can’t control them. I know if I have a complain I can always go to Gokada website and lodge my complaint there. Everybody wants faster movement in Lagos, we all know Lagos, but we are still afraid of the normal Okada.”

Rival ride-hailing companies typically have a mobile app, but also allow passengers to hail available drivers.  Gokada launched in Lagos in January 2018.  Founder Falim Saleh says, so far, the company has raised US$5 million in 2019 – and it plans to start rolling out new services, like repair centers and rider training schools across West Africa.

“The reality is that the infrastructure is not meant to handle so many cars and to do major infrastructural projects like trains will take a long time, and there are so many Okada that they are here to stay at least for a while, so why not make the best of it, right? Why not make sure they are riding safely, why not track them, why not give them proper permits and make the best of the situation instead of just ignoring what the reality is.”

MAX.ng also operates in several southern Nigerian cities.  Okadas have come under so much criticism for unpredictable driving and accidents, that in 2012, Lagos banned motorcycles with a cylinder capacity below 200 cc’s from using major roads or the bridges that criss-cross the city built around a lagoon.  Jude Okoro, left his job as a clerk over a year ago to become a Gokada driver.

“I was actually interested in their vision, the vision of saving people’s time, taking them to their destination safe and sound, and I wanted to be part of that vision and at the same time to actually increase my financial capabilities so that I can do more.”

MAX.ng plans to launch in three other west African cities – in Ghana, Ivory Coast, and Nigeria – by the end of 2019, according to co-founder Adetayo Bamiduro.  MAX.ng’s target is to reach 2 million rides by mid-2020 – up from 200,000 trips in May 2019 – as a result of the West African expansion.

“Nigerians principally…mostly move around either on motorcycles or in mini-busses and these are two spaces that have not seen a lot of normalization and structure even as we speak, right. So if you combine all the organized and structured ride-hailing platforms and transport companies till date, there is still less than one percent of the total market.”

Africa offers enormous potential for motorcycle ride-hailing firms, for example in East Africa, where two-wheeled taxis known as “Boda boda” are already accessible.  Car ride-hailing giant Uber, last year launched its two-wheeled Uber BODA service in Kampala and Nairobi, but the company says it does not have plans to launch a similar service in Nigeria.

The Ugandan company, SafeBoda, which was founded in 2015 and launched in Nairobi last year, says it’s in the process of launching in Nigeria. SafeBoda says it also plans to expand into at least 20 other African cities.

Both Gokada and MAX.ng said the average cost of a trip was around US$2. Most Nigerians live on less than that sum each day.  But there are no signs of interest waning from firms planning to launch in the region.

JUMIA TECHNOLOGIES TARGETS LOWER-INCOME EARNERS

 

By Paul Ndiho

Online retail stores that target the middle-class are on the rise in Africa. The stores are aiming to meet a demand for products that conventional retail stores appear to be struggling to satisfy. But Jumia Food, a unit of Jumia Technologies, is looking beyond the middle-class and plan to offer cheaper options to attract lower-income earners. A54 Jumia Technologies PKG-1

Jumia is Africa’s largest e-commerce platform primarily for electronics, fashion, and appliances that connects sellers with consumers. In April, upon being listed on the New York Stock Exchange, it became Africa’s first sub-Saharan unicorn – a private company with a value of at least $1 billion dollars – to test the sub-Saharan public market.

Commonly dubbed as the Amazon of Africa, the platform delivers food and beverages to 11 African countries, joining other multi-national companies such as Uber and China’s Huawei Technologies who are looking to grow their customer base on the continent beyond the middle class. 

 

“We are also looking now to target this mass-market customer that is starting to come online over the last couple of years for the first time realizing that the level of basic convenience and assortment is not just the preserve of the upper classes. It’s now available to the mass market because of the level of sophistication of technology, the level of experience that we now bring to on-demand means that we can hit a price point that’s attractive to them.”

Jumia Food has one-million customers across 30 African cities, including Lagos and Casablanca.  Kenya, however, is its biggest market. Its platform there has 4,000 restaurants offering everything from local cuisine to international fast food – from the likes of KFC, Pizza Hut and McDonald’s.

Jumia follows Uber, which introduced a low-cost, quick-trip option called Chap Chap to users in Kenya in 2018. It has also added a motorcycle service in Uganda and rickshaws in Tanzania.

 

“You knew five years ago, six years ago I considered this to be a food delivery business and what happened over the years is that we built up a huge base of customers eloped profound expertise in on-demand delivery technology, and when you have those two assets we recognize that food is probably the biggest opportunity that we have in the market, but we can leverage those assets to serve customers in other areas.”

The online giant is betting that as more Africans reach middle-class status — people whose average daily spending is between $2 to $20, according to the African Development Bank, the demand for their services will rise.

“So we have around 4,000 vendors on the platform, and the way I like to think about it is that we have roughly, I’d say maybe 99 percent or so of the vendors that we want to have on the platform. On the vendors’ side, it’s not a numbers game, and it’s a quality and assortment and trust game.”

Africa’s growing population is expected to lead to an increase in consumer spending to $2.2 trillion dollars by 2030 – from $680 billion in 2008, according to the African Development Bank, and other UN Agencies.

Jumia’s shares skyrocketed after an initial public offering on the New York Stock Exchange. It raised $196 million dollars, selling 13.5 million American depositary shares at $14.50 each, within the expected range of $13-to-$16. 

The Lagos, Nigeria-based tech firm now has over four million customers. But critics say the retail platform isn’t profitable, despite its sales jumping by almost 40 percent to $147 million dollars last year. 

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