Today Africa, like other developing countries, is experimenting with new digital technologies, but it has never steered an industrialization course.
All of us remember the famous picture of a Maasai man, dressed in the typical shuka, surrounded by a herd of starving cows, in the middle of the savannah, with a mobile phone in his hand: a symbol of Africa on the move.
African venture capitalism is still small: 400 million dollars spent in 2014 and 600 million as a predicted expense in 2018. Small figures for a continent which could benefit a lot from a correct use of new technologies. E-commerce is a symbol of the processes developing in the continent. It was created in the USA to fulfil some special conditions, such as big distances, few retail stores, low demographic density, high incomes. Today the first development’s signals of this sector can be seen in the African scene, where distances are big, transports are difficult and houses are dispersed – all elements which could guarantee a great spreading of these online services.
TEAMS (The East African Marine System) has been a services’ trailblazer: a public-private company, which brought from UAE the fibre-optic cables on Mombasa coasts and connected all East Africa to the internet. Costs are still high, but connection is fast.
The first one is a kind of African Amazon: it sells consumer products and is divided into lots of thematic sub – portals, from travels to real estates. At the moment, it is growing very fast.
The second one is smaller, but somehow more interesting. In facts, customers visit their local shop, browse through the Copia products and place orders with the shopkeeper using the Copia app. Then, they pay the shopkeeper for the value of the goods paying in one lump sum or in small installments on a “layaway” plan. The shopkeeper uses a mobile payment system to pay Copia for the ordered products. Copia delivers the goods to the shopkeeper within 48 hours for periurban locations and within 1 week for rural locations. Once the customer receives the order, the shopkeeper receives a commission from Copia.
Their method is like that of a traditional e-commerce, but it differs in the delivering and the involvement of the local shop: the online purchase doesn’t eliminate the middleman, but it keeps local net alive, allowing the consumer to order at his/her local shop, which, with the Copia’s brochure, makes the order and becomes the guarantor of the payment and the pick-up, receiving a commission.
A method similar to MPESA kiosks’ one and which seems not willing to forget all industry’s subjects. A mechanism which uses intermediation – and which in this sense differs from modern digital companies – to optimize a net which is locally active, extended and functional to the system’s support.
Africa is using web’s disintermediation according to its needs, which often are not those the Internet was born for.