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Wed, 12 Jun 2019
DHL rolls out e-commerce platform to more markets in Africa

DHL Africa eShop has seen impressive growth since launching and has now been rolled out to nine more countries across sub-Saharan Africa.

Following the success of the DHL Africa eShop (www.Africa-eShop.DHL) app in 11 countries across sub-Saharan Africa, DHL Express has announced that its innovative mobile and desktop platform has been rolled out in nine more countries across the continent.

Hennie Heymans, CEO of DHL Express sub-Saharan Africa, says that they’ve seen impressive growth in usage of the DHL Africa eShop app since it was initially brought online in South Africa, Nigeria, Kenya, Mauritius, Ghana, Senegal, Rwanda, Malawi, Botswana, Sierra Leone and Uganda in April this year.

“The uptake and usage of this platform over the past seven weeks has been incredible, with exponential growth in subscribers and physical orders. Based on this rapid growth and the positive feedback that we have received from the market, DHL Express has decided to proceed to the next phase of the rollout as quickly as possible. The platform is now live for consumers in in Cameroon, Democratic of Congo, Cote d’Ivoire, Gabon, The Gambia, Madagascar, Mozambique, Tanzania and Zambia.”

The DHL Africa eShop enables African customers to shop directly from over 200 US- and UK-based online retailers, with purchases delivered to their door, by DHL Express. This solution was developed in partnership with Link Commerce – a division of Mall for Africa.

Heymans notes that there is a growing demand for world-class online retail services in Africa. “As one report by the McKinsey Global Institute shows, Africa has a fast-growing middle-class consumer market which is embracing the internet at an astonishing rate. By 2025, the projected internet market penetration is expected to reach around 50% for the continent, with around 360 million smartphones expected to be in circulation. DHL Africa eShop provides the perfect solution for African consumers to access global brands.”

The DHL Africa eShop app offers African consumers unprecedented access to international retailers on an easy-to-use platform, with great convenience and speed. It also enables many global brands to connect with a captive African market – markets that were often overlooked due to the perception of high complexity and uncertainty.

“As the global leader in express logistics, DHL is well positioned to connect African consumers with these exciting global brands. We are committed to driving e-commerce growth on the continent on all fronts. We work with thousands of e-commerce brands in Africa, and help them to reach global customers, and now with our DHL Africa eShop, we also connect African consumer to global brands,” concludes Heymans.


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Tue, 11 Jun 2019
A platform for Africa’s mobile innovators

Africa’s Talking gives entrepreneurs on the continent an easy way to add voice- and text-based functions to their solutions.

Sam Gikandi ’05 SM ’06 and Eston Kimani ’05 have always believed in the potential of Africa’s entrepreneurial community. Their years at MIT, beginning in 2001 when they left their home country of Kenya, only reinforced that belief.

Through the MIT-Africa initiative and other campus programs that allowed them to work in regions across the African continent, they met hundreds of established and aspiring software developers, many of whom were in various stages of starting companies.

In order for these developers to maximize their impact, Gikandi and Kimani knew they’d need to reach the hundreds of millions of Africans who own cell phones but not smartphones. That has traditionally required entrepreneurs to go through several long and complex processes, including applying for access to telecommunications infrastructure from mobile operators, setting up the necessary technical integrations, and gaining approval from regulatory agencies in each region they wanted to operate in.

Gikandi and Kimani felt those hurdles were holding Africa’s businesses back, so they founded Africa’s Talking to unleash entrepreneurs’ full potential.

Since 2012, the company, known colloquially as AT, has been helping businesses in Africa communicate and transact with customers — whether they have a smartphone or not — through text, voice, and other mobile-centered application programming interfaces, or APIs.

The APIs act as plug-and-play capabilities for developers to quickly add mobile features, including the ability to send and receive payments, to their solution. Gikandi describes the company as “telecom in a box.”

Africa’s Talking currently operates in 18 countries around Africa and supports about 5,000 businesses ranging from early-stage startups to large organizations. Businesses can add APIs as new needs arise and pay as they go, dramatically reducing the risks and time commitment traditionally associated with telecom integrations.

This spring, the company launched AT Labs, which aims to leverage its network, expertise, and infrastructure to help entrepreneurs create impactful companies in the shortest possible timeframe.

Gikandi, who ceded his CEO role at Africa’s Talking to lead AT Labs, says the new program will take a small stake in the companies it supports. But he also wants to incentivize founders to give back to AT Labs once they’ve had success.

He says the business model is in line with the larger symbiotic relationship between Africa’s Talking and its customers, in which all parties feed off of each other’s success: “We have a big advantage with Africa’s Talking, but we feel we only grow when the local ecosystem grows.”

Removing barriers to innovation

The rise in cell phone ownership among Africans over the last 15 years has given entrepreneurs the opportunity to create transformative solutions on the continent. But Gikandi says telecom companies make the process of gaining access to their infrastructure very difficult, sometimes forcing entrepreneurs to obtain multiple contracts for the same service or denying their requests outright.

“That’s basically a full-time business in itself,” Gikandi says of gaining approvals from telecom companies. “A lot of innovation wasn’t happening because developers didn’t see how [...]

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Mon, 10 Jun 2019
Maybe Africa really will become the new China

When people tell me that Africa will be the new China, I’m not as incredulous as I used to be. The continent is showing potential, and progress could come from what many consider to be a highly unlikely area: manufacturing.

All across Africa, investors — many of them private entrepreneurs from China — are building factories. Others from India, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh are joining in, while car companies from Japan, Germany, and South Korea are declaring their intent to put assembly plants in places such as Ethiopia, Tanzania, and Ghana. Meanwhile, overall African growth is looking impressive. The International Monetary Fund forecasts that 6 of the top 10 fastest-growing economies will be African this year:

Manufacturing is only one factor. A recovery in natural resource prices and urbanisation (which creates more demand for local services) also play important roles. That said, there may be a lot more manufacturing going on than official statistics suggest, since only a small fraction of African workers tend to be employed in the formal sector.

So despite myriad policy challenges — a fragmented patchwork of governments, fragile nations with artificial boundaries drawn by colonial empires of the past, scattered wars and violence — many African countries might be starting down the well-worn path of manufacturing-driven growth trodden by the developed world. Meanwhile, in South and Southeast Asia, poor countries like Vietnam and Bangladesh are adding factories even more rapidly. Although few expect this process to bring living standards up to the levels of Europe or Japan anytime soon, there’s hope that worldwide industrialisation will at least alleviate extreme poverty.

Yet many people — including Nobel prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz and researchers at the Brookings Institution — believe that Africa and South Asia can’t follow the strategy that worked so well for Europe and East Asia. Automation, they claim, will soon render large-scale, labour-intensive manufacturing obsolete. They can point to the recent experience of developed countries, which have seen manufacturing work decline as a percent of total employment in recent years. When productivity improvements outpace demand for manufactured goods — that is, when automation grows faster than production — the share of workers employed in factories must decline.

Even China is not immune. A new paper by economists Osea Giuntella and Tianyi Wang finds that regions with industries more amenable to the use of industrial robots have seen employment and wages decline more in recent years. But China is already industrialised; the real danger is to the countries that are still poor. Stiglitz notes that in sub-Saharan Africa, manufacturing was lower as a percent of gross domestic product in 2000 than in 1977, and has risen only slightly since then. A 2015 paper by Harvard economist Dani Rodrik makes the case that premature deindustrialisation is already hitting the developing world, declaring that “countries are running out of industrialisation opportunities sooner and at much lower levels of income compared to the experience of early industrialisers.”

Stiglitz and the Brookings researchers both suggest that African countries look elsewhere for growth. Their suggestions include [...]

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