A Look At The New Social Media Regulations And What It Could Mean For Small African Businesses

Nzekwe Henry July 25

Within various regions on the African continent, there has been something of proliferation in the spate of social media regulations with a number of governments putting in place measures to curb the influence and usage of the medium in recent times. Earlier this month, WeeTracker reported that the Ugandan government had implemented a law mandating that a daily levy of USD 0.05 be paid by all social media users in the country, in a move that the government hopes will “curb online gossip” and raise funds for “dealing with the consequences of online gossip.”

The implementation of the new social media tax law came in the wake of an earlier approval by the Ugandan Parliament, following a significant push from Yoweri Museveni, the country’s president – who has been particularly vocal on the subject of regulating social media. Last week, it was announced by the country’s State Minister of Finance, David Bahati, that as much as USD 1.8 Mn had been raised in tax since the implementation of the law which also affects users of mobile money platforms, albeit to a slightly reduced extent. It has also been reported that following a review which resulted in the slashing of the mobile money tax, the country’s executive council has opted to uphold the original social media tax law in spite of the backlash, uproar, and protests from some sections of the country’s populace who have described the law as an infringement on their rights to freedom of expression and freedom to access information.

And there is more. The Egyptian government seems to have hopped on the bandwagon too as the country’s parliament is reported to have recently approved and passed a bill that will see social media accounts with more than 5,000 followers be regulated and treated like media outlets. The new law is said to be motivated by the need to monitor and regulate social media accounts that allegedly create, publish and distribute fake news. While these developments may have been heralded as necessary in some quarters, it has been described as disturbing and greeted with cynicism and skepticism in others. And like an African proverb points out; “When two elephants do battle, it is the ground that suffers.”

The world has evolved into something of an intricately-connected nexus of fiber-optic internet cables. Like it or not, we now live in a world that is run by a maze of satellites and a labyrinth of vital cables that may be thought of as the world’s very own blood vessels. The proliferation of modern technology and the internet invasion has been all-encompassing. Go back in time to the dot-com boom of the late 1990s and it can be deduced that the warning signs have always been there.

The whole world now seems like a vehicle that is fuelled by a combination of cutting-edge technology and the power of the internet. And no one has remained entirely immune to this revolution. One way or another, even for people in the remotest parts of the world, the internet has proved itself a useful tool. Ever thought what it would be like if the global internet went AWOL for a whole day? Communications will be down, governments will be running blind, and it would appear the world is literally at a standstill. How about how worked up and apprehensive you get when network reception goes MIA for only half an hour? Give that some thought, and it becomes clearer just how important a role it now plays in our daily lives.

Now, moving on to the crux of the matter. While the advancements in modern technology and the advent of the internet as we have now come to know it may be thought of as a blessing to mankind in many circles, there yet exists an aspect of these developments that seems to divide and unite opinions in an almost equal measure. And that would have to be social media. Touted as one of the revelations of the modern era in some schools of thought, it is still currently regarded by some groups as something akin to the bane of humanity’s existence. And whether or not the premise for holding such a view about the subject is justified seems a matter of perspective.

In its strictest sense, social media encompasses computer-mediated technologies that facilitate the creation and sharing of information, ideas, career interests, and other forms of information via virtual communities and networks. Since becoming prominent and gaining traction in the early 2000s, it is in the area of sharing information that social media has truly been utilized to telling effect. And this perhaps explains the motive that has informed some of the policies formulated by a number of world governments, particularly in Africa, to crack down on the feature, or to regulate it at the very least.

Currently, the global population of social media users is found to be somewhere around 2.5 billion worldwide, with such platforms as Facebook, Twitter, Whatsapp, Instagram, LinkedIn, YouTube, and Skype seeing a lot of use and gaining significant reach in recent times. And according to Statista, it is envisaged that this figure which rose from 2.46 billion in 2017 will reach an astonishing 2.77 billion in 2019. With virtually non-existent regulation and guaranteed wanton access, it is little wonder why social media affords such a veritable tool for almost unlimited reach.

In Africa and the Middle East, current figures from Statista reveal a considerable 350.5 million social media users spread across the region. And a number of governments have been quick to cite the volatile political climate in parts of these regions as the motivation behind some of the embargoes placed on social media usage in recent times – leaving legitimate enterprises that thrive on the leverage afforded by the platform to bear the brunt.

Restrictions on social media access and usage are becoming something of a trend in the African setup. In June 2018, it was reported on WeeTracker that the Kenyan Film Classification Board (KFCB) had announced that every Kenyan would need a filming license to post a video for public viewing and failure to comply with the new directive could attract as much as USD 1 K in fines or up to 5 years of incarceration. In a similar move which took place about the same period, their East African neighbors, Tanzania, were also reported by WeeTracker as having ordered unregistered bloggers and online forums to pull down their websites. In a regulation which was initially passed in March this year, the government had asked that all such platforms, including YouTube channels, be registered by paying as much as USD 900.00, which is quite interesting given that the country’s per capita income is below that mark.

And that is just for starters. The list of African countries that have blocked access to social media during elections and other politically-sensitive periods is burgeoning. In recent times, Cameroon, Chad, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon, Gambia, the Republic of Congo, and Uganda, are amongst African countries that have popped up on the radar. More so, in countries like Ethiopia, Madagascar, and Tanzania, there has been an introduction of cybercrime legislation which is thought to jeopardize freedom of expression in some quarters.

Some of the motives guiding the formulation of these regulations may indeed be noble, especially when the need to regulate social media accounts that allegedly create, publish and distribute falsified information that can potentially cause considerable damage is played up. The role played by incendiary text messages in the violence that surrounded Kenya’s 2007 elections, for example, is often cited as a case in point when underlining the dangers of unregulated mass communication. A similar narrative is obtainable from South Sudan, where it is reported that the ongoing conflict has been somewhat fueled by online rumours and hate speech. Fingers have also pointed to a particular inciting ‘false’ Facebook post as being responsible for the death of over 150 persons. All these give some credence to the notion that social media can actually be a dangerous tool in the wrong hands. There is a lot of following on the platform; perhaps even too much power wielded by a select few, and with unchecked influence, there is always the possibility of inciting unrest or fomenting trouble with fake news and falsified posts. This has informed recent moves on the part of the government to check that influence.

While some of these moves may have been described as antisocial, oppressive, borne-out-of-bad-faith, and even voyeuristic amongst a disgruntled many, there is no denying that the biggest casualties from the fallout are the legitimate employers of the medium. The people who have come off worse from the whole saga are the small-time African entrepreneurs who are leveraging social media and harnessing its potentials to grow their businesses. What makes social media such a powerful tool are its reach and access, and the same details have proved its undoing time and again.

By virtue of its ease of access and usage, just about anyone can use the platform and at very little cost. Social media makes for an affordable medium for information dissemination, promotion, and advertisement, and a number of African entrepreneurs have been keen to cash in on these benefits. With regulatory bodies coming down heavy and cracking down on social media, these smaller businesses may feel the heat and be slowly taken out of business. And it does not help that the traditional medium of going about business promotion and information dissemination is rather expensive and not readily available. This calls for a return to the drawing board and a reform of policies. While it might be true that regulations on social media are necessary to keep some of the world’s more troubled states at peace, some consideration ought to be given to legitimate African businessmen and women who, in spite of the odds, are looking to create value and contribute their own quota towards the economic emancipation of the region through the use of social media.


Image Source: CastleCraig

Kenya’s Twiga Foods Raises USD 10 Mn In Series A

Nayantara Jha November 16

Nairobi based AgriTech Startup Twiga Foods has secured USD 10 Mn in a Series A funding round led by World Bank’s International Finance Corporation, Global Agriculture & Food security programme and TLcom Capital. The investment round was also joined by its previous investors DOB Equity, 1776, Adolph H.Lundin and Wamda Capital.

As per the announcement, the newly secured investment will help the startup in expansion and in introducing new products into the market. This round comes after a year of securing USD 10.3 Mn from Wamda Capital. The AgriTech startup which connects smallholder farmers to vendors, claims to have a network of 13000 farmers and 6000 vendors. A mobile application helps both the parties exchange money using M-pesa mobile money payment.

Interestingly, Twiga was also one of the top 10 funded startups in Africa in 2017.

Twiga Foods, in April, had announced partnership with IBM to add a blockchain based micro-financing feature to their platform for farmers in Kenya and across Africa.

As of 2016, agriculture was reported to have weighed in with as much as 32% of the continent’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Africa’s food market was valued at about USD 313 Bn in 2013 and is estimated to hit USD 1 Tn mark by 2030.  Lately, Agritech startups in Africa are also becoming a top pick for investors, especially, for international investment funds.

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Egyptian Startup Fakahany Secures USD 700 K Seed Investment From Endure Capital And Angel Investors

Nzekwe Henry November 16

Cairo-based farm-to-door fresh produce eCommerce platform, Fakahany, has raised investment of USD 700 K in a seed funding round led by Endure Capital, who are also joined by angel investors.

Fakahany was established a year ago by the duo of Waleed Khalil and Ahmed Attia. The former also happens to be a partner at Endure Capital. The eCommerce platform makes it possible for users in Cairo and Giza to order fresh farm products like fruits and vegetables via its online platform and mobile applications for both Android and iOS. The startup is said to have its warehouses where it stores fresh produce sourced directly from partner farms.

According to Ahmed Attia, Co-Founder of Fakahany, the startup is focused on filling the void between farms and customers, as well as optimising the intermediate processes. This makes it possible for the startup to provide customers with some of the best quality produce at their doorsteps, thus, offering good value for money.

The startup appears to have witnessed significant growth since its launch, and this can be attributed to the impressive level of demand in the market for its services; a feat which the company claims has seen its revenues grow tenfold over the last one year.

Egyptian startup

Waleed Mohamed Khalil (CEO Fakahany) via LinkedIn

“We chose this vertical understanding the challenges of working with fresh produce and perishable goods. However, the great calibres that we have and the collective industry experience within our team has allowed us to build a powerful eCommerce platform and sturdy operations that enable fast growth and a seamless experience for our customers,” commented Waleed Khalil, Co-Founder and CEO of Fakahany, with regards to the development.

Tarek Fahim, General Partner at Endure Capital who lead the investment round, noted that continuous optimisation, automation, and vertical were required for sustenance in today’s business environment. He also suggested that the investment in Fakahany was borne out of confidence in the high and consistent growth which the startup has shown in such a short time while expressing belief in the ability of the startup to continue in its upward growth trajectory.

The investment is expected to be channelled into further developing the technology of the platform, as well as expanding its team, reach, and offerings. Details bordering on equity agreements are yet to be disclosed at this time.

From Selling Flip-Flops to Raking Millions in Revenues – Even War Couldn’t Break His Entrepreneurial Spirit

Nzekwe Henry November 15

Here’s the thing about humble beginnings; they are not some sort of wriggle room for the justification of mediocrity, or an excuse to settle for less. If anything, they are only a reflection of the starting point; they do not ultimately define the future of any individual.

Humble beginnings are just what they are; the beginning, the starting point — no more, no less. Not the end. And in between the beginning and the end, every individual has a choice to make between sitting on the fence and sulking over everything that is not right or taking that leap. The end is largely a function of that choice.

It’s easy to lament poor background and blame it all on the lack of opportunities for never really hitting the heights, and perhaps even justifiably so. But it does pay to view the scenario from a different perspective. Privations and hardship are undoubtedly tricky spots to get caught up in, and it’s easy to align with the popular view which attributes those to an impoverished life.

But doing a one-eighty can also reflect privations and hardship in a different light. They can also be viewed as an indication of the type of effort that would need to be put in to improve the situation, as well as a suggestion that life accomplishments have as much do with the ability to keep the prize within sight in spite of the fog as it does the decision to attempt any venture in the first place. And sometimes, it’s all about perspective. Some individuals epitomise, embody and personify this view more than others, and Fomba Trawally; one of the wealthiest men in Liberia is one of such individuals.

Having suffered untold tragedy with the demise of both his parents at an early stage in his life, the Liberian businessman had to do a number of odd jobs and petty trades to get by on a daily. At some point, he even resorted to walking considerable distances, wheelbarrow in front, selling bathroom slippers in different neighbourhoods in various parts of Monrovia.

And as if that was not difficult enough, he was also affected by the war that ravaged parts of Liberia in 1989. Rocked by the violent unrest, Fomba Trawally and family had to flee their home country and stay away for up to three years. When the violence died down, and the war came to an end, he made the return to his homeland. Upon his return, Fomba decided to start a small business even though all he could lay claim to by way of personal funds was a meagre USD 200. Fast-forward several years down the line, and the former wheelbarrow hawker now runs a company whose value is believed to run into millions of dollars.

But how could he have pulled off such a remarkable feat from such a disadvantaged position? Perhaps taking a trip down memory lane to how it all began, could reveal some answers.

Fomba Trawally, Source: BBC

Fomba Trawally was born in 1971 to poor parents in Liberia. He completed his elementary education at Voinjama Public School where he had first enrolled in 1975. He also joined Kataka Training School for his secondary education in 1981.

Kumba Beindu, Fomba’s mother, is said to have toiled day and night to fend for her children in the absence of her late husband. Getting them fed was hard work enough, let alone putting them through school. But somehow, she managed both, even though it required back-breaking work more often than not. She sold pepper and other farm produce, and it was from this small business that Fomba’s mother met the needs of her children.

Now, young Fomba was going through life one day at a time despite the privations with the future offering the only glimmer of hope, and then things took a turn for the worse. Kumba Beindu, the single surviving parent and the sole beacon of hope for Fomba and his siblings, passed on sometime in the 1980s and everything pretty much went downhill from there.

It was a very difficult time for Fomba, and his siblings as the demise of the sole breadwinner of the family left behind a huge void to fill. Before the tragedy, Fomba had had high hopes of going all the way to college, but those hopes were dashed with the death of his mother. Being the eldest in the family, Fomba had to step up to the plate and handle the baton that had been shoved into his unprepared hands at a tender age. To fend for siblings who now looked up to him, Fomba quit school and took to selling bathroom flip-flops in a wheelbarrow. He trekked several miles through various neighbourhoods in Monrovia, marketing and selling his wares. Daily income was small, but it was enough to take care of his siblings.

But that was not all he had to deal with.  Just when it looked like things were beginning to attain some semblance of stability, Fomba and his siblings soon found themselves fleeing their home country for The Gambia when war broke out in Liberia in 1989. They lived as refugees for three years before returning to Liberia when some semblance of peace resurfaced in 1992. During his time as a refugee in The Gambia, Fomba still busied himself doing odd jobs and petty trading.

Having returned to Liberia with around USD 25 in personal savings, Fomba opted to make a foray into business. And his choice of business can be said to have been a clever one. It appears Fomba’s brief spells in business both home and abroad had worked him into some kind of aptitude. Back in Liberia, Fomba Trawally identified a market opportunity which turned out a diamond in the rough.

It was the aftermath of the Liberian civil war, and the country was in a rebuilding process. The war had left a lot of ruins in its wake, and many people had had virtually nothing by way of personal belongings. There was an urgent need for footwear in the capital city, Monrovia, as a good number of people were trudging the streets barefoot. Fomba decided to start importing cheap slippers and shoes which he would sell to the many people that were beset by the situation. But with USD 25.00 in his pocket, that was never going to happen.

He began to source for funds, but in a country that was just beginning to recover from the ravages of war, it was going to be anything but easy. He did get some luck when a friend of his lent him the sum of USD 120.00 in addition to his savings, but that was still a long way off from what was required. But he decided to get started regardless.

Now armed with around USD 145.00, he established his business which he named Kumba Beindu and Sons as a tribute to his late mother in 1992. Within one year, the company had grown significantly to amass a value of around USD 3 K, which was quite a staggering sum at the time. The business expanded to include cosmetics, toiletries, and plastics as part of its products.

Gradually, the business gathered steam, and by 2005, it had become a very popular name in Liberia. An astute businessman, it wasn’t long before he diversified his trade and established three retail stores selling imported items like paper and cosmetics in Liberia. This was made possible by the networks he built in countries like China, U.S., Turkey, and Cote d’Ivoire, from where he imported those items. But he wasn’t going to rest on his oars as his next move proved he was anything but done.

In 2010, Fomba Trawally launched his next project which essentially saw him switch from importer to manufacturer. Fomba established National Toiletries Incorporated, which is considered Liberia’s first paper and toiletry products manufacturing factory. The company became fully operational in 2013, and it produces four different kinds of products: baby diapers, paper towels, napkins, and toilet paper.

In a conversation with CNN, Fomba revealed that National Toiletries Incorporated supplies products to over 1,500 businesses in Liberia. It is also known to have spread its tentacles abroad with exports to neighbouring countries like Sierra Leone, Ivory Coast, and Guinea. Revenue in excess of USD 600 K is said to be grossed by the company on a yearly basis.

But it would be wrong to think all of it is coming easy. Running a manufacturing business in Liberia — a country yet recovering from a civil war that left an estimated 250,000 people dead and destroyed much of its infrastructure and economy — is not without its challenges. In the CNN interview, Fomba cited power as a major concern.
“Number one, we don’t have the power or energy in our country at this time — we’re running on a generator,” said Trawally. “You tell anyone that I’m running a factory as big as this only on a generator, they’ll tell you that you are crazy,” he added. Unreliable power and the shortage of infrastructure, coupled with high energy costs and a lack of skilled labour, are all major problems for entrepreneurs doing business in Liberia.
Fomba Trawally, who currently serves as CEO of National Toiletries Incorporated, was recently honoured with the 2018 top African International award at the 9th edition of the Africa Economy Builders, based in Abidjan, Ivory Coast. Mr Trawally, widely considered one of the outstanding entrepreneurs of Liberia, was honoured in recognition of his immense contribution to Liberia’s economic growth.

Fambo Trawally (2nd from right) at the 9th Edition of Africa Economy Builders; Source: LiberianObserver

In another interview with BBC, Fomba Trawally reiterated that young entrepreneurs do not always need a lot of capital to start with. “It doesn’t cost you USD 1 Mn to start a business,” he said.

“My advice to my other friends around the world is that you should be encouraged and believe that you can do everything with the little you have. My mother started with five or 10 US cents which is nothing today.”

The remarkable feat pulled by Fomba Trawally is made all the more impressive by the fact that it is coming from a country whose population hovers around just 4 million people. Throw that in with the idea that all his accomplishments have been achieved in spite poor upbringing and the numerous rutabagas life hauled his way and it becomes evident how much of an impact can be made by just about anyone even in the face of militating challenges.


Features Image Courtesy: CNN

CoinAfrique Welcomes New Stakeholder – France’s Media Group Trace

Andrew Christian November 15

According to a publication that broke yesterday, Senegalese mobile classified platform CoinAfrique has given an undisclosed stake to Paris-based media group Trace, making it the third deal to be reported from the Senegalese startup.

CoinAfrique is reported to have developed what is held to be one of the first mobile marketplaces for Francophone Africans, having operations in no less than 15 countries across French-speaking Africa. The startup was founded and launched in 2014 and 2015 respectively, by duo Matthias Papet and Eric Genetre.

The comments from the CoinAfrique arm of the development, according to the founders, informs that the deal is a confirmation of the strength of the startup’s growth model, also highlighting the avenue to bring about a pan-African francophone leader in the classifieds industry.

While the amount of the investment remains undisclosed, reports have it that the Senegalese startup will latch on to the audience of Trace TV to publicize CoinAfrique’s services to a wider Francophone market in Africa. This African service company currently has 400,000 active monthly users, and concerning this investment, it aims to level up the number to 10 million by 2022.

The narrative from Trace points that the undisclosed investment into the Dakar-based classifieds startup is in a bid to help the enterprise shoot up in terms of development. Oliver Laouchez, who is co-founder and CEO of Trace noted that CoinAfrique has already proven its worth, and with the potential displayed, the Paris-based media company is excited to concert efforts to the Senegalese startups’ development.

According to Oliver, Trace’s stake conforms to its investment strategy in mobile and digital service. It also is in line with the organization’s intention to bolster entrepreneurial initiatives that have significant positive effects on the African continent.

This is not the first of CoinAfrique’s feats, as it has raised € 2.5 Mn in April and sold a 15 percent stake to Investisseurs and Partenaires just last month. The startup was also among the 20 startups selected to join World Bank’s XL Africa program.

This information was first covered on Ventureburn.

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