Hi, Q-MHI Africa readers!
WhatsApp has been something of a mystery for the last few years as its reach as a messaging service and as the social media platform of choice for Africans has grown and grown.This growing use of digital platforms is partly thanks to increased internet access. Since Jan. 2017, internet penetration in Africa has gone up by more than 20%, reaching more than 73 million more people. The continent also experienced the fastest growth rates globally, with users in Mali increasing by almost six times and more than doubling in Benin, Sierra Leone, Niger, and Mozambique. Digital optimism, or the percentage of a population that believed new technologies offered more opportunities than risks was also up, especially in Nigeria (80%), Kenya (72%), and South Africa (66%).
It has seemingly done so without a very obvious business plan and we’d often wondered why. WhatsApp has always been pretty basic. Its simple interface and ‘lite’ weight have helped ensure the messaging app’s ascendancy in emerging markets across Africa, South Asia, and Latin America, where internet access has either been too expensive or too slow to handle some of the heavier social media options. But the habits of those markets are also informing WhatsApp’s strategy, which looks increasingly different than Facebook’s.
Facebook bought WhatsApp in 2014 for $19 billion, and last week said the app has more than 1.5 billion monthly active users, who send more than 60 billion messages every day. WhatsApp also has the most popular “Stories” product in the world—yes, more popular than Stories via Facebook, Instagram, or Snapchat.
That may be because WhatsApp, and its group chat feature in particular, have taken on a life of their own. There are entire sub-cultures, and endless debates about etiquette, with frustrations emerging over everything from old school mates to extended family group chats.
Then the in wake of the departure of its co-founders Brian Action (September) and Jan Koum (April) from parent Facebook, there has been some great reporting ($) on the internal tensions and the disagreements with its owners over protecting customer privacy clashing with the desire to commercialize WhatsApp and help justify the $22 billion price tag Facebook paid in 2014.
It’s an interesting debate because WhatsApp’s competitive advantage is in emerging markets, where its service almost always works, regardless of internet speed or bandwidth. It’s become the world’s No.1 messaging service thanks to users from Latin America to Africa and most of Asia (outside China).
In fact, in these countries, there’s probably more interest from local businesses in seeing WhatsApp commercialize in the sense they want to be able to use the platform more efficiently to reach and transact with their customers who pretty much live on WhatsApp. Facebook understands that.
“The wave of disruption we’ll see from Africa will come from small companies more so than from big corporates,” says Julien Decot, Facebook’s director of platform partnerships for EMEA. “It’s clear those companies will probably jump directly to WhatsApp to connect to their prospective customers and get their businesses discovered.It’s unclear if they’ll advertise on Facebook’s Newsfeed.” Decot was speaking to me on-stage at the MEST Africa Summit in Cape Town last week.
But that doesn’t mean Facebook thinks African or Asian businesses will never advertise, it’s just taking a different approach. The first move has been to create a WhatsApp Business app for millions of small businesses to reach their customers. The next step has been to “fix the plumbing” with key services like payments and discovery and identify the “underlying business model”, Decot explains. “If we connect many millions of consumers with many millions of businesses at some point the businesses will pay us to get in front of more customers. We don’t have to reinvent the wheel.”
WhatsApp’s payment gateway is based on the unified payments interface (UPI) of the National Payments Corporation of India (NPCI), cutting out the cumbersome intermediary step of loading money onto a wallet. Instead, users can transact directly from their bank accounts using a virtual ID. In April, WhatsApp floated an advertisement for an India head. This was yet another signal that it is getting serious about the India opportunity, including making headway in payments, according to analysts. Even before its full-fledged debut, WhatsApp has sent ripples through the industry, unsettling both newcomers and incumbents.
On WhatsApp, such a feature holds the promise of going beyond peer-to-peer payments since many businesses have already found a home on the platform. Travel bookings and movie tickets are often sent to customers via the chatting app. Offline retailers have moved from SMSes to WhatsApp messages to relay promotions. And considering UPI’s transaction limit is a massive Rs1 lakh ($1,470), bigger ticket sizes won’t deter users either.
Even market leader Paytm seems shaken. Last November, the digital payments company moved to level the field with WhatsApp by adding a messaging feature to its app. Days after WhatsApp began testing payments, Paytm founder Vijay Shekhar Sharma lashed out on Twitter, alleging WhatsApp was trying to monopolise and cannibalise the market. He compared it to Facebook’s Internet.org experiment—a limited-internet proposition India firmly rejected two years ago.
You could say if it smells like advertising and pays like advertising, it probably is advertising coming to WhatsApp one way or another.
— Yinka Adegoke, Q-MHI Africa editor
STORIES FROM THIS WEEK
Scientists discovered an untouched rainforest in a volcano in Mozambique.
An untouched rainforest hidden inside an ancient volcano in Mozambique could help scientists better understand man-made effects on rainforests. They have already found some new species of flora and fauna of butterfly and a mouse species that has yet to be classified, and expect to find more previously undiscovered animals. Because Mount Lico’s habitat is a rainforest, unique plants and animals have developed there, and can help us better understand both the past and future of the natural world.
Bayliss and his team found a high-altitude rainforest on Mount Mabu. Expeditions there have revealed species like the so-called “ghost slug,” a reptile that is halfway between a blind snake and a lizard, and new and unidentified species of fungi and other plants. Mount Lico, a more isolated ecosystem, may reveal even more unique flora and fauna.
Of course, the locals had always known about Mount Mabu—but scientists had never explored it. The discovery was also remarkable in the wake of Mozambique’s civil war from 1977 to 1992, which ravaged the much of the country’s natural environment as it reigned terror in its citizens. Ironically, both Mount Mabu and Mount Lico were partly protected by the war, which slowed industrialization and migration to Mozambique’s north.
Zimbabwe is getting set for its first social media election.
In a country where half the population is under 25 and internet penetration is driven by mobile devices, social media is expected to play a key role as Zimbabwe, next month, picks a new leader for the first time in 37 years. Data tariffs will be cut by 60% to boost internet and social media access, writes Tawanda Karombo in Harare.
About 38% of the 2.4 million Zimbabweans who inspected the voters roll earlier this month did so using mobile and online platforms, according to the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC). Zimbabwean tech startups have also come to play a key role in dissecting the voters roll, a version of which was released this week, and giving out stats. The OpenParly Twitter platform has posted stats about the voters roll which show that Harare, the capital, has the highest number of registered voters aged between 18 and 35 years.
China’s invisible hand in Nigeria’s economy.
Whether producing a million flip-flops per day or attempting to jump-start an abandoned economic free trade zone, Chinese entrepreneurs are braving tough odds to do business in Africa’s largest economy. Feyi Fawehinmi explains how these Chinese businesses battle on despite continued cultural tensions with their Nigerian hosts.
It is not hard to come by data showing the scale of China’s investments and influence in Africa—the
But there is another part of the Chinese story in Africa that is rarely documented. That of the ordinary businesses who head to Africa, often without state backing, seeking to make a fortune. These businesses have mostly been careful to remain outside the spotlight and rarely ever speak to local media. A
Ethiopia’s bold reforms must tackle ethnic persecution too.
Prime minister Abiy Ahmed has won plaudits in Ethiopia for his reform agenda. But, so far, the reforms have not resolved the targeted evictions and persecution of ethnic groups, including the Amharas.
The Amharas are one of Ethiopia’s two largest ethnic groups; the other is the Oromo. Together the groups account for about 60% of Ethiopia’s population. Mistreatment of Amharas has drawn the attention of several human rights organizations, including Amnesty International which has called out the pattern of ethnically motivated attacks and displacement.
To end such ethnic attacks and unfortunate instances of targeted evictions, Ahmed’s new administration must consider institutional reforms. My research shows that Ethiopia’s regional states and their constitutions have been designed in a way that bestows ownership of regions on certain ethnic groups. So, for Ahmed’s reform agenda to take full effect such laws need to be amended.
One way to do that, writes Yohannes Gedamu, is to amend local laws which bestow ownership of regions on certain groups and considers others as outsiders.
Why target Amharas?
The Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front, which is one of the constituent parties of the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front, has always considered ethnic Amharas an enemy. It has used their perceived historical dominance as the basis for forming a coalition of minorities to oppose their push for a united Ethiopia.
Take for instance the the regional constitution of Benishangul Gumuz. It states that “although all peoples who live in the region are recognized, the ownership of the region belongs to ethnic groups such as Berta, Gumuz, Shinasha, Mao, and Komo”. This means that residents from other ethnic groups are considered settlers or outsiders. Other regional constitutions contain similar provisions, which have historical roots.
Prime Minister Ahmed has addressed the latest Amhara and other minority evictions calling them unfortunate events that do not represent the values held by the majority of Ethiopians. In a live address to the nation, he promised that government will address the issue as soon as possible. Ahmed’s reform agenda could also easily be derailed by the disenfranchisement of ethnic Amharas, who recently formed a new political party to represent their interests and those of other minorities such as the Wolayta and Gedio.
Counterfeit trade of Nigeria’s in-demand World Cup kit is spawning millionaires.
Fans can’t get enough of Nigeria’s stylish World Cup soccer kit—but neither can bootleggers. With original Nike versions proving too expensive and in limited supply, counterfeits sourced from China and Thailand to satisfy high demand has turned into a lucrative multimillion-dollar business for Nigerian bootleggers , finds Yomi Kazeem.
Alex, a Lagos-based businessman who has dealt in counterfeit jerseys since 2011, says current demand exceeds that of the last World Cup jersey by about “1000%.” Illegal factories in China, operating close to licensed manufacturers across Asia, are usually the first port of call for fake jerseys. With its production lines catering to both high and low grade fakes, Chinese factories offers bootleggers a range of options to satisfy local demand. Thailand, a smaller source, is known more for producing top-grade fakes known as Thai AAA. Thai counterfeit makers have gotten better at the imitation game over the years as, at first glance, Thai AAA fakes look very similar to licensed versions. But upon a closer look, differences in “finishing and texture” become clear, says Alex who asked for his last name not to be used for this story.
However, while sourcing the kit is one thing, getting them to Nigeria is another as Chinese and Thai suppliers claim they can only move shipments at night to avoid seizure by local law enforcement clamping down on counterfeits.
South Africa’s apartheid-era child soldiers are struggling to move on.
In modern South Africa, the fate of juvenile fighters who were on the front lines of township battles during the anti-apartheid struggle is rarely discussed. But a new documentary movie is forcing the country to reckon with the current traumatic realities of these former child soldiers, writes Lynsey Chutel.
In the small cinema of the independent theatre in gentrified downtown Johannesburg, The Bioscope, the sniffles turned to sobs as the film played. One was comforted by her partner while another, now a middle-aged man, doubled over with tears in the front row. Another, who turned to alcohol to cope with his untreated post-traumatic stress disorder, was incoherent and heartbroken. The director’s panel discussion was so heavy afterward that audience members left the group of former soldiers to huddle with Mthethwa.
“Those are the people who were just forgotten,” says Mthethwa, who grew up in Thokoza and was whisked away by his father when the fighting escalated. “Once we voted, people just moved on.” Using only their first names, the film introduces Mochacho, Tebello, Sipho and others through pictures of their lives before the violence. Then suddenly, their neighborhoods exploded and their lives unravelled. They go from studying for their exams to smuggling a cache of weapons. Some learn how to handle a gun on site and form street battalions to defend their families, never clearly understanding the ideology or cause of the violence.
CHART OF THE WEEK
Supermarket shopping is driving up poor nutrition in Kenya.
Shopping in modern supermarkets among Kenya’s middle class, is encouraging poor nutrition, according to a new study. It shows there’s a higher consumption of processed foods and significant increases in body mass index among Kenyan locals who use supermarkets.
OTHER THINGS WE LIKED
The people of African descent erased from South America’s whitest nation.
Plenty of myths abound about the history and size of Argentina’s black population. In a Q&A session for African Arguments, Daniel Voskoboynik discusses the reasons and manner of the Argentina “whitewashing” with Norberto Pablo Cirio, a historian of Afro-Argentine culture.
In the late 18th century, a third of Argentina’s population were slaves or of African origin. In the city of Buenos Aires, often epitheted as the “Paris of the South”, Afrodescendants accounted for half the population in the early 19th century. When General San Martin’s Argentine army legendarily helped liberate Chile from Spanish rule, half of its members were former slaves granted freedom in exchange for military service.
Conventional wisdom holds that the Afroargentine population vanished, decimated as cannon fodder in the Paraguayan War, and devastated by subsequent epidemics of yellow fever and cholera.
But this shibboleth disregards the existence of a significant Afroargentine community today. Further, it glosses over the way in which the country and its consciousness were systematically and purposely “whitened” by its intellectual and governing class.
A national mythology, stripped of Indigenous or Afroargentine features, was crafted to present Argentina as a melting pot of largely European immigrants. Unsavoury chapters of the past were excised. And the indelible historical and cultural imprint of Afroargentines – such as tango, which finds many of its roots in Afroargentine music and dance, and Argentine asadobarbecues , which owe much to the culinary contributions of Afroargentines – was erased and minimised.
What predominates today in Argentina is the product of that process, the unstated imaginary of a white nation, European in character. In 1997, Argentine president Carlos Menem was asked abroad at a university – “are there black people in Argentina?” Menem responded: “No, Brazil has that problem.”
Senegal’s World Cup heroics are adding to a long list of precious sporting memories.
African soccer folklore is littered with moments of unforeseen victories. In an essay for The New York Review of Books, Oumar Ba writes on how Senegal’s Teranga Lionsdraws inspiration from past success. While For the BBC World Service, Fernando Duarte notes Senegal’s Aliou Cisse is the only black manager of a national team at the World Cup and explains why.
“I am the only black coach in this World Cup. That is true, but really these are debates that disturb me,” Cisse told reporters. “I think that football is a universal sport and that the colour of your skin is of very little importance.”Cisse’s uniqueness made headlines, but it is far from an exception in the history of the tournament. It is actually the rule.
Even the expansion of the tournament from 24 to 32 teams has not helped.
At France 1998, the first of the larger World Cups, there were no black coaches, despite an increase in the number of teams from countries with a majority black population – African nations, for example, went from three to five spots.Since then, only seven black professionals have had a chance to lead a campaign.
How Kwaito’s take on American house music soundtracked South Africa in the ’90s.
Bandcamp Daily follows the evolution of Kwaito, the Soweto-born genre, through the dying days of apartheid into current times. The sound borrowed elements of everything “from the musical diasporas of hip-hop, rap, house music, and R&B” and was “played at mid-tempo with a characteristically fierce kick drum that makes Dance Mania tracks sound like nursery rhymes.” It was street soul made from synthesizers and rhythm machines, formed in the Johannesburg township of Soweto and trailblazed by names like “the king of kwaito” Arthur Mafokate, Aba Shante, Lebo Mathosa, and Sharon Dee.
Before them, though, was Professor Rhythm, the production moniker of Johannesburg’s Thami Mdluli. Kwaito may be a new discovery to some, but in South Africa, it’s anything but an “underground” sound; Mdluli has toured stadiums and achieved triple-platinum status, producing smash hits for South African pop stars since the early ’80s. “Usually you would have to beg stations to play your music, but everyone was coming to us,” says Mdluli. “When kwaito came along, it took off like a bullet. When I released my first album [1988’s First Time Around] we didn’t have to take it to a radio or TV station, we just put it out there without any promotion whatsoever and it sold big.”
As Grandmaster Flash’s “The Message” highlighted the cavernous cracks in American society to a hip-hop beat, in the late ‘80s the township slang of South Africa (which pulled from Isicamtho, English, Zulu, Xhosa, and Sesotho), which helped form kwaito’s backbone, began reflecting the country’s political changes. “We’d sing about apartheid but change the lyrics to make it sound like we were talking about something else, but were politicizing it at the same time,” says Mdluli.
Raised in the KwaZulu-Natal province, Bhenghu broke out with “Amajovi Jovi,” the infectious LP that gave the G-funk influence of Warren G and Snoop Dogg some SA flavor; Sandy B’s “Student Night” paid homage to Dr. Dre’s “Nuthin’ But A ‘G’ Thang.” “Durban was waiting for a long time to have a kwaito artist like me,” he says, proudly. “If there were concerts, I used to be the only person from Durban performing.”