China’s tech giants are rapidly expanding their presence in Africa in commercial, consumer and government sectors. In just the past few weeks alone, there has been a flurry of announcements from a number of Chinese tech companies that highlight their growing enthusiasm for the African market:
- Chinese telecom giant Huawei will open a new cloud data services center in South Africa before the end of the year.
- Alibaba signed three agreements with Rwanda to create an online platform for exporters to China.
- Shenzhen-based mobile phone company Transsion plans to bring its popular streaming music service Boomplay to Africa.
While it’s exciting that some of the world’s largest technology companies are now beginning to invest in Africa and recognize the importance of the market, there’s also a number of downsides that also need to be considered:
- Consumers will no doubt enjoy using these new music, data and eCommerce services, but what happens to their data? Do the Chinese tech companies own it?
- African telecom operators, many at the behest of their governments, are installing Chinese digital surveillance tools. is there enough oversight to ensure these tools are not abused?
- If Chinese hardware and online service providers come to dominate the African market, as they currently do with mobile devices, will local players be able to compete?
In this week’s show, we bring you two perspectives on these issues: one from Nairobi, the other from the Chinese capital in Beijing.
Harriet Kariuki is an emerging markets analyst in Kenya where she surveys the digital landscape and local start-up scene to identify investment opportunities for foreign companies, including many from China. Kariuki also writes extensively on China-Africa tech issues on LinkedIn where she discusses both the promise and peril of Chinese technology investment on the continent.
While she believes that China’s model of state-backed support of early-stage technologies offers an appealing model for African governments, she also sees the danger that comes with Chinese ownership of African consumer data. “In exchange for affordable smartphones and innovations, some people argue that Africa is giving up data that China’s Artificial Intelligence engineers will have access to without compensation,” said Harriet in a recent post.
China’s approach to becoming the next technological powerhouse through its state-backed startup push provides several learning lessons that African governments can use to ensure that homegrown startups are properly funded and supported. — Harriet Kariuki
Not surprisingly, in Beijing, there’s a very different outlook on these issues and the African market as a whole, according to Zahra Baitie, the China Director at the consultancy Development Reimagined and a co-founder of the events company Kente and Silk.
Given that the Chinese domestic market is so incredibly large, it can often be challenging to get peoples’ attention to focus on opportunities abroad, much less in places like Africa that are not as developed. To that end, Zahra organizes a series of events to connect African students, entrepreneurs and business leaders with prospective Chinese investors and other stakeholders.
Her next event, Riding the Technology Disruption Wave in Africa, will take place in Beijing on November 22 and will feature an introduction to the African start-up ecosystem along with an overview of the opportunities and challenges that await Chinese tech investors on the continent.
- Tech Central: Huawei Cloud to be available by year-end in South Africa
- The Financial Times: Clash of the US and Chinese tech giants in Africa by Aubrey Hruby
- CNBC.com: ‘China is everywhere’ in Africa’s rising technology industry by Justina Crabtree
About Harriet Kariuki:
Harriet Kariuki is a young analyst from Kenya with an interest in Chinese investments into Africa. Her specialty is in the African startup space where she has worked with several startups in different capacities i.e creating disruptive sales, business development, and social media strategies. Over the past years, she has specifically focused on innovation in Africa’s informal economy, working across diverse industries, from financial services to government policies to professional childcare services for corporates.
As a Research Analyst at Botho Emerging Markets Group, dedicated to Africa-focused investment advisory and strategy consulting, Harriet is in-charge of identifying African opportunities and facilitating local and/or foreign investment. In this capacity, she is also working with Chinese investors that are interested in the region. In her free time, Harriet writes analytical pieces on Africa’s leapfrogging ability with the growing investment (such as China’s Belt and Road Initiative) as well as tech-startups in the region.
Harriet holds a Master Degree in Economics from Peking University and B.A. in Political Science and East Asian Studies from Harvard University. She has lived in several East Asian countries and speaks Korean, Japanese and Mandarin.
Zahra Baitie was born in the United Kingdom, brought up in Ghana, rooted in her Arab Heritage, and educated in Ghana, the United States, and China. She considers herself a globally minded citizen with a pan-African spirit. She studied Global Affairs at Yale University with a focus on East Asia and African Studies and is passionate about the development of emerging countries.
Currently, Zahra is the China Director at the Beijing-based consultancy Development Reimagined. Prior to that she worked as a Consultant at Dalberg Global Development Advisors where she worked on agricultural transformation, youth employment, investment facilitation and public policy strategies for emerging countries. Determined to catalyze transformative growth on the African continent and fluent in Mandarin, she hopes to positively shape Sino-Africa affairs and hopes the Schwarzman Scholars Program can help her further realize her career aspirations. Zahra is 26 years old and from Ghana.