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World Insights: Chinese technology, expertise help advance Africa's digital transformation

Branding Voice
 

An aerial photo taken on Aug 10, 2023, shows the Digital Delta Data Center in Gaborone, Botswana. [Xinhua]

From constructing internet infrastructure to launching e-commerce, and mobile payment to creating digital entertainment platforms, Chinese companies have been actively participating in Africa's digital transformation, helping the world's second most populous continent catch up with other regions of the world.

INTERNET INFRASTRUCTURE

In December 2022, high-speed internet connection was for the first time made available at Uhuru Peak, the top of Africa's highest mountain, Kilimanjaro, at nearly 5,900 meters above sea level, as well as in camps and huts along the way.

Visitors and climbers have since been able to share social media posts. More importantly, they can now call for help in case of an emergency.

"It used to be dangerous to climb when there was no network coverage on the mountain. Now, we can check information about weather and routes at any time when mountaineering. It increases tourists' sense of security," said Sebastian Mbilinyi, a local guide.

As part of the Tanzanian government's key National ICT Broadband Backbone Network project, the Mount Kilimanjaro internet network was built by the Tanzania Telecommunications Corporation in partnership with Chinese technology giant Huawei, with the latter providing most of the telecommunications equipment.

Botswana's Digital Delta Data Center, undertaken by the Botswanan branch of China Jiangxi International Economic and Technical Cooperation Co., Ltd. (CJIC), is another case of Chinese companies' involvement in African countries' digital infrastructure construction.

Located in the Botswana Innovation Hub in Gaborone, the country's capital, the data center housed in a two-storey building equipped with ancillary facilities will become the country's largest data center when delivered at the end of this year.

Zhu Yahan, the project manager, said the data center is vital to ensuring Botswana's network data security. "The internet speed is also expected to be greatly increased, which will promote the development of digital economy in the country."

"This center is a facility that we believe will transform the ICT ecosystem in Botswana," said Keabetswe Segole, acting chief executive officer of BoFiNet.

 

Staff members of Kilimall work at a warehouse in Mlolongo, Kenya, Nov 10, 2023. [Xinhua]

Compared with other places in the world, the internet infrastructure in Africa is still weak. The "Measuring digital development: Facts and Figures 2022" report released by the International Telecommunications Union shows that two-thirds of the world's population uses the internet, while the average for Africa is just 40 percent of the population.

Since the founding of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) in 2000, Chinese companies have helped African countries build a communications backbone network of 150,000 km and a network service covering nearly 700 million user terminals, according to the "China and Africa in the New Era: A Partnership of Equals" white paper.

"China has actively participated in the construction of Africa's internet infrastructure and provided ICT support to help African countries accelerate their integration into the global digital economy," said Humphrey Moshi, a professor of economics at the University of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania.

 E-COMMERCE COOPERATION

As the "Black Friday" shopping season approaches, the Kilimall headquarters located on the outskirts of Nairobi, the capital of Kenya, is already in full swing. The shelves, towering several meters high, are filled with a diverse array of goods from China and other countries.

Established in 2014 by an information technology company based in Changsha in China's Hunan Province, Kilimall has now become a major e-commerce platform in East Africa and one of the most popular shopping websites among Africans. As of the first half of this year, over 8,000 enterprises and individuals from African countries and China were running a total of 12,000 shops on the platform, selling about 1 million varieties of commodities.

"China's experience in e-commerce brings inspiration to African entrepreneurs," said Dickson Nganga, marketing supervisor of Kilimall.

Alibaba.com, Kikuu, Shein and other Chinese platforms have also entered the African market. As e-commerce has become an engine for the fast-growing economic and trade cooperation between China and Africa, both sides have also made efforts in talent training to help African young people acquire relevant skills.

 

Photo taken on September 17 shows a man doing a transaction at an offline agent of OPay Nigeria in a suburb of Abuja, Nigeria. [Xinhua]

China Merchants Foundation and the Djibouti government have jointly invested in setting up the Center of Innovation and Maritime Excellence, a non-profit capacity-building project aimed at enhancing the leadership and entrepreneurship of Djiboutian and East African youths.

Arafo Hassan Barbad from Djibouti, who attended the first training camp last September, said the courses were "very interesting, practical and insightful" and helped lay a solid foundation for her to start her own business.

Since 2019, China has set up a dozen Luban Workshops across Africa, offering training in telecommunications, smart manufacturing, electrical automation technology, and e-commerce. In April 2021, the professional teaching standards of e-commerce developed by China's Jinhua Polytechnic and its Rwandan partners were incorporated into the country's Educational Qualifications Framework.

WIDE AREAS OF COOPERATION

E-commerce is only a microcosm of the quickly expanding China-Africa digital cooperation. A growing number of Chinese companies are also sharing their expertise in digital payment and entertainment, boosting people's living standards here.

A daily practice for John Chukwuemeka, an auto spare parts dealer from the Nigerian capital of Abuja, is to make quick financial transactions at an OPay agent near his shop. "I can't remember the last time I was in the bank," said Chukwuemeka.

OPay, started by a Chinese entrepreneur in Nigeria's economic hub of Lagos in 2018, has seen quick growth in its mobile payment services in the country. For Chukwuemeka and many other traders in the market, the OPay agent enables them to deposit, send, and receive money and pay bills in a safe and convenient way.

Founded in 2021, beU Delivery is a Chinese-invested on-demand food delivery service provider, whose partners now include almost all major restaurants in the city.

 

Asnake Nigussie, a bicycle rider working for beU delivery, checks online orders on his phone in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on July 19, 2022. [Xnihua]

"I am happy that with the help of beU, I am now reaching a far greater people irrespective of the geographical limitations we had," said Birhan Gebremedhin, a restaurant owner partnering with beU Delivery, who singled out the maximum assurance, delivery speed, and constantly growing customer base as a distinguished quality in working with the delivery platform.

Transsion, a China-based smartphone manufacturer, has been Africa's number one smartphone seller for years. The company is now expanding to the area of mobile applications, attracting more and more users with its music streaming media Boomplay, news aggregator Scooper News, short video-sharing platform Vskit, among others.

During the 2022 FIFA World Cup held in Qatar, Scooper News launched the "World Cup" column, featuring live updated results and online interaction, which won popularity among African football fans.

"With the youngest population in the world, the African continent is undergoing rapid urbanization and regional integration, which makes the digital economy in Africa promising. It is believed that with the help from China, Africa will accelerate the pace of digital transformation," said Costantinos Berhutesfa, a professor of public policy at Addis Ababa University.  

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