In Nigeria, the rise of digital mobile services is changing lifestyles and accelerating economic growth. Young entrepreneurs hope to invent the future giants of the African Internet.
It’s a loop ad on Nigerian television. It depicts two peasants sitting by the side of a road. A wealthy owner stops in front of them. He wants to buy them a goat. The peasants hesitate, hide their faces under a blanket to discuss. Then they announce a price to the buyer, who loses its luster. Under the cover, the peasants were actually hiding a smartphone, the screen of which reads: “An epidemic is driving up livestock prices.”
The wealthy buyer leaves with his high-priced goat, the disheveled mine. And behind him, the two sellers triumph. The message is clear: with the mobile Internet, whether rich or poor, everyone now has the same opportunity.
In reality, this may not yet be entirely true in Nigeria. But the ultra-rapid rise of the mobile Internet is transforming everyday life, giving everyone access to new services at low cost and providing opportunities for entrepreneurship.
Example at “Hellofood”, a website that has been developing a meal delivery service for two years. At the head office, a vast platform, around twenty employees work in front of their screen. They are all under 30, comfortable with technology and wear the uniform of web entrepreneurs around the world: jeans and T-shirts …
On the site, Internet users can choose from the menu of restaurants near them. Then the 200 deliverers of Hellofood, who criss-cross the city by motorbike, undertake to arrive within half an hour and collect the price of the meal.
“We already have more than 250 restaurants registered in Lagos, Abuja and Port Harcourt,” says Guillaume Leblond, the site director, a young Frenchman who came to Nigeria to experience the development of the African Web. We deliver several hundred meals a day and have quadrupled their volume in one year. ”
Here, too, digital services simplify life and make it possible to overcome traditional networks. “In Nigeria everything takes a long time. We run out of queuing in a store, at the bank, every time we have to move, observes Guillaume Leblond. The Internet makes it possible to go faster. “
As a result, many activities go straight to the web, by toasting the steps. This is the case in distribution, where e-commerce directly takes over from open-air markets, without hypermarkets having had time to develop.
In Nigeria, the two e-commerce champions are named Jumia, created with German and South African capital, and Konga, founded in 2012 by a local entrepreneur, Sim Shagaya. Just three years after its launch, Jumia employs 2,000 people and records around 10,000 orders per day. The site is capable of delivering its products – household appliances, computers, clothing, furniture, etc. – throughout the country, within a maximum of five days (outside the regions where the war against Boko Haram is taking place, in the north). “We have double-digit monthly growth,” said Fatoumata Ba, who runs the business.
This tremendous development is firstly driven by the success of the smartphone: 70% of Jumia’s connections come from a mobile. Because in this country of 180 million people, half of the population is equipped with a mobile phone. And around 15%, or almost 30 million people, have access to the Internet via their smartphone.
The spread of mobile Internet is made easier by the fall in prices and the deployment of networks: 3G (allowing access to the Internet) is available in all major cities, and it is possible to connect in 2G (voice calls and SMS) across the country.
Phone manufacturers have also adapted to the local market. Chinese brands like Infinix and InnJoo have created specific devices for African customers, driving prices down. They offer smartphones from € 60 each. “The camera is set to bring out black skin better,” said Fatoumata Ba.
As for Internet services, it is the local transpositions of sites that have been successful elsewhere, such as Amazon or eBay, which work best. But innovative services are also being developed, which meet local needs.
You can see it in Yaba, the start-up district, in Lagos, nicknamed “Yabacon Valley”. Here is Idea, an incubator funded by public funds, which allows twenty young local entrepreneurs to develop their idea. “We help them develop their business models and put them in contact with investors,” explains the founder, Victor Okigbo, himself a former web entrepreneur. Idea is often visited by representatives of British or American funds, as the African market begins to interest the Internet world.
Among the young shoots blooming here, one is trying to connect the Lagos blood banks; another wants to sell car spare parts; a third offers students to upload their course notes to help those who cannot afford textbooks.
The companies here are fumbling around, but are trying to invent profitable business models to address the problems specific to Africa. Among them may be a future champion of the African Internet, like M-Pesa, the mobile bank that conquered Kenya, solving the problem of those who did not have access to banking services . The young entrepreneurs of Idea dream of reproducing this success, and enriching themselves while transforming the daily lives of their fellow citizens.
M-Pesa: in 2007, M-Pesa created a payment system in Kenya which makes it possible to transform each mobile phone into a wallet. Over a billion euros are traded every month.
Winsenga: in 2010, nearly 200,000 babies died prematurely in Uganda. Winsenga software analyzes a baby’s heartbeat using a cell phone microphone. This technology is suitable for health centers in rural areas.
Wafate 3D: Togolese Afate Gnikou has developed a 3D printer for less than € 90, made from recycled devices.
M-Kopa: M-Kopa installs solar collectors and sells electricity to more than 180,000 homes in Kenya. For the price of a candle, the system allows you to light your house for an evening, operate a radio and charge a phone.