Why we should quit lamenting about Jumia or Notre-Dame

There are weeks when the news wheel is spinning so fast that many items fall off even before we can finish hearing the introductory bit of the story.

These past few days have felt just like that. The sports scene had the explosive football at the European Champions League level that was only topped by the remarkable return of Tiger Woods to the history books of golf.

Away from the sports turf, Jumia, an e-commerce retailer listed on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE). This caused a lot of uproar and not because many of us struggle to understand how these stock things work but because Jumia was described as an African tech start up. Some commentators particularly those in the tech world seemed bothered by Jumia’s preferred identification.

Jumia was founded in Lagos, Nigeria, is incorporated in Germany while its global headquarters is in Dubai and its technology centre is in Portugal. The company’s co-founders are French and although its operations are focused on Africa, many are not convinced of its ‘Africanness’ if I can use such a word.

They are also irked by the fact that the company ignored other stock markets on the continent to go all the way to New York. Jumia operates in 14 African countries doing what Amazon and Alibaba are doing primarily in the US and China.

The debate about Jumia’s identity left me a bit confused at the beginning but later when I paid some attention I figured what it was all about. It turns out that many tech start-ups on the continent struggle to get access to venture capital from the west unless they have some ‘white’ faces on the board or are incorporated in the west.

If indeed this is the problem then we as Africans have our work cut out and it does not include shouting at Jumia. We need to mobilise financial resources and build our own venture capital to fund our ideas.

The same theme came up again when the world woke up to the shocking news that the famous Notre-Dame de Paris, a medieval Catholic cathedral built in 1163 was engulfed in a huge fire that destroyed this magnificent structure. Fires are disasters many of us can relate to since news of markets and schools going up in flames have become quite the norm in this part of the world.

As expected, the Notre-Dame fire led to comparisons with some wondering why Africans were emotionally invested in a structure in France, a country who colonial exploits burnt down so much more in Africa and places like Haiti. In Rwanda the role of France in the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi is well documented.

The French president, Emmanuel Macron promised that the church will be rebuilt in a period of five years and called for aid for this to be done. Many laughed this off given how much France has taken from other poorer countries it dominated and continues to in Africa and the Caribbean.

However in a very short time, some of the top billionaires in France pledged huge sums of money to the reconstruction of the Notre-Dame cathedral.

This also seemed to anger some people who condemned the hypocrisy of the world’s wealthy people being ready to quickly part with money for this but not towards ending poverty in the global south. France’s three wealthiest families quickly pledged more than $700 million towards the efforts to rebuild this iconic structure.

I always believe there is something to learn from every situation, like Jumia, I believe the response to the Notre-Dame fire teaches to start working to save ourselves instead of wasting time lamenting all the time. Instead of crying about how the rich in France are behaving with their money, we should be reflecting on how the rich here behave when we have our own disasters?

We cannot continue being stuck lamenting when we can simply do better at supporting own whether it is with rebuilding after a disaster or simply helping small companies to grow into bigger players.

There is a reason why so many outsiders are interested in Africa and the only way we can regain control is if we show interest in ourselves. Everything that achieves global success rides on the reliable support of those around where it originates.

I think we are all much better off supporting our friends and relatives’ businesses before we can spend hours debating the identity of Jumia.

Email: ssenyonga@gmail.com

Blog: www.ssenyonga.wordpress.com

Twitter: @ssojo81

The views expressed in this article are of the author.