Last week, we were reminded of how linked we are as a region when an earthquake hit the Tanzania lake shore town of Bukoba and the tremors were felt as far as Bujumbura, Kigali, Kampala and Busia in Kenya. I was sitting on my desk when I felt the tremors here in Kigali. My first instinct was to post a tweet and then run out of the house.
If you have ever done any emergency drills you would know that in case of any emergency you should be thinking of how to get to a safe place and Twitter is not really that place. Anyway the earthquake caused a lot of damage in Bukoba, Tanzania where several houses collapsed and in the process more than a dozen people lost their lives.
President John Pombe Magufuli was compelled to cancel his trip to Zambia where he was due to attend the inauguration ceremony of President Edgar Lungu. Earthquakes are fairly a common occurrence in this region of East Africa all the way to the Democratic Republic of Congo and can sometimes be fatal.
In the business world though, South African mobile phone giant announced it was shutting down its mobile money service in South Africa. This comes shortly after Vodacom also abandoned its mobile money service in the country. Vodacom (SA) and Safaricom (Kenya) both have Vodafone as their parent company.
The mobile money phenomenon was pioneered by Kenya’s Safaricom and is currently one of its leading revenue streams. It allows mobile phone users to send, receive, bank and make payments using their mobile phones. Since its inception under the brand name of Mpesa, mobile money has been lauded as groundbreaking innovation – a solution to an African problem – the fact that many are left out of the traditional banking system.
However its failure to work in a country like South Africa where technological adoption would be expected to be faster says a lot about the mantra of African solutions to African problems. I have always thought that one way of not really solving a problem is by branding it an African problem.
For when you do, you are simply saying that the conditions and factors surrounding that problem are so similar that you can brand it a continental problem. It is under the same tone that our leaders will be heard calling on investors to come and invest in Africa. It may sound banal but Africa is a continent with over 50 countries and hundreds of cultures. Surely we cannot be having the same problems and therefore needed the same solutions all the time.
The failure of mobile money services in South Africa may just be the wakeup call that investors need to stop treating Africa as a country. I have always seen some big multinationals advertising to Africa and not to individual local markets which I always find disturbing. In 2014, America’s Delta Airlines had to apologize for a tweet that implied that Ghana was a country with giraffes.
Such characterisations come from years of packaging Africa as this one unit that is basically a jungle with Acacia trees and that ‘African’ sunset, all in need of African solutions. Yes we as a continent have problems but they are not the same. Mpesa may be cool in Nairobi but not cool in Moroni. Oh and that is the capital city of Comoros in case you were wondering.
We all need to keep demystifying this ambiguous thing called Africa. During the Rio Olympics it was common to hear a commentator referring to Kenyans, Ethiopians, Ugandans and Eritreans as the Africans. One even went as far as saying, “here comes the pride of Africa.” And yet the runners for other countries would be referred to as the American or individually by mentioning the runner’ name.
Do not let your friends get away with that line of I am visiting or I visited Africa. If you do then do not be surprised if you hear them saying they found people speaking African and were impressed with your English. Ignorance may be bliss but it has never been fashionable.
I know a united Africa is said to carry more weight but it should not at the same time be a vessel for ignorance about the continent itself. Let us learn and speak about the uniqueness of the constituent parts of Africa so that those who intend to deal with them can do so from a more informed and respectful stand point.Follow https://twitter.com/ssojo81