In a continent where the Internet is scarcely available, computers are often too expensive to buy, and online business transactions can be extremely complicated to conduct, Africa is experiencing an upwelling in mobile phone use as a means of sharing information and doing business. Of the 695 million current mobile phone subscribers in Africa, the vast majority of this demographic does not belong to the middle and upper class, where e-commerce is commonly conducted on computers. According to Primedia Online business development manager Susan Hansford, many mobile phone subscribers still live in small, remote villages, where advertising high-priced consumer goods would make little to no sense. Stemming from these circumstances, Africa has since provided innovators and investors the unique opportunity of reaching millions through markets based around mobile phone use.
Recently, a few inventive African companies have found ways to harness the potential of mobile commerce and information sharing. SlimTrader, started by Nigerian-American Femi Akinde, is an e-commerce firm that is intended to ease the exchange of goods and widen online markets for Africans. The SlimTrader team also created Mobiashara, which is a mobile technology that allows users to search for and purchase products through sending text messages. Since partnering with mobile payment providers M-PESA and MTN, Mobiashara can now also facilitate once complicated transactions, such as buying plane tickets, with a press of a button on their mobile device.
Umuntu Media stands as another African-based host website that services that mobile demographic. Founded in 2010 by Johan Nel of Namibia, Umuntu provides local news, job listings, and contact information specific to each country and region in which it operates. According to Nel, the idea is to "close the local content gap, and to provide users with information that is useful to them." Since its beginning, Umuntu has portals in nine countries, including its Nambian portal iNamibia that is already the largest website in Namibia. Umuntu Media has also created Mimiboard, which has been noticed by universities in Kenya and Canada for its ability to deliver hyper-local content in the form of a traditional notice board, hence allowing goods and services to be posted and purchased through mobile interactions.
In spite of the problems that still exist in the mobile e-commerce world like product delivery, Africa has made great strides in conducting business online and on handheld devices. Companies like Umuntu and SlimTrader have noticed the immense opportunity of conducting African markets on mobiles, an aspect unique to Africa because of its micro-level business capacity. Through mobile phone markets, investors and innovators alike have finally begin to unveil the vast market potential of the one billion consumers that live within Africa.