Why most African companies are not on the web

Originally published at senaquashie.com on April 27, 2016.

Today, a website is very important for a company.

This is a factual statement. I don’t even need to back it up with statistics. Many successful business have been built online; an yes many are undoubtedly extreme cases of usages of websites (and web-apps), but most African institutions and companies lack even the most basic functional website.

The various types of websites and why the web is not just for PCS via InnovationSeries

A website is a powerful communication tool that can save any entrepreneur a lot of capital which would have been used in investing in traditional advertising channels. The presence of African business on the web is a key factor in increasing the African content online.

But to date, the ratio of African companies have online is very low. Yet most have more or less heard of the Internet. Why have most companies and even government organizations joined the World Wide Web in Africa?

Most Africans are not yet online

Africa Internet Users and 2015 Population Statistics

If we stick to the data from Internet World Stats, there are approximately 330,965,359 Africans with access to Internet. This makes 16% of the total population of the continent . But drilling down, you know that 28% (again according to Internet World Stats) of these ‘people online in Africa’ are from Nigeria, you would understand that there are very little Africans with access to Internet when compared with the rest of the world.

For my home country Ghana, with an estimated population of 26 million, we have only 5 million people with access to Internet. With this low penetration, business leaders may view the web as an irrelevant channel to promote any activity.

Let us start with some assumptions that are true in many parts of Africa:

People with access to Internet in Africa are real influencers in their respective communities. They can therefore help to promote a product or a service. Thus, it is likely that if someone who has access to the internet appreciate your product, that person with talk about the product on his channels on the internet, be it via a blog, social media or the likes. And as that conversation is started about your product, other users of the Internet take note and might get interested in that product.

For African entrepreneur, it is true that the mobile should be a priority over the web. But nothing stops anyone from winning on the web and also on mobile. Take for instance

  • A service online which requires registration of a phone number.
  • Once the registration is validated, the user receives an SMS on his mobile device. An SMS he can share to invite other people to this service.

You can imagine the result if the product is really of interest to users.

Social networks are an excellent channel for business:

With the advent and penetration of social media, any entrepreneur can enjoy the interconnection of users to promote his/her business virally. As at November 2015, Facebook had more than 124 million Africans [Source:Internet World Stats]. This is huge, because it means out of every 10 “connected Africans” there are about 5 using Facebook.

Most African companies do not know what to use a website for:

If you ever decide to offer your design or web development services to African SMEs, you will be have to explain to your prospective customer the added value you bring over traditional media. Generally the African entrepreneur is very skeptic when it comes to investing in web solutions for their businesses, thus you must have a well-fleshed pitch. For example you can make him understand that a website is:

  • Much like large format business card: Unlike traditional business cards, you can add more information about the company. As much information as you want to/have available.
  • A catalog of services or goods offered.
  • A channel of communication: A good website will also serve a platform for prospective customers to ask about the business, products and services, companies and staff.
  • A platform to demonstrate expertise: Via a blog for example, any entrepreneur in Africa can reach easily attract potential customers by positioning themselves as a ‘thought-leader’ in their industry . Take for example a phone shop in Accra. Through a blog, this phone shop can guidance on the uses and maintenance of mobile devices it sells.

The likelihood of cyber-crime (sakawa) is a deterrent:

Fear of cyber-crime is one of the business deterrent for business that want to go online. It prevents for example the takeoff of e-commerce. The authorities of most African countries lack resources to tackle this canker and thus many entrepreneurs do not want to venture online for fear of losing capital to fraudsters. The average African only knows that he is in danger online. But he does not necessarily know who to contact or how to protect himself. This lack of information leads to a certain paranoia.

South Africa ranks third worst in cybercrime report

At Stimuluz for example, we approach (physically) Ghanaian SME to offer them our website creation services (+ management and other services). But before even we offer our services, we take care to ask why they had not until then decided to go “online”. From about 150 respondents, the most cited reason is “the fear of being cheated“.

Cases of fraud and other acts of “e-vandalism” are plenty. It was not a day passes without a case is reported. I, myself, have had a case where a company I worked on was the target. An unscrupulous person had acquired a domain name similar to the company’s and used it to collect sensitive information from the company’s would-be clients.

The problem of maintaining website and curating an online presence

It’s good to have a website. But if it is not frequently updated with content and rather kept in line with current ‘web practices’, it rather gives a negative image of the company. The webmaster profession (freelance or agency) is still a relatively new concept in Africa . By offering their webmastering services, most people make a commitment to keep websites updated; both with content and technology. Yet many companies complain about the lack of reactivity of their webmasters. And as entrepreneurs communicate with each other, this situation creates some general reluctance to the use of webmasters.

So there is more work to do on the side of webmasters. Beyond the issues of delays, other concerns raised by entrepreneurs have to do with the fear of unscrupulous webmasters, who might not behave with greater professionalism. Because the amount of future contracts is often based on the previous customer satisfaction rate.

Given all this, most African entrepreneurs often wonder whether the Internet; this communication tool which everyone speaks highly of; is worth the “cost”.

The opportunity

Some entrepreneurs will tell you that do not know what to put on the site you want to create for them. Others do not have a brochure or prospectus from which you can learn to write the content of their sites. This issue is ultimately an opportunity for developers and especially webmasters who can easily provide a triple layer service (design — content — maintenance).

The fact that African firms are not yet to go online represents a big opportunity for developers (freelance, agency). There is an entire continent to put online. And some people, including companies, have understood. These companies included Google .

When Africa was still neglected by other web giants, the continent was taken over by the company in Mountain View. In addition to its mission to support developers and African content producers, Google reached out to entrepreneurs through the program “Get Your Business Online“. The program had been deployed in Europe (France, Ireland, Great Britain) in America (USA, Canada) In Asia (India), and was then rolled out to African companies (Kenya, Nigeria, Ghana. Nigeria etc).

Final Words

I really think it would be a shame for African developers not to take advantage of this opportunity. I have nothing against the fact that Google and other giants are well-positioned. But this is a real opportunity that African developers could miss. They have the advantage of being close to African businesses. They also have the advantage of not suffering the bureaucracy of multinational companies.

In a few years it will be too late. Because in addition to providing quality work, companies like Google have the knack of making their services affordable to all.

I have most probably missed reasons that prevent companies from Africa to be online. Via a comment, you can share those you have identified.


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