Category Archives: China

Double 11 (Singles’ Day) Festival in China

November 11 marks a huge shopping festival by Alibaba in China. Known as “Singles’ Day” or “11.11”, it is now acknowledged as the largest e-commerce day in the world. It is mainly on Alibaba platforms like Tmall and Taobao. Rival commerce sites such as JD.com and Lazada also run their own festival days during China’s long shopping season.

Singles’ Day 2019 saw another record year of sales reaching $23 billion (158 billion yuan) in nine hours. Sales hit $1 billion in the first minute and 500 million shoppers were expected to participate. This was achieved despite a slowdown in China’s economy and the ongoing trade spat with the US. Singles’ Day is three times bigger than the largest US largest shopping day – Cyber Monday which had $8 billion of sales in 2018.

Some numbers about Singles’ Day from Jing Daily.

  • On 11.11, Alibaba sells more on one day than many countries do in a year.
  • Alibaba founder Jack Ma has a plan for the company to attain $1 trillion of gross merchandise volumes in 2020 and create 100 million jobs, and serve 2 billion customers. As such the company is expanding in other countries. In 2017, Russia, Hong Kong and the US were the main markets.
  • International brands are signing on with discounts and specials, and in 2018, 237 brands, including Apple, Estée Lauder, L’Oréal, Nestlé, Gap, Nike, and Adidas has sales of 100 million Yuan ($14 million) on Singles’ Day.
  • The holiday was originally aimed at young men (bachelors), but has now evolved such that key targets for brands include China’s 400 million millennials, the “aspirational class” and women, the “she economy.” 
  • Over 80% of the Singles’ Day sales are made on a mobile device .. so retailers need to enhance the whole shopping experience by employing unique mobile features like live streaming, interactive games, virtual reality, video marketing, and digital storytelling.
  • On Singles’ Day in 2017, 1.5 billion transactions were processed by Alibaba’s Alipay.

Other Notes:

Kenya’s Safaricom, which has a partnership with AliExpress, also had some Singles’ Day promotions. They signed a deal in March this year enabling Kenyans to shop on ALiExpress and pay with M-Pesa.

The Jack MA Foundation runs an annual Africa Netpreneur Prize Initiative (ANPI) that awards a total of $1 million in prize money to ten African entrepreneurs each year.

Read more about 11.11 from Jing Daily here.

EDIT: Alibaba reported that Singles’ Day 2019 generated US $38.4 billion of gross merchandise volumes. It featured 200,000 brands and resulted in 1.3 billion delivery orders.

UNCTAD report shows an unequal digital global economy

The increased use of digital platforms in everyday lives across the world is leading to a divide between under-connected nations from hyper-digitalized societies

The Digital Economy Report released by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) shows that China and the USA have done the most to harvest the digital economy and now dominate the rest of the world and leading to an unequal state of e-commerce. The two countries host seven global “super-platform” companies – Microsoft, Apple, Amazon, Google, Facebook, Tencent and Alibaba that account for two-thirds of the total market value of the seventy largest digital platforms with Naspers as the only African company in the group.

Google and Facebook collected 65% of the $135 billion spent on internet advertising in 2017, while, in Australia, Google took 95% of the “search advertising” revenue while Facebook took 46% of the “display advertising” revenue.

Europe’s share of the digital economy is only 4% while Africa and Latin America combine for 1%.  In Africa, progress has also been uneven with four countries – Egypt, Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa accounting for 60% of digital entrepreneurship activity. They are followed by a second tier of Ghana, Morocco, Senegal, Tanzania, Tunisia and Uganda (with a combined 20%)

The Report showed that the evolving digital economy has a major impact on achieving sustainable development goals (SDG’s) and calls for governments in developing nations to focus efforts on things like:

  • Skills development & re-education e.g. consider that in the Western world, you can do a whole university degree online.
  • Revising policies on data privacy & sharing e.g. have restricted local data sharing pools and have tariffs on cross-border data.
  • Revising competition regulations e.g. curb the tendency where platform companies tend to capture/acquire young promising companies in the developing world.
  • Taxation e.g. developing country governments should seek to tax digital platform companies.
  • Employment e.g. by setting minimum wages & work conditions for gig-economy workers.
  • Break down silos: no longer think of government as being separate from academia, private sector, civil society and tech communities.
  • Also, while the US and Europe have divergent views on data protection, it cites a survey which found that Kenyans had the least concerns about data privacy (at 44%).

Speaking at an unveiling of the Report in Nairobi, Dr. Monica Kerretts-Makau said that the world is trending towards a captive society where you have to be on a platform to transact in an economy and that presents problems and opportunities in the African context.

The 2019 issue of the Report, that was previously focused on the “information economy”, can be downloaded here.

How can the US engage in Africa, and go around China?

.. Extracts from “Deconstructing the Dragon: China’s Commercial Expansion in Africa,” a recent report by Aubrey Hruby that postulates what the United States can do to reposition its influence in Africa whose governments have received extensive assistance from China, mainly in terms of infrastructure projects.

The looks at the nature of infrastructure deals that have come to be dominated by China state-owned enterprises through a combination of feasibility studies, negotiations financing through Chinese loans, and eventually mobilization to start construction. Quick-decision making is a factor and McKinsey found that over half of investment decisions for Chinese construction and real estate companies were made in under a month.

The US can counter to these mainly be through US government to African business initiatives, while contracts with China’s “government to government programs.

Recommendations include:

  • Niche infrastructure that fall within the US competitive advantage like renewable energy, oil exploration and urban/smarter city solutions. However on the last one, the report points out that China has made significant inroads in media, telecommunications and security services.
  • Push for anti-corruption agenda, as this will level the playing field for US companies. This can be through supporting African government efforts to investigate and prosecute corruption cases.
  • Generate a pipeline of projects, data, and trade links to assist US businesses to invest in Africa. This can be through sponsoring competitions and investor trips.
  • Support the creativity and education sectors. There is an opportunity in the entertainment spaces as recent deals involving Netflix, Mavin Records and the National Basketball Association have shown. Also a quarter of African children (66 million) could be studying in private schools by 2021.
  • US financial institutions can work towards providing working capital, which remains a great challenge for individuals and small businesses in Africa.

It also notes that more US intuitional investors have opened up to putting more funding to African venture. These include the New York State Common Retirement Fund, which has allocated $6 billion to investments in Africa and the Chicago Teachers Pension Fund that have invested in two African private equity funds.

EDIT: A story in the Africa Report shows how a new US Development Finance Corporation (DFC), which combines the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) and the Credit Authority of the U.S. Agency for International Development’s (USAID) is part of the broader economic and trade battle led by the USA against China.  

The new organization has more latitude than its predecessors in that, it will be able to make equity investment in private firms (previously they were restricted to debt) and a restriction that OPIC could only support projects with “a significant link with the American private sector” has been removed.

Africa Netpreneur Prize Initiative (ANPI) 2019 finale set for Accra

The Africa Netpreneur Prize Initiative (ANPI) series for 2019, will conclude with an “Africa Business Heroes” televised gala in Accra, Ghana in November where ten finalist entrepreneurs will pitch Alibaba founder Jack Ma, Strive Masiyiwa and other judges.

The overall Netpreneur winner will get a grant prize of $250,000, the second place one receives  $150,000, with $100,000 to the third place one. These are among the largest financial prizes offered to African entrepreneurs and the other finalists will also receive financial grants.

Applications for this year’s ANPI opened on March 27 and over 10,000 entries were received from entrepreneur applicants. These were narrowed down by different evaluators through a vetting process and this week twenty finalists, drawn from across Africa, are doing interviews with,  a panel of expert judges at the Nailab in Nairobi. Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu, Fatoumata Ba, Fred Swaniker, Hasan Haider, Marième Diop, Peter Orth, and René Parker form the semi-finalist judging panel for this year’s ANPI. 

This all comes two years after Jack Ma’s first visit to Africa as a UN special advisor for youth entrepreneurship and small business. Dr Mukhisa Kituyi suggested that he visits Kenya as one of the countries he toured and he became inspired by a team of entrepreneurs he met at the Nailab. He then decided to support African entrepreneurs through his Jack Ma Foundation.

This is the Foundation’s first project outside of China the Prize has a mission to shine a spotlight on African entrepreneurs to be leaders of their societies in the future. It is especially focused on traditional, informal and agricultural industries and sectors, and encourages women to participate. This is a deviation from other sectors like digital, fintech, and mobile  that have attracted a lot of attention and funding on the continent. ANPI hopes to find and support 100 entrepreneurs over the next decade to be leaders across Africa.  

Through the program, they offer training at the Alibaba headquarters in Hangzhou, China, free of charge and several entrepreneurs, through the Nailab, have made that trip there. The ANPI competition remains to open to entrepreneurs in all 54 African countries, including Northern African and Western (Francophone regions). Jack Ma is expected to continue his philanthropic efforts, through the foundation, even after he steps down from being Alibaba’s Executive Chairman in October 2019.

China and Africa’s Infrastructure Developments

Excerpts from a piece by Andrew Alli, the former Africa Finance Corp (AFC) CEO, in his debut column for Quartz Africa on separating myths and realities of the role of China in Africa’s infrastructure developments.

China firms funded, built and operate Kenya’s new railway.

  • China’s was the fourth largest foreign investor in Africa spending about $40 billion in 2016, according to UNCTAD’s World Investment 2018 report, behind the US ($57 billion), the UK ($55 billion), and France ($49 billion).
  • Construction contracts are backed by Chinese financial institutions—like China Export -Import Bank and Sinosure – looking to support the exports or sales of Chinese products and services. The mission of these financing entities is to support jobs and income generation in China, as well as to support more strategic objectives of the Chinese government.
  • Chinese companies are surprisingly risk-averse when it comes to Africa – most Chinese financiers will not consider a project without insurance from Sinosure, the Chinese government-owned political risk insurer, or other similar institutions. In turn, Sinosure often requires a guarantee from the government of the country in which the project is located. (e.g. – with Kenya’s Standard Gauge Railway construction, the contracts specify that there will be insurance cover of 6.93% of the commercial loan – done by a Chinese firm, SinoSure, to take care of nonpayment). Sinosure insurance and other financing costs do not come cheap, which leads to the point that Chinese firms are not necessarily cheaper than firms from other countries – and while the bare construction costs of certain projects may seem cheaper, even after equalizing for quality, there are other costs that may apply including the insurance and other financing costs mentioned before, and costs associated with local content. 
  • It is true Chinese firms prefer to use all-Chinese inputs. If you want local workers and contractors, you will have to make that a negotiating point.
  • While some work done by Chinese firms can indeed be shoddy,  this doesn’t have to be the case.  For example, while a Western firm may tell you a bridge will cost you, say, $300 million. A Chinese firm may tell you that you can have a $300 million bridge, or a $250 million one.- and things that may be taken for granted in other parts of the world can be negotiable when dealing with a Chinese firm. You have to be careful to specify the quality that you want and the standards that you would like the project to be built to. You also need to be very specific about the environmental and social standards you want the project to adhere to.
  • For too long the number of firms willing to engage in, and finance, projects in Africa has been very limited, meaning that competition has also been limited leading to high prices and a lack of innovation. The increase in interest by Chinese firms has increased the amount of competition, forcing prices down overall and improving quality. The bleating of companies being forced out of cozy monopolies is probably one cause of the constant refrain we hear about the “dangers” of Chinese interest in Africa. We shaved the costs of that project in Ghana by over 20% from initial quotes by running a competitive process involving a Chinese firm.
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