Flutterwave, Africa’s leading payments technology company, has appointed Mr. Oluwabankole Falade (Bankole) as the new Chief Regulatory and Government Relations Officer.
In his role, he will support Flutterwave’s vision by providing strategic oversight and government relation strategies, while ensuring that the interest and needs of the business are aligned with that of the regulators.
Bankole brings 18 years of experience in law, regulatory affairs, government relations and business development across financial and telecoms industries. Before joining Flutterwave, Bankole was the Director, Regulatory Affairs and Government Relations at IHS Towers. He also held key leadership roles at VISA and MTN, where he managed interactions with key government stakeholders and regulators in key markets across Africa.
Olugbenga ‘GB’ Agboola, Founder and CEO of Flutterwave said: “We’re grateful for the conducive regulatory environments that have helped us carry out our business, safely and in the best interest of the customers. With Bankole joining our team, we believe he is well placed to strengthen our existing relationships as well as support us create new relationships. Bankole will play an instrumental role in supporting us achieve our goal of creating endless possibilities for our customers with our key stakeholders in mind,” he added.
Bankole Falade, Chief Regulatory and Government Relations Officer at Flutterwave said: “I’m excited about the work Flutterwave has done so far in building trust with regulators. We want the same things with the regulators; to grow businesses and economies through technology. My role remains to proactively work with stakeholders to better understand our interests and needs whilst ensuring we are always aligned with set standards and regulations. I’m happy to get to work.
Bankole is an alumnus of the University of Aberdeen, Scotland with a certificate from the Harvard Law School Program on Negotiation. He is also a fellow of the Institute of Chartered Secretaries and Administration, Nigeria and an Associate Member of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators in the United Kingdom.
Amazon Will Discover e-Commerce in Africa Not a Tea Party
By Tarila Ben-White, Ph.D.
Feelers indicate that Amazon may now be ready to explore what the continent has to offer on the e-commerce front but the nous and experience of indigenous giants such as Konga will come in handy if it is not to stumble heavily in Africa’s biggest market
It is no longer news that global e-commerce giant, Amazon is all but set to extend its tentacles to Africa. Earlier this month, a South African court ordered a halt on the construction of Amazon’s new African headquarters, a massive 70,000 square metres (17.3 acres) structure. The ruling came after some descendants of the country’s earliest inhabitants said the land it would be built on was sacred.
As reported by Reuters, the Western Cape division of the High Court interdicted the project developer from continuing with works at the Cape Town site until there had been meaningful engagement and consultation with affected indigenous peoples. Among these are the Khoi and the San, two of the earliest inhabitants of South Africa, some of whose descendants had objected to the River Club development, arguing that it lies at the confluence of two rivers considered sacred, the Black and Liesbeek Rivers.
It is important to state, at this juncture, that Amazon has retained a presence in Africa for years. The e-commerce giant has several employees on its payroll working in data hubs located across Cape Town. Notably, the origin of Amazon’s current expansion into Africa began in 2004 when it set up a development centre in Cape Town. Incidentally, that centre eventually went on to build Amazon’s first cloud platform, known as the Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud which heralded its hugely successful cloud computing arm – Amazon Web Services (AWS). Today, AWS is responsible for the lion share of Amazon’s global operating income.
The firm’s adventure in Africa is thus intrinsically tied to its long-standing relationship with the South African city of Cape Town, the oldest and second largest city in that country after Johannesburg. As reported by fDi Intelligence, Amazon, in 2000, had gone ahead with plans to hire 3000 customer support staff in Cape Town. In addition, AWS, its cloud business, had plumped for Cape Town to host its first cloud region in Africa. Furthermore, nine of Amazon’s 19 projects in Africa are located in Cape Town, with five others in Johannesburg. The rest are split between Kenya, Morocco and Egypt.
The foregoing shows Amazon has established its cloud business in parts of the continent. But is it now ready to join the e-commerce race in Africa?
Although still a growing industry, the e-commerce space in Africa has begun to capture the attention and imagination of international investors. Research from Statista indicates that revenue generated via e-commerce in Africa was estimated to be around 27.97 billion U.S dollars in 2020, representing an increase of over $6bn since 2019. Correspondingly, e-commerce revenue in Africa is expected to keep up an upward curve, with estimates projecting the entire e-commerce sector in Africa to reach a value of over $46.1 billion by 2025.
Historically, Amazon is reputed to consider significant expansion into a region only when it becomes commercially viable for its line of business. But despite the fact that the promise of Africa still lies within the realms of potential rather than actuality, e-commerce watchers and analysts are of the view that a budding $46bn market in the next three years or thereabouts is more than enough justification for Amazon to throw its hat into the e-commerce ring.
Stanley Ugboaja, a Ph.D. student and e-commerce enthusiast, captures the prevailing mindset succinctly.
‘‘Africa’s population dynamics naturally makes it a frontier for e-commerce to explode in the next few years. The continent is home to the world’s youngest and second largest population. Digital literacy and numeracy is also on the rise here, same as internet penetration. Many young Africans are gaining useful exposure, either from flocking abroad for further studies or even from working remotely here for foreign firms or multinationals. When you throw in the rise in the number of fintech platforms further expanding the net of the unbanked and under-banked on the continent, you can see that the trends all tilt towards favourable conditions for e-commerce or online shopping to grow.’’
So far, on the e-commerce front, Amazon is only present in a solitary African country. That country is Egypt where Souq, an Amazon subsidiary acquired in 2017 for $580m, operates. Souq, initially founded in Dubai, UAE in 2005, was the largest e-commerce platform in the Arab world. With the acquisition by Amazon, the Egyptian site turned into Amazon.eg on September 1, 2021, officially marking the end of Souq.com.
But if, as anticipated, Amazon’s African adventure will now accommodate playing in the continent’s major e-commerce markets, Nigeria will be uppermost in its reckoning.
In addition to being Africa’s most populous nation, Nigeria remains the leading African economy in terms of nominal GDP in 2021, making up 18.4 per cent of the continent’s $2.7 trillion economy. According to the International Centre for Investigative Reporting (ICIR), Nigeria’s GDP, which measures how much a country produces in financial terms within a year, grew by 11.89 per cent from 2020 to 2021. Likewise, data from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) revealed that Nigeria’s GDP went from $429.423 billion in 2020 to $480.482 billion in 2021, making the country the highest contributor to Africa’s economic output/ GDP and the 29th in the world.
However, cutting it in Nigeria, Africa’s biggest market, will test the might and resilience of Amazon.
Currently dominated by Konga and Jumia, the Nigerian e-commerce market is a challenging ecosystem that has signaled the death knell of many promising players. Although Amazon – especially considering its roaring success in other advanced markets – cannot be placed in the same bracket as some of the startups that have quietly exited the market after finding the Nigerian e-commerce space a mountain too hard to climb, it is fitting to call to mind the instructive words of a globally renowned tech leader and Africa Chair for IEEE World Internet of Things (WIoT), Chris Uwaje.
Uwaje, who is widely hailed as the Oracle of the Nigerian IT Industry, had pinpointed the challenge in cracking the Nigerian e-commerce market as one that lies heavily in the approach or business strategy adopted by most players, many of whom fail to situate foreign business models, ideas and strategies within the culture of the people and Nigeria’s existential realities.
“Nigeria remains a fertile business environment, especially for online-focused ventures such as e-commerce companies. It is also a country with peculiar challenges and a very strong traditional approach to retail which requires a deep sense of local know-how and understanding by players. This is one of the biggest hurdles faced by e-commerce start-ups here. Many e-commerce ventures run with foreign concepts and strategies more suited to foreign climes, making it harder for them to survive the difficult terrain that is the Nigerian business space.”
But beyond the foregoing, the challenge of making a success out of e-commerce in Nigeria is one that is fraught with huge infrastructural and institutional bottlenecks.
The combination of a frustratingly underdeveloped public transport infrastructure network, absence of a proper addressing system across cities, the still-largely traditional shopping predilection of the average Nigerian and the mega-hurdle of logistics, among others, are not issues that having deep pockets alone or a popular name will solve. During the height of the COVID-19 enforced lockdown, the activities of overzealous state actors saw delivery vans conveying essential items to Nigerians delayed needlessly for days on end, or even sent back in some cases – a debacle which almost eroded the gains that accrued from the increased dependence by many Nigerians on e-commerce for safe, contactless shipping during the pandemic and which epitomised the sheer scale of some of the institutional obstacles e-commerce companies may encounter in Nigeria.
Konga, acquired by the Zinox Group from erstwhile majority owners, Naspers and AB Kinnevik, and which has become the first e-commerce company to hit profitability on the continent, may represent a fitting playbook for Amazon to study.
Considering its technology-driven status (a factor that would resonate with Amazon); a revolutionary composite fusion of online and offline which it pioneered and subsequently adopted by other players (including Amazon); the way and manner it has resolved the thorny obstacle of logistics; its massive physical assets strategically located across Nigeria (warehousing, delivery, nationwide physical stores/pick-up locations); penchant for customer service and the confidence it enjoys in the minds of shoppers, among others, Konga stands apart. However, it is in the magic of how it found a way to break the cycle of unprofitability which continues to dog other e-commerce players in Nigeria and Africa – transitioning from a business that once posted monthly losses of over N400m to emerging the first profitable African e-commerce venture – that Amazon would most admire Konga.
Most importantly, under its new owners, the current management of Konga boasts that keen understanding of successfully navigating the difficult terrain that Africa’s biggest market represents. It is a strength which has come to weigh heavily in its advantage, making the Konga template arguably the one to beat. Backed by entrepreneurs with over three decades of consistent success in the Sub-Saharan African technology space, Konga has not only thrived where others have failed or are struggling, but the business is now set, as feelers indicate, for a run across other African markets and a much-anticipated listing on major global exchanges, with a glut of external investors waiting.
Succeeding in the continent’s biggest market, even for a big name like Amazon, may mean seriously considering a partnership with Konga or at least, borrowing a leaf from its strategies.
Amazon would also have to decide if some of the unethical practices it has been accused of would unearth more dire consequences if they were exported to Africa. The e-commerce giant was recently accused of anti-competitive behavior by preventing third-party sellers from offering lower prices for their products on other platforms, including their own websites. The foregoing formed the crux of an antitrust lawsuit filed against Amazon by District of Columbia Attorney General Karl Racine, which was thrown out in court last Friday, according to a report by The New York Times. However, the suit was thrown out partly because Amazon faces a nearly identical lawsuit, in this case, a class action complaint that claims the company pressures sellers into selling products for an equal or lower price than what they offer elsewhere.
Also staring it in the face are allegations of tax avoidance which may land the e-commerce behemoth in hot waters here in Nigeria and elsewhere in Africa. Research reveals that Amazon’s tax behaviours have been investigated in China, Germany, Poland, South Korea, France, Japan, Ireland, Singapore, Luxembourg, Italy, Spain, United Kingdom, multiple states in the United States, and Portugal. According to a report released by Fair Tax Mark in 2019, Amazon is the best actor of tax avoidance, having paid a 12% effective tax rate between 2010-2018, in contrast with 35% corporate tax rate in the US during the same period. Amazon countered that it had an 24% effective tax rate during the same period.
Africa’s budding e-commerce lustre may represent an allure too difficult for Amazon to ignore. Nevertheless, it would discover that this ecosystem will tax its wits, determination, and sheer ability to adapt to their very limits.
But in Konga, Amazon can learn from a proven success story.
Tarila Ben-White (Ph.D.), an e-commerce researcher, writes from Bayelsa
ITU is Boosting Nigeria’s Digital Transformation – Danbatta
The executive vice chairman, Nigerian Communications Commission’s (NCC), Prof. Umar Garba Danbatta said the Commission’s vast experience as a long-standing member of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) has served as a booster its effective implementation of government policies, and in stimulating regulatory initiatives focused on advancing Nigeria’s digital transformation.
Danbatta stated this while addressing global actors in the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) industry at the ongoing Session of the ITU Council taking place in-person at the ITU Headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, from March 21-31, 2022.
Speaking at the Council session, Danbatta said the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic underscore the important role ICT will continue to play in ensuring peace, security and prosperity around the world. “It is as a result of the enabling experiences in the ITU ecosystem that Nigeria continue to be active and forward-looking regarding the activities of the ITU as the leading organ of the United Nations (UN) in the area of ICT,” he said.
He emphasised that, as a long-standing member of Council, Nigeria has utilised ICT as a driver of socio-economic development not just for herself, but also for the benefit of the sub-region and the continent, given its role as a founding member and flagship promoter of the West African Telecommunications Regulators Assembly (WATRA).
“Over the years, as a member of ITU, Nigeria has chaired World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC)-15; chaired ITU Council Standing Committee on Administration and Management (SC-ADM), in 2019 and 2022; as well as chaired the Ad-Hoc Committee on ITU Regional Presence”, the EVC said to underscore the strategic, symbiotic relationship between Nigeria and ITU.
Reinforcing the intensity of his assertion on the contribution of Nigeria in ITU, Danbatta said, “Nigeria had also chaired ITU-Standardization (ITU-T) Study Group 20 Regional Group for Africa; served as Vice Chairman, ITU-T Study group 20; served as Vice-Chair, ITU-T Study Group 12; Vice-Chair, ITU-Development D Study Group 2; as well as provided Financial Support to ITU Headquarters Building, among others.”
The EVC said this robust experience in ITU has continued to enable Nigeria, through NCC, and was particularly instrumental to the recent management of a globally-acclaimed transparent auction of Fifth Generation (5G) licence in 2021; achieve 40.88 per cent broadband penetration in Nigeria as at December 2021; implement robust financial inclusion initiatives; as well as in the promotion of universal access across institutions and communities in Nigeria through the NCC’s Universal Service Provision Fund (USPF).
“All these were made possible through the successful launch and implementation of policies to foster use of ICTs across all sectors and enhance a digital economy,” he said. Meanwhile, the EVC has used the opportunity of his brief remarks during the Council session to announce Nigeria’s intent to seek re-election to ITU Council during the forthcoming Plenipotentiary Conferences.
According to him, having Nigeria re-elected will help the country to continue to collaborate with and support ITU’s development agenda, ensure effective and efficient implementation of ITU Resolutions, implement inclusive programmes to foster universal use of ICT across all divides, and provide focused and strategic partnership. The ITU Plenipotentiary Conference for this year is scheduled to take place in Bucharest, Romania, from Monday, September 26 to October 14, 2022
Why NCC is Accelerating Robust Digital Infrastructure for Improved Financial Services
The Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) has reaffirmed its commitment to accelerate deployment of robust broadband infrastructure accessible to all Nigerians to enhance their access to the required resources to carry out seamless digital financial services, irrespective of their locations and circumstances.
The Commission gave the assurance at a programme organised to commemorate Year 2022 World Consumer Rights Day (WCRD).
At the programme which took place at the Commission’s Head Office in Abuja recently, and implemented in the context of the global theme: ‘Fair Digital Finance’, the Management of NCC announced the establishment of a dedicate desk, tagged: “TELCARE” to be operated across the country to enhance telecoms consumer protection.
Attendance and participation at the event, operated in-person and virtually, was overwhelming. Board members, senior management and staff of the Commission, collaborating agencies and other critical industry stakeholders were among the participants.
The event also ran concurrently with a roadshow carried out in Abuja and other NCC zonal offices in different parts of the country, to enlighten telecom consumers on the significance of the WCRD and to engage them on the NCC’s unwavering commitment to consumer protection.
Speaking at the event, the Chairman, Board of Commissioners of NCC, Prof. Adeolu Akande, said in line with NCC’s mandates, the Board and Management have been upbeat in implementing regulatory initiatives aimed at building a robust digital ecosystem to drive the frontier of digital economy with positive impacts on all other sectors in the nation’s economy.
Alluding to the theme of the WCRD 2022, Akande said considering the increasing number of telecom consumers who are also users of digital finance services, the Commission is working assiduously to ensure that all consumers, including the most vulnerable, are provided with access to manage their finances, and protected from scams, fraud, and phishing to safeguard their data.
Earlier in his keynote address, the Executive Vice Chairman of NCC, Prof. Umar Danbatta, said the theme of this year’s WCRD aligns with the emerging realities of the regulatory goals of the Commission. He informed the audience that the Commission is aware of the dynamic changes in the telecom industry, even as the Commission consolidated the growth in the telecommunication sector since the sector’s liberalisation in 2001.
Danbatta stated that the growth in the telecom industry has led to convergence in different sectors, especially between telecoms and financial service sector. According to him, there is no greater demonstration of this than the fact that financial transactions that were once conducted in-person at banking halls are now undertaken on consumers’ mobile devices.
“Financial and commercial activities have been digitised, and the most common of this is the Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSD), which has brought ease to financial transactions,” he said.
Danbatta declared that NCC embarked on various initiatives including the licensing of Infrastructure Companies (InfraCos), effective utilisation of spectrum, industry collaboration to address operators’ challenges, increased collaborations with relevant government agencies such as the Central Bank of Nigeria.
According to him, a central objective of these initiatives is to ensure availability, accessibility and affordability of ubiquitous broadband services to drive growth in all sectors, including financial services sector.
The EVC explained further that the Commission has been working hard to ensure that broadband penetration gets to every part of the country. He asserted that the number of active mobile subscriptions reached 195.4 million while Internet subscription has exceeded 141 million, because there has been increasing broadband penetration which stood at 40.88 per cent as at December 2021.
“Despite some of the challenges confronting the sector, telecommunications remained an enablers of growth in the Nigerian economy, in the year 2021. The Information and Communications sector contributed over N17 trillion to the nominal Gross Domestic Product (GDP), according to data from the National Bureau of Statistics,” Danbatta said to put the contribution of telecom and ICT in context that the audience could relate with.
Also, consistent with NCC’s focus to ensure that consumers get satisfaction, Danbatta disclosed that the Commission had finalised arrangements to establish the Telecom Consumer Assistance, Resolution and Enquiries (TELCARE) Desk. The Desk, he said, will be strategically located in different parts of the county to serve as an additional platform to receive and facilitate the resolution of consumer complaints.
According to him, the Desk will also provide a means through which consumers and citizens can make inquiries on consumer issues; provide a platform for advocacy on any topical consumer issues and concerns, and further enhance awareness of the Commission’s activities. He said the Desk will complement other existing initiatives of the Commission aimed at protecting the interest, privileges and rights of the consumers.
The EVC’s submissions were underscored by the Commission’s Executive Commissioner Stakeholder Management, Adeleke Adewolu, who declared that the theme of the WCRD is a reminder that “we all have the responsibility to protect the consumer from market abuses, exploitation, and injustices that erode the consumer’s rights, especially with respect to using digital financial services.”
Representatives of the Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA), CBN, Association of Licensed Telecom Operators (ALTON), the Industry Consumer Advisory Forum (ICAF), National Disability Empowerment Forum (NDEF), telecom operators, among other stakeholders, commended the Commission for all its consumer-centric initiatives and assured of their continuing collaboration towards creating a safer cyber space for digital service users in Nigeria.
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