Hello to our dearest readers and all stakeholders.

I hope your celebrations of the Africa Month are continuing very well as you pay tribute to our forebears, consolidate our gains and sharpen your ploughshares to advance Africa into the future envisioned by Agenda 2063.

From 1 April 2012 to 30 June 2016 I had the privilege of serving as South Africa’s Consul-General to Milan where I drove programmes in economic diplomacy, public diplomacy and deepened bilateral political relations with north Italy – the economic hub of the country.

As I also provided consular services, I was a Commissioner of Oaths on behalf of the South African government. One day our consular clerk (yes, in diplomatic vocabulary the word clerk though it sounds and feels archaic, is still in use), the affable Wilfred Rinkwest, called to inform me the client has arrived and I should come down to the consular section of the Consulate-General.

I wouldn’t say much about the client but I’ll just mention she was part of a wealthy family with huge interests in South Africa. So there were South African bank documents she needed to sign under oath for a transaction to be effected back in my country – these included proof of availability of funds in her Italian bank account.

As I moved from one page to another of the documents, I reached the final page of her bank balance. Looking at it, I immediately converted it from the Euro into the South African currency. 

Never claim not to have blood pressure issues, we all have them – they are hidden and some incidents provoke them to become instantly visible, like in this case. 

“These numbers are longer than my mobile number,” I said to her jokingly to lower my BP level.

“Really?” She asked rhetorically with a wry smile. A highly humble person.

“I also thought so,” chipped in Willy, as everybody affectionately called Wilfred. His reputation as a highly professional, yet accessible and courteous, preceded him. He was, for me, the full embodiment of the “Batho Pele” principles – South African government’s public service charter.

Yes many of us in the most southern tip of Africa know of many numbers – up to 31. But these aren’t bank balances, but Fafi numbers – that’s unregulated gambling game loved mainly by unemployed rural communities and domestic workers in the former white suburbs. Fafi gamblers interpret their dreams and attach them to one of the 31 numbers to guess which number the betting agent will select for that session.

In my Pretoria north rural village neighbourhoods Fafi is called “MoChaena” – a Sotho adaptation of the word “Chinese” because the betting agent is always someone of Chinese origin – living in an estate in Tswaing, a crater caused by the meteorite that plunged into the earth over 200 000 years ago. Our Batswana forebears gave the place the name, Tswaing, which means “a place of salt” because of the saline lake that covers the crater floor. From 1912 to 1950 an industry producing soda ash and salt was based at the crater.

Back to our numbers’ story, those representatives who collect bets for the betting agent are called “the runners” – who earn a nominal commission from each 5 cent bet as it comes in multiples of 5s. Interestingly enough, since the runners are often semi-illiterate women, each 5 cent is recorded as 6 and thus 10 cents is recorded as 66, 15 as 666. This helps to simplify an otherwise complicated calculation to a mathematically uninitiated runner.

I remember when I lived in the Pretoria East suburb of Moreleta Park, our helper often vanished mid-mornings carrying our two-year old daughter, Lilly, on her back. Sometimes she would come back all smiles and spoiling herself with an ice cream cone and carrying a two litre of frizzy drink. I thought she had a boyfriend around until I was told the reason she always asked us about our dreams was to try to get an idea of what “MoChaena” number to select. So each time she won, she would buy us cold drink as a courtesy.

Did I mention too many numbers thus far? Not yet! Do brace yourself for many more. In my previous Publisher’s Comment I name-dropped a lot. So this time I’m going to play iNumber-iNumber (as the 2014 Donovan Marsh’s Africa Movie Academy Award winning movie was titled) games simply because trade and investment promotion is about the numbers. 

On a serious note, our Egyptian forebears invented mathematics almost 3 000 years before Archimedes – a Greek philosopher touted as “the father of mathematics” who only lived between 287 and 212 BC. Yes some indicate Sumerians who built the Mesopotamian civilization also around 3 000 BC. The western epistemologies conveniently forgets to tell all that Pythagorus, a Greek mathematician who spent his last years in Italy, came to learn in Egypt and the structure of the pyramids inspired his theorem. I hope this dispels the myth Africa has never been good in mathematical sciences because scientific evidence validate our claim that we are the cradle of civilisation.

Brand management is about the numbers. It is about creating value which is best translated into money. In short, to borrow from film director Cameroon Crow’s Jerry Maguire character: “Show me the money.” Yes I also do agree with William Shakespeare that reputation is the “immortal” part of your existence as everything else is “bestial” but this doesn’t undermine the fact that you’re empowered to charge a premium price for a reputable brand.

This transitions us into the real numbers I’m touting in this Publisher’s Comment. In a strategic response to the global trends identified in the latest research on media consumption, we have kept our resolve to migrate Jambo Africa Online – which promotes the “Made in Africa” service and product brands – into this news portal. The research has indicated that in the past ten years the readership on mobile platforms has increased by 460% (from 45 minutes to 4 hours 12 minutes), on desktop by 26%; while the losers were TV’s which decreased by 24%; radio by 19%; and, magazines by 50%.

Furthermore, the September 2020 research study (conducted by the US Federal Survey of Consumer Finances has indicated that while in 2001 only 15% of the US investors relied on the internet to make investment decisions (which was the lowest just hovering only above non-investors), in 2017 reliability on the internet has dramatically shot up to 45%, making it the second only to Business Professionals (such as financial planners, accountants and lawyers). This latter group increased by a mere 8% from a base of 49% to 57% during the period under review – 2001 to 2017. The third highest were Relatives/Friends/Associates from 36% to 45%. The losers were traditional advertisements from 27% to 20%; “Calling Around” from 19% to 13%; under the category, “Other” (such as work material; past experience; self and spouse) that scored equal to Internet at 15% in 2001 declined to 9%; and; Non-Investors declined slightly from 9% to 8%. Interestingly, this last group increased to 12% in 2010 though it came tumbling down 8%.

Reliability on the internet as a source market for information is more than impressive. According to Simon Kemp (in his online report, “Digital 2021: Global Overview Report” on https://datareportal.com/reports/digital-2021-south-africa) global internet users have escalated by over 330 million in the past twelve months – meaning an average 900 000 per day. This brought us to a cumulative total reach of 4.7 billion from the beginning of April 2021 – and the clicks are increasing right now as you read this.

While the global population has increased nominally by 1% higher compared to last year at the same time in April to 7.85 billion, the number of internet consumers has increased by 7.6 percent since 2020 to a whopping 4.72 billion. This means over 60 percent of the global population had access to the internet – meaning 6 out of every 10 people.

Our news portal is formatted for the mobile devices since we consider that there are over 5.27 billion unique mobile users around the world – meaning that more than 66 percent of the global population do have a mobile phone (yes I do acknowledge there could be a nominal number of users owning multiple devices).

We have also adopted an approach that derives maximum benefit from the complementarity of multiple digital platforms as we use social media platforms also as our delivery channels. Since 2020,  over 500 000 new social media accounts were created taking the total to a global 4.33 billion by April this year – even in this instance, I do acknowledge other users, such as yours truly, may have multiple accounts. It has also been found that just over 99 percent of internet users aged between 16 and 64 are active on social media networks or internet-enabled messaging services such as WhatsApp, Signal, Imo, Telegram and even Messenger.

Granted, there are many consumers who remain unconnected to the internet particularly across Africa and southern Asia. While Northern America, Northern and Western regions of Europe record 9 in 10 people having access to internet connectivity, the picture is disturbing in East Africa with 3 in 4 people are unconnected. It’s even worse in Southern Asia – particularly India, Pakistan and Bangladesh – where over 1 billion people have no access to internet connectivity. Courtesy of the huge numbers of population in this region, it still “home to more than twice as many internet users as Northern America,” posits Kemp.

The performance of South Africa’s two partners in BRICS isn’t too bad compared to the United States: while 6.3 percent of the world’s internet users live in the United States, there are 13 percent in India and 21 percent in China.

Kemp draws a profound conclusion from these statistics which I have to quote verbatim for you our readers: “It’s the users in the world’s less developed economies that are driving many of today’s most exciting internet trends.”

Just to bring these statistics closer to Africa, I have chosen to focus only on Africa’s top two economies – Nigeria which is the biggest, and its number 2 South Africa which also happens to be the most sophisticated.  

South Africa

Out of a population of 59,67 million people as at January 2021 – meaning a population increase of 741 thousand (1.3%) between January 2020 and January 2021 (67.6% living in urban centres, while 32.4% in rural areas) – there are 38.19 million internet users in South Africa as at January 2021. This represents an increase of internet users by 1.7 million (4.5%) from 2020 and 2021. Internet penetration in the country was standing at 64.0% in January 2021.

Furthermore, there were 25 million social media users in South Africa in January 2021 having increased by 3 million (14%) within the period under review. This makes the number of social media users to an equivalent of 41.9 percent.

The number of mobile users in the country are quite impressive – though they validate the point I alluded to earlier about some users owning multiple devices. There were 100.6 million mobile connections in South Africa as at January 2021 recording an increase of 817 thousand (0.8%) during the period under review. The total number represents 168.5% of the total population.


In Africa’s biggest economy, Nigeria, the humongous population stands at 208.8 million as at January 2021 (52.3% living in urban centres, while 47.7% in rural areas) – notching an increase of 5.2 million (2.6%) between January 2020 and January 2021.

The country recorded 104.4 million internet users in January 2021 – an increase of 19 million (22%) between 2020 and 2021. This means the internet penetration stood at 50% as at January 2021.

On the social media front there were 33 million users in January 2021 – representing an increase of 6 million (22%) between 2020 and 2021. This total number of social media users constituted 15.8% of the total population in January 2021.

Despite the country’s problems with MTN, there were 187.9 million mobile connections in Nigeria as at January 2021 – representing a 10 percent increase (approximately 17 million). Yes a lot was at stake for MTN as the number of mobile connections in January 2021 constituted 90 percent of the total population.

Africa has to do better

The “SAIIA Special Report 2020” makes the following valid points:

  • the most e-platforms in Africa are owned and run by Africans
  • in terms of socio-geographical spread, Africa should be perfect for the use of digital e-commerce/ or distance selling. If internet use across the continent can be expanded at the same rate as in high-income countries, 140 million new jobs and $2.2 trillion will be added to Africa’s GDP;
  • without robust, cutting-edge enforcement, the African e-commerce market is vulnerable to exploitative practices that could harm African businesses and consumers alike;
  • If trade can flow freely between AU member states companies can benefit from economies of scale to grow their sales and therefore their production capacity.

Africa should build trust in e-commerce and reliable payment systems for consumers and businesses. The continent needs to encourage public and private funding to support the digital economy. It also has to accelerate training for the digital economy and, in particular, for B2B e-commerce which is essential. Let me hasten to congratulate Rwanda which is currently building Africa’s equivalent to the Silicon Valley. Developments in South Africa with the establishment of the National Commission on 4IR which is chaired by the President of the Republic and his deputy being the Principal and Vice Chancellor of the University of Johannesburg, Prof Tshilidzi Marwala are commendable – truth be told that if this country could have valued Prof Marwala’s expertise a while ago, we could be very far as his PhD thesis was on Artificial Intelligence over twenty years ago. Last, but not least, women, the youth and entrepreneurs from rural areas should be encouraged to enter the digital economy.

It goes without saying that it is significant for both the public and private sectors to ensure that addressing the unaddressed is achieved throughout Africa. All Africans should have a physical address to enable e-commerce deliveries

Back to my anecdote from Italy, I used to close my speeches or presentations to business seminars and investor conferences by sharing this story with them. In the 1970s a European shoe manufacturing company sent a market researcher to one African country to see if there were sales opportunities. He found many people not wearing shoes and went back to his company executives: “There’s no market there, people DON’T WEAR shoes.”

Ten years later, a CEO sent another market researcher to the same country, who found the same market conditions. But he reported excitedly: “The opportunities are huge in that country: people DON”T HAVE shoes.” The company went in to establish a production plant in that country and today it is the market leader in many African countries – particularly in the schools market. 

So as an investor thinking about Africa, decide on which market researcher’s side are you?

On a lighter note, while in Italy my wife went into an Italian shop and loved their shoes. She asked if she could pay a nominal deposit for a lay-by, the shop assistant didn’t know what she was talking about. The store manager chipped into the conversation to understand what the misunderstanding was about. After a lengthy discussion, they understood what she meant though there was no store in Italy with such a policy. Ultimately she convinced them, they gave in, took her deposit and put the pair of shoes she chose aside for her to return month end for it. She was the first, if not only one allowed, to make a lay-by. This speaks to the importance of entrepreneurs’ open-mindedness and being market-led.

Do enjoy the rest of your Africa Month.

See you next week Friday.

Saul Molobi



Twitter: @saulmolobi

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