Emmanuel Bocquet: The African Digital Business Booster

‘’Digital imposes a less geographical approach’’

Emmanuel Bocquet is an “African Digital Business Booster” and a digital reference in Dakar. He is working for GreenTec Capital that supports and finances West African Startups. This computer engineer in the 90’s held the position of CIO before leading businesses and start his own entrepreneurial project. Emmanuel Bocquet worked for many e-commerce and digital companies (Fnac, Dior, LVMH, Cdiscount…) would it be in Europe or Senegal, where he chose to live and work for more than 10 years.
Bridges Builder took him aside for a conversation.

  • Emmanuel, “We are social” and Hootsuite, have just published their ”Digital Report 2020”, what are the main points you withheld, especially with regard to the different African regions (West, East, North, Central and Southern Africa)?

This sub territories of Africa do not make sense anymore. Digital technology imposes a less geographical approach. North Africa region is no more a block: Morocco is holding its own, Algeria has completely missed the bend, sinking deeper and deeper. Tunisia is floating. Libya has disappeared, and Egypt is exploding in digital as much as in social pressure. Now the blocks are as the following:

– English-speaking maritime countries, more or less at peace, are preparing for take-off (Nigeria, Kenya, Ghana, Egypt, Rwanda, South Africa to a certain extent…)

– French-speaking maritime countries that are more or less at peace, which are developing slowly, with the exception of Morocco and Ivory Coast. – Countries at war and/or landlocked without access to submarine cables (Central African Republic, Chad, Niger, Mali, Burkina, Burundi, etc.) have no digital existence and are regressing in the Digital field with respect to the rest of Africa

However, what is most astonishing is the huge difference in the development of bandwidth for mobile data, social networks and mobile money. In some countries, digital is still on the 1990 baseline. In other countries:  banks are about to disappear, or villages are created because of a mobile antenna installation.

If we take aside topics like infrastructure that are related to international Telecom operators, or social medias mainly American ones, or even Mobile money that some countries use as a government tool, what we need to pay attention to is: content. What is the aim of having all these networks, contacts, and means?

Some countries, through online gambling, e-commerce importation is about to build new channels. Others, through the emergence of a video industry, e-government solutions or land register digitalization are preparing their future. In this giant continent, some neighbor countries are moving in opposite directions while totally different countries are finding themselves similar with respect to digital solutions.

  • In a comparative approach between Morocco, Ivory Coast, Ghana and Kenya, which would be for many, specialists in digital start-ups; what is your analysis about  their ecosystems,  actors, SWOT and challenges?

I know very little about East Africa and Kenya. However, the leader in digital and startups is now in the West, and that’s Nigeria. All the other economies, particularly in the digital sector, are dwarves.

The only countries on the continent to have any weight against Nigeria are South Africa, Egypt and Kenya. Morocco, Ghana, and Ivory Coast are the French-speaking leaders. Morocco is the heavyweight in terms of population, wealth and infrastructure, but Ghana has a more digital and innovative than Morocco. Ivory Coast is rather behind, but the last few years acceleration makes me optimistic. And very recently Senegal to waking up. We will see in 2 or 3 years.

In all these countries, the business models are often different from the western ones. The first instinct was to plug in Amazon, Uber, Airbnb, Netflix, Expedia, Facebook, etc… However, while some of them succeeded in in their establishment like Facebook or sometimes Uber, others completely failed, like Amazon. The virtual models with exponential acceleration coming from Silicon Valley are too vulnerable in front of African complexity. It often requires mixed models with physical components, human intervention, and most of all a linear growth. Who can predict what would happen in 5 o 10 years in Africa. Sometimes it takes a little for a country to go from bad to better – an oil crisis, a third term or a new virus -.

  • As the founder of the E-Business trade in Senegal, what kind of feedback you get from startups operating in e-commerce?  What are the perspectives for this start-up annual meeting?

Trade is he Senegal’s DNA. If you stop someone on the street and tell him that you have a container stuck in Dubai, anyone will tell you that he has a solution for you, that he knows people, he knows the customs rates, the selling prices… There is o type of trade buying and selling with almost no investment, and no added value. In e-commerce, this gives economic models of drop shipping or marketplace like Jumia. And it is very vulnerable. The “deep” e-commerce is the one that will negotiate purchases in China, Morocco and the Senegal River Valley, improving branding or packaging, store and distribute them in different areas, to finally sell and deliver them in one hour. Doing this requires a lot of investment, effort and expertise. Not everyone can do what Amazon does. Therefore, we have to get out of the beaten track of traditional e-commerce, and go into the digital bush, where startups work, struggle, and innovate. You must go in their direction and listen to them rather than talk. Those who have digital solutions for real life don’t need grandstands, contests, trophies. They need markets, customers, employees, suppliers, money. Thus, we are willing to contribute to answer these needs

  • You work for GreenTec Capital Partners which invests in African SMEs and start-ups, would you give us more information about company’s vision and goals ?

GreenTec is convinced that most African start-ups, to grow solidly and quickly, need turnover rather than loans from banks. We focus our effort in building startups before eventually helping them raising money. This approach allows to have businesses healthier and much stronger, able to conduct discussions with potential investors. On the other side, investors will be much more confident in investing in added values companies. Our main investment in Green Tec is in strategic consulting, business development, digital strategy, and research on  partners suppliers and customers. The fundraising usually comes at the end, after 6 or 12 months. Our main focus is the digital sector as well as on agriculture, solar electricity. GreenTec is a partner of AFD, GIZ, and now of the Delegation for Rapid Entrepreneurship (DER) of Senegal. We are about to accomplish great things from Senegal and Ivory Coast, where GreenTec is strongly operating.

Propos recueilli par Siré Sy

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