African entrepreneurs partner with China for success, growth
Access to large market, technical know-how boon for budding businesses
Silas Musyoka, based in his home country of Kenya, has worked as a sales growth manager at Chinese e-commerce firm Kilimall for five years.
"I'm still learning about the ever-growing e-commerce sector in this country. I believe that Kilimall will have a big impact shaping many economies in Africa," said Musyoka, 32, who obtained his master's degree in political science from Jinan University in Guangzhou.
Kilimall is Kenya's leading online shopping mall. It was set up in 2014 with the motto of "Enriching Lives for Africa", and has more than 10 million registered users.
The company is among other e-commerce firms banking on the promising trade opportunities between China and African countries.
Musyoka said Kilimall has helped him better understand the market and supply chain dynamics in his home country and what it takes to succeed in the tech industry, which is still in its infancy in Kenya. He said he has witnessed how e-commerce has shaped local businesses.
"In this regard, I have been an influencer to most of my peers who are looking to start, establish and grow their businesses in Kenya. I am in a position to coach and guide them in their businesses thanks to the knowledge that I have gained while working at Kilimall," he said.
Musyoka first visited China as a businessman and later as a student, juggling school and work.
"Life in China is fast-paced, where you have to adjust really fast to changing situations. More than what is taught in class, your experiences in the markets, factories, historical and tourist sites and interactions with people also contribute just as much to the learning experiences," he said.
Musyoka said China has a lot to offer in terms of knowledge, skills and technology.
"We still have a long way to go to gain the skills and the knowledge required to build stable e-commerce platforms in this region," he said. Musyoka said Kilimall has been helpful in both those areas. "We have a taste of what China-Africa partnership has to offer."
He said China is a good partner for Africa in terms of filling in the gaps in the supply chain and the technology that is necessary to help small businesses grow in Kenya.
"Having built e-commerce giants, China has the knowledge to help us have the same experience here in Africa," Musyoka said.
Kilimall, which considers itself a Kenyan company, was founded by Yang Tao, a former marketing executive for a leading Chinese tech firm's branch in Kenya.
The company has now developed its marketing, payment, distribution centers and customer services in Kenya, with operational and technology teams based in Changsha, capital of Hunan province.
"We hope to be viewed as Africa's answer to Taobao or JD.com," said Guan Jian, vice-president of Kilimall. "The profound knowledge from our executive teams, made up of veteran Chinese professionals stationed in Africa, has empowered our firm to understand the nuances in both Africa and China, to match resources from the two sides."
Kilimall doubled its revenue last year and has become one of the top three most downloaded e-commerce mobile applications in Kenya, Guan said.
The company is looking to boost bilateral trade between China and African countries, especially through exporting more African goods, such as coffee, nuts, red wine and aloe, to China to meet the demand for higher-quality consumer goods, he said.
In the first half of last year, revenue from trade between China and Africa reached $137.4 billion, up 16.6 percent year-on-year, according to the website of China's Ministry of Commerce. Imports from Africa to China were $60.6 billion, an increase of 19.1 percent year-on-year. Exports from China to African countries were $76.8 billion, growing 14.7 percent year-on-year.
Kilimall's presence in Kenya has helped expand trade. The company's local employees and distribution networks in Kenya add value to sourcing quality products in Africa, Guan said.
"It still takes time and effort for Chinese consumers to become more aware of the value of African products," he added.
African entrepreneurs have been enthusiastic about shipping more goods to China.
Njagi Kevin Murimi, 30, who started Changsha Connect Trade Co Ltd four years ago, said he came to China first for the sheer size of the market.
Murimi said Kenya's population is about the same as Hunan's. "China has offered a huge market for me," he said.
After studying and working in Changsha for years, Murimi combined what he had learned there with China's advanced technology and policies, the value of its currency and the availability of products in China.
Last year, the trade volume of Murimi's firm was around 400,000 yuan ($56,903). His company exports mostly nail polish, wigs and electronics to Africa. He exports nail polish, his bestseller, to Kenya, Ethiopia and Uganda.
Murimi's family business in Kenya, operating coffee processing plants, has exported coffee to the United States for over 10 years. He said he plans to accelerate the company's business development in China, where the coffee sector still has great potential.
The company has been in contact with retail coffee chains and other Chinese retail stores, such as supermarkets, and it also expects to sell online.
"Starting this year, we are working on more products for export and import, including products like avocados," he said. "Kenya has become one of the countries in Africa that has been authorized to work with the Chinese government to export fresh avocados to China," he said.