Jack Ma, co-founder and executive chairman of Alibaba Group is the richest man in China and he owes a huge chunk of this success to the African market. Rather than focus on Europe or America, Ma focused his attention on Africa and within a short space of time, took over the entire continent by running arguably the biggest e-commerce platform that serviced the continent.
There have been various criticisms however on the quality of products sold on the platform, as one thing that is very noticeable on Alibaba is that the prices are very low - sometimes 'too cheap.' This, many critics attributed to the fact that the items available on the platform are substandard replicas produced in China - something they claimed Jack Ma and the Alibaba Group are aware and in charge of.
The company has fought several battles with brand owners who called out the platform for advertising and selling substandard replicas of products at cheaper prices - something that doesn't only affect their market but also reduces customer faith in the brand - as many of them believe they are buying quality and genuine products.
Earlier this year, the company was cited 'again' as a marketplace for fakes and substandard products and placed on a high alert blacklist by the United States. The reason for including the company on the list of “Notorious Markets,” the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative said was as a result of high volume of reported counterfeiting and piracy by customers and brand owners.
In a swift response to the allegation, Alibaba’s President Mike Evans said that the company’s presence on the Notorious Markets List “is not an accurate representation of Alibaba’s results in protecting brands and IP, and we have no other choice but to conclude that this is a deeply flawed, biased and politicized process.”
However, Jack Ma has himself admitted in the past that the issue of inferior products on the site is a cancer in the company and said fighting counterfeit is a never-ending effort.
It is no news that China over the years has become a hub for the production and export of fake products, and Alibaba has failed in making sure that their platform isn't a market place for these substandard goods - which it is. Sadly, the majority of these fake goods come to Africa!
Jack Ma and the Rwandan Love Affair
The China's e-commerce billionaire is expected in Kigali today to launch a number of initiatives on which his firm will partner. This is the second time he would be visiting the country in a space of two years after his presence at the YouthConnekt Africa Summit in 2017.
It has been said that Ma is set to launch the Electronic World Trade Platform (eWTP) which the company hopes will be the major platform that connects Africa to the world when it comes to trading. The concern here is what does this mean for local entrepreneurs?
Although the News Agency of the Alibaba Group claim that eWTP seeks to make it easier for small and medium-sized enterprises to participate in global trade and contribute to the development of the digital economy, the substance of these claims hold very little water.
During a meeting in Davos this year, Ma and President Paul Kagame agreed to launch eWTP in Africa for the first time.
"A formal announcement about the initiative in Rwanda, which will include capacity building, e-commerce and tourism, is expected "soon," Alibaba Global Initiatives Vice President, Brian Wong was quoted as saying.
Many critics have attacked the agreement saying the platform was an online version of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) - an organisation mandated to set global trade rules and thereby succeeds in pushing out small and middle scale local entrepreneurs out of business.
In his last visit, Ma announced his intentions to donate $10 million to support African e-commerce young entrepreneurs, an agreement which Rwanda has a big share in. This, many critics said was Ma's way of winning the heart of Rwanda and indeed Africa to accept his eWTP plan. If that was the motive, then it worked!
Do you think this love affair is in the best interest of Rwanda and Africa in general?
Header Image Credit: Digest Africa