African logistics platform ripe for innovation

Railway lines are a key part of African logistics. FILE PHOTO | NMG
Railway lines are a key part of African logistics. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

Reading the history of Africa, you can never miss the scramble for its acreage and the resources, leading to the illogical, politically instigated birth of countries as defined by the borders we now know.
Communities and commerce were disrupted as traditional trade routes and peoples’ movements were choked. The rise of additional barriers to trade can be traced to this. Fast forward to present times; technology is getting deployed to address some of our most pressing needs as caused or exacerbated by colonial actions.

Earlier this year we saw the fintech space grab headlines with an influx of venture funding. This did not come as a surprise, as in retrospect the movement of funds had been curtailed by the scramble for Africa, which in essence is one part of what underpins commerce.

Money is now able to traverse the continent in a split second applied towards the exchange of value. The battle for that turf remains; whoever can move the bits and bytes faster and cheaper will win.

The second part of the commerce equation is commodities. The medium of exchange can cross borders fluidly but the product side doesn’t enjoy such benefits, at least not yet.

To move products, one requires infrastructure and inventory; both of which are a hodge podge of varied grade deployments in Africa. Infrastructure covers roads, railways, airports, ports, warehouses, holding docks among others. Inventory covers trucks, airplanes, wagons, and various motorised plus non-motorised transports with carriage capacity; all available in plenty but lacking a switching platform.

As an example, we know that data can now flow freely on say market demand in a West African country that has a tomato glut, but East African farmers are unable to maximise on this to deliver produce there at a higher margin in an ever recurring oversupply and subsequent waste scenario from local markets.

Pan-African logistics, just like its payment counterpart requires a switching platform that in all ways will be more powerful than the sum of its parts.

However, the only challenge is that, with its numerous independent parts, it calls for tandem innovation, development and optimisation by agreeable and complementary partners. Orchestration needs to happen across a discerning subset of innovators targeting the different parts of this ecosystem with varied applications of technology. In my opinion, no single innovator can pull off a hat trick. 

Njihia is CEO of Symbiotic | | @mbuguanjihia