Alibaba’s billionaire co-founder Jack Ma Yun had a busy day over the weekend in Africa — attending a digital economy summit in Nigeria, participating in an entrepreneurs’ dialogue in Togo and being a judge for an African business heroes show in Ghana, Global Times reported.
Ma has turned his attention to the young African continent, serving as a huge encouragement for local start-up entrepreneurs as African countries are poised to embrace rich opportunities in developing the new digital economy, industry insiders said.
Nigerian entrepreneur Temie Giwa-Tubosun took the top award in the first annual competition for African businesses on Saturday night (local time) in Ghana. She won US$250,000 in cash for her blood bank project out of the US$1 million offered by the Africa Netpreneur Prize Initiative, founded by the Jack Ma Foundation after Ma made his first trip to Africa in July 2017.
A symbolic figure in Africa
The organization said it will host the business competition across Africa for the next 10 years and grant US$10 million to African entrepreneurs over that time, said an online report by China’s CRI radio network.
Ma is a popular figure among young African entrepreneurs, as he stands for Chinese companies’ strengths in internet technologies and innovative business models. He’s also a figure of hope and the future as reflected by Alibaba’s rise from scratch, said He Wenping, a research fellow of the Institute of West-Asian and African Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
“Ma’s plain and pragmatic words have ignited hope and enthusiasm in those African entrepreneurs that they can also make something out of nothing, just as Ma ushered in the e-commerce era in China in 1999, when few people believed in the internet,” He told the Global Times.
There is huge potential for the digital economy to flourish in Africa, analysts said, but the process won’t involve simply copying from China — it also should be highly integrated with local demand.
Unlike traditional Chinese companies’ contact with the continent, Ma is offering ideas on entrepreneurship to African businesses in a way that aims to cultivate internal growth momentum for Africa. It’s a different approach from direct Chinese investment in big projects like infrastructure, according to He.
“He’s sowing the seeds, but Africans will reap the gains through their own efforts,” said He.
The opinion of YoungDiplomats
At first sight, Ma’s behavior is doubtlessly positive for African growth. But geopolitics is not a matter of emotion and righteousness. Ma, as most Chinese entrepreneurs in Africa, is doing a war of influence. In other words, he carries the flag of China on the African soil. It has to be said that his actions are positive for Africans and for the development of Africa. Nevertheless, when it comes to power analysis, the action of Ma establishes Chinese power in Africa. Africa is the subject of a new form of domination. It used to face European colonization with armies and sometimes population. Now, China is coming with Yuans, Silk Road and infrastructure. This project isn’t killing or enslaving. There is a common point between these two colonization : African sovereignty remains non-existent.