You Just Got Branded! Jumia Is Not An African Startup

Since Jumia made its intent of listing on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) known, it has raised questions about how “African” the startup truly is. Jumia is owned by two French businessmen, incorporated in Germany, has its headquarters in Dubai, its technology centre is in Portugal, and it operates in 14 African countries.

This basically summarizes everything and gives you a clear view of who is the pawn on this chessboard – Africa, again! Jumia has received more funding than any other African startup, and is in fact regarded as Africa’s biggest startup. But as it turns out, it was just great branding and sensational PR. We just got branded, and it feels like colonialism all over again.

But we have allowed it by keeping true to our culture of not digging all the way down to find the roots. We only read what the media chose to present to us about the brand, and we stopped there feeling satisfied.

It’s rather contradictory for a startup that has paraded itself as an African startup since 2012 to come out now to let us know that it was going for its Initial Public Offering (IPO) and it wasn’t on any stock exchange on the continent where its market resides.

This is a slap on the face for Africa, but sadly it’s a familiar type we have received over and over again. And to say it was just a matter of time before we received another slap like this is to put it lightly. We have set ourselves up for this.

What African business leaders think of this

While this development has angered a number of business leaders on the continent, some others feel it’s no big deal. Rebecca Enonchong, founder and CEO of AppsTech, while speaking with The Africa Report argued that there’s very little about Jumia that is African and African tech should not be judged on Jumia.

Lionel Tarumbwa of The African Exponent says that

“The story of JUMIA being an African start-up is obviously the work of a million-dollar public relations firm from Wall Street. It has given the company great leverage and a great story to tell. It is sad, however, that it distorts the true picture of the challenges that the continent’s start-ups face. Its Eurocentric background gives the company access to corridors of power. JUMIA is not African in ownership or management, it is only the market that gives it access to the term ‘African start-up’.”

Iyin Aboyeji, serial entrepreneur and co-founder of Andela and Flutterwave holds a contrary opinion however. He believes that Africans should be celebrating Jumia’s successful IPO and “taking credit for our role in making that feat happen” instead of getting into a “meaningless and primordial debate about what an African company is in a world without borders.”

Others have also argued that even though the startup’s management team comprises of foreigners, it also has CEOs across the countries which it operates in who are locals. It employs Africans and helps cut down unemployment on the continent. It is Africans who have built up the startup. And of course, a number of its first employees have gone on to establish successful startups.

No doubt, you can’t deny these benefits, but many other multinationals in the country have pulled off this same feat and even more without a fuss being made of it. There’s nothing new here in the case of Jumia.

Is the argument of Jumia being African or not even relevant?

Some business and industry leaders are of the opinion that it is irrelevant whether the startup is African or not – let’s just get on with it. But it’s this same spirit of not minding, never changing and carrying on the same that has us where we are today. It does matter that we were sold oranges but found out on delivery that they were actually limes. We simply have to learn to reject this.

It’s like the classical case of how we sell cocoa for $1 and buy chocolate for $5. You argue that Africans built the startup but are Africans getting that credit?

It’s unfortunate that despite all the efforts by leaders on the continent and in diaspora in recent times to educate us on the importance of telling our own narratives by ourselves, we still don’t get it. Once again the power of branding and PR played us, and it still feels like the colonial days.

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