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Chinese smartphones give big boost to Africa's digital economy

By RADING GERRO in Nairobi, Kenya | China Daily Global | Updated: 2023-02-15 09:55

A sales assistant waits for customers at the Huawei Technologies Co. branded booth inside Awolowo glass house in Lagos, Nigeria, March 29, 2021. [Photo/VCG]

The increasing availability of affordable, high-performance smartphones made in China has driven the growth of social medial content creation in Africa, with an increasing number of young people reaping the benefits.

"It's no doubt that Chinese smartphone brands have offered people like us a lifeline in content creation," said Ali Muslim, a former journalist for some of the leading media outlets in Nairobi, Kenya, who started his own YouTube channel and is known as Presenter Ali.

"With less than $200, you can acquire a good smartphone with better cameras that we can use to make videos for our online followers," said Muslim, whose channel now has more than 250,000 subscribers.

This would not have been possible a few years back, when the cheapest reliable smartphones cost at least $400, which made them unaffordable for up-and-coming content creators, he said.

Muslim said he thought about starting his own social media business a few years ago, but the high cost of renting a video camera and hiring a crew to make videos prevented him from doing so,

But with the availability of Chinese smartphones, "the cost is no longer a problem, and all one needs is a good smartphone and you are ready to go", he said, holding up his Realme smartphone from China.

Muslim added that young Africans are very choosy about smartphones and look for affordable phones with high-end features, such as good cameras.

Chinese smartphone brands are increasingly popular in African countries. For example, in Nigeria, the continent's largest economy, Chinese smartphones accounted for around 80 percent of the smartphone market last year. In Kenya, Chinese brands such as Oppo, Huawei, Xiaomi and Tecno are among top sellers.

With the increasing availability of affordable, good-quality smartphones, the digital economy has developed rapidly in many African countries. In Kenya, one of the continent's fastest-growing markets for smartphones, the number of content creators has risen quickly, bringing the number of Kenyan channels on YouTube to more than 400.

Mildred Agoya, a marketing manager for Realme in Kenya, said Chinese smartphone manufacturers conducted research in Africa so they could understand the needs of consumers, which gave them an advantage over competitors.

According to International Data Corp, many affordable Chinese brands sell for less than $200 and continue to dominate Africa's smartphone market. It said smartphones that sell for between $100 and $200 have seen the biggest increase in sales.

Agoya said that "the high uptake of e-commerce and content creation in Kenya is largely driven by the availability of smartphones that are affordable to youths, who are always hungry for the new technology that comes with a smartphone".

"By bringing affordable smartphones, we are creating an enabling environment for youths to access quality tools of work to capture photos, videos and podcasts that offer a source of employment for many youths," she said.

Chinese smartphone manufacturers are also creating employment opportunities for local people, including James Irungu, who is among Kenyans employed by Chinese smartphone maker Vivo. "This is the second Chinese firm that I have worked for. I started with the Oppo brand, and it was an eye-opener for me, especially coming from the newsroom background," said Irungu, a former reporter who is now Vivo's head of brand and corporate communications in Nairobi.

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