Who Are the Players In DRC’s Private-Sector Digital Battleground?

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Written by Dana Sanchez

With a tech-loving prime minister and a growing number of small businesses, the tech industry has become a battleground in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s private sector, analysts say in an ITWebAfrica report.

World Bank in July approved a $92-million loan to roll out a fiber network in DRC. Voice messaging and social media mobile apps firm Kirusa said in February it will launch its service, InstaVoice Sports, on the Vodacom network in DRC. And mobile service providers Bharti Airtel and Tigo have announced appointments of new managers  and directors of operations in DRC, according to several ITWebAfrica reports.

The DRC had a population of 67.5 million in 2013, according to World Bank. More than half have mobile connectivity.

The country had 28,231,900 mobile phone subscriptions in 2013, according to the International Telecommunication Union and 1,984,3789 Internet users by the end of 2014.

When DRC’s Prime Minister Matata Ponyo Mapon was appointed by President Joseph Kabila in April 2012, Mapon named the ministers who would make up his new government. Political observers said the new team contained more technocrats and fewer politicians, VOANews reported in 2012

Many of the new ministers were unknown to the public, and were likely chosen for their technical and managerial experience, according to VOA.

Rapid growth of the tech sector in DRC is a result of piggy-backing off growth in the country’s mining industry, says Koffi Kouakou, at the Wits School of Governance in Johannesburg, according to ITWebAfrica.

Mining attracted foreign investors from the U.K., South Africa, India and Turkey, fueling growth in banking and paving the way for digital commerce, introduction of mobile and more consumer services.

“There are a lot of mobile technology deals and the multiplying effect of technology is being used,” Kouakou told ITWebAfrica.

There are four reasons to invest in DRC, according to a report by VoxAfrica, a pan-African TV channel that is part of the TBWA Africa network. These include advantages for early movers, policy changes to facilitate e-commerce, increased Internet penetration, and exciting new tech ventures.

Several online businesses have capitalized on early-mover status in DRC, including congomikili.com, lepotentielonline.com, and mediacongo.net, ITWebAfrica reports.

Mobile payments have filled the void left in DRC by a lack lack of classic resources in online payment such as Visa or MasterCard, said William Ngandu, CEO of ecommerce site lezando.com, in the Vox report.

All the ingredients are there for 2015 to be pivotal for e-commerce in DRC, Ngandu said. These ingredients include “more and more players, technology that addresses local challenges and the emergence of a social class with varied tastes.”

Cross-border movement of people makes it difficult to gather data on mobile penetration in DRC, Kouakou said. Many people have more than one mobile device.

But as competition increases, prices are going down — in some cases two-to-three times lower than that in South Africa, Kouakou told ITWebAfrica.

“Technology across Africa is the most resilient growth product in Africa. It can bypass many of Africa’s tech problems,” he said.