New Multi-Cultural Site To Boost African E-Commerce

In an effort to bring e-commerce and the Internet to a vast continent where computers have not yet become a mainstream business and consumer tool, Web site developer e-Media LLC announced a deal Wednesday to help launch a versatile site for the extended African community around the world.

The new site, Africast.com, will target consumers and businesses on the continent of Africa, African-Americans and African expatriates by providing multilingual news, sports, entertainment, and cultural and business content via streaming audio and video. The site will also offer e-mail services and online financial transaction and investment services.

Africast.com will be competing primarily with Africa.com and WoYaa.com, two popular portals on the continent.

A Market Ready for Expansion?

Despite its size and population, Africa continues to trail North America, Europe and Asia in Web and computer use. The continent was projected to reach 1.8 million Internet users by the end of 1999, according to research service Media Africa.

Unfortunately, these additional users may not have a substantial amount of content to look at. A report published in late November by WoYaa.com with help from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) shows that the number of African Web sites is “worryingly low” in countries other than South Africa and that quality content is lacking.

South Africa aside, the continent’s Internet development has been led by Egypt, Morocco, and Tunisia. Sub-Saharan countries are way behind the curve, the report states.

Need for Infrastructure

Africa’s generally substandard Internet existence is largely due to the lack of needed equipment and infrastructure in many areas. The user-to-site routes in Africa are “excessively long,” according to the report, averaging 1,000 miles compared to 100 miles in developed countries.

“In contrast to sites based in Europe, North America and Australasia, African sites are costly to produce and generate little advertising revenue,” the report states.

Seemingly endless social upheaval in many African countries has also kept a stranglehold on the Internet’s development. The civil and tribal wars that have torn apart many of those countries over the past decade not only prevent technological development but also discourage foreign investment in new technologies and services there.

A low level of awareness of the Internet and its benefits is also a contributing factor in the continent’s slow development, the report states.

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