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DRC's digital economy on the rise

DRC's digital economy on the rise.

ICT industry and media analysts have described the Democratic Republic of Congo's private sector "as a real digital battleground" and the central African country's tech industry as an attractive prospect for investors.

A report released by Vox Africa, part of the TBWA Africa network, offers four reasons to invest in this region, namely: clear advantage for early movers, exciting new tech ventures, encouraging policy changes to facilitate e-commerce and increased internet penetration.

The Report mentions several online businesses that have already made inroads into the DRC and capitalised on 'early mover' status, including lepotentielonline.com, mediacongo.net and congomikili.com.

"Newcomers in a fledgling digital economy in DRC, they represent exciting business opportunities for either investors or entrepreneurs with a vision to be part of DRC's growing technology sector," states the report.

There is also mention of the Imani Hub, established in 2014 and focused on the ICT sector, as well as computer engineering service company TIKDEM – which are both cited as examples of how the private sector is contributing to the development of DRC's tech sector.

Vox Africa quotes William Ngandu, CEO of ecommerce site lezando.com, as saying, "The lack of classic resources in online payment such as Visa or MasterCard is no longer a barrier. Mobile payments are a credible replacement for these systems. I think 2015 is a pivotal year for e-commerce because all the ingredients are here: more and more players, technology that addresses local challenges and the emergence of a social class with varied tastes."

Koffi Kouakou, scenario strategist and senior lecturer at the Wits School of Governance, University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, agrees with the reasons given, but adds that the rapid growth of the tech sector is as a result of piggy-backing off the growth within the country's mining industry.

Mining has attracted foreign investors from South Africa, India, Turkey and the UK explains Kouakou – which, in turn, has fuelled growth within the banking sector and paved the way for digital commerce, the introduction of mobile telephony and more services to the consumer.

"There are a lot of mobile technology deals and the multiplying effect of technology is being used."

This, together with last mile connectivity leveraging networking cable infrastructure (such as the Liquid terrestrial fibre network) and the country's growing population (approximately 70 million) - more than half of whom have mobile connectivity, has helped the country up its technology capability.

Kouakou points out that exact numbers are difficult to source because of cross-border migration of people and also because many consumers have more than one mobile device.

The Vox Africa report states that while the penetration of broadband internet remains miniscule (0.92%), growth in mobile phone penetration is rapid (37% in 2013).

"Coverage is almost national and comprehensive in large urban centres," the report adds.

According to statistics sourced from the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) online, the DRC had 28, 231 900 mobile cellular telephone subscriptions in 2013.

Internet World Stats online also states that the country had 1,984, 3789 internet users at the end of 2014, representing 2.5% of the population.

Kouakou says the country has other advantages including a prime minister who is a technocrat, a growing small business sector and spin-off advantages for vertical industries like property.

He also mentions better pricing for consumers as a result of increased competition in the sector - In some cases two-to-three times lower than that in South Africa, Kouakou adds.

"Technology across Africa is the most resilient growth product in Africa. It can bypass many of Africa's tech problems."

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