Alibaba Founder Jack Ma Says Africa’s Lack Of Infrastructure Is An Advantage

Jack Ma in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe

The founder of Alibaba, Jack Ma has never shied away from his fascination with Africa as the next “big thing” for Africa. The former CEO has a competition that funds African Entrepreneurs and he recently wrote an opinion piece in the New York Times.

In the piece, he mentions a number of things he has seen since his first visit on the continent back in 2017, the difference between entrepreneurship in Africa vs the rest of the world.

We compiled the most interesting quotes from his piece for the New York Times:


The difference between Africas Entrepreneurs and Entrepreneurs outside the continent

In much of Africa today, I’ve found that entrepreneurship is not the exalted career path it is in the United States or even increasingly in China. The prudent thing for most Africans to do is to get a stable, salaried job in the banking, energy or mining sectors. Entrepreneurship is for the hustlers — those who can’t hold down a traditional job and have to get creative and scrappy to make a living.

Jack Ma

The lack of infrastructure could be a catalyst for the digital revolution

Skeptics might point to Africa’s infrastructure and say the continent isn’t ready for the digital era. In fact, Africa is perfectly positioned. Strong infrastructure is actually detrimental in this new world. When the current system works too well, there is resistance to change and too much legacy to overcome.

Africa can do better than China

Fortunately, this wasn’t a problem in China when I founded Alibaba in 1999. We had a large population with low per capita income, and poor infrastructure in retail, logistics and banking. But in just two decades, China has gone from 8.8 million internet users to 850 million. Per capita income has risen from $800 to $9,000, and e-commerce sales have reached $1 trillion. The Alibaba ecosystem alone is responsible for creating more than 40 million jobs in China. Last year, revenue from e-commerce in China’s rural areas exceeded $97 billion, generating nearly seven million new job opportunities.

I believe Africa can do even better. Its lack of infrastructure is an advantage, just as it was in China. But the continent also has other ingredients for success. It has 1.3 billion people, 40 percent of whom are under the age of 16. Six of the 10 fastest-growing economies in the world are in Africa. And smartphone adoption rates are growing rapidly.

Africa must adopt the Four E’s to succeed

For Africa to prosper, I believe it must adopt what I’m calling the four E’s. The first E stands for entrepreneurs. We need to support Africa’s existing business owners and inspire the next generation. Let’s show young Africans what entrepreneurs can do to transform society. I’m not talking about celebrating billionaires or big initial public offerings. I’m talking about start-ups that drive inclusive growth and solve social problems.

The next two E’s — e-governments and education — are necessary to support entrepreneurs in that mission. Africa needs technically savvy governments to create the conditions necessary for a digital economy to grow. And Africa’s entrepreneurs need access to training and an education system built for the digital era.

The final E, e-infrastructure, underpins all the others. Africa needs world-class internet services on which a new digital economy — data analytics, logistics and payments — can be built.

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3 thoughts on “Alibaba Founder Jack Ma Says Africa’s Lack Of Infrastructure Is An Advantage

  1. He fails to mention that there was massive i infrastructure development in China between 1999 and 2019.

    E-commerce does not operate in a vacuum. Good roads, warehousing etc support e-commerce.

    To say lack of infrastructure is an advantantage is a very shallow analysis from this guy.

    What worked for China may not necessarily apply to Africa.

  2. This an experience person who came out 1 in a millions of people to make e-commerce the way it is today. Jack Ma we appreciate your knowledge and advise that our leaders can’t even see. Africa it is the way it is today because of poor leadership and selfish to the people that have little business minded.

    Truth be told, we far behind with the rest of the world because of our poor communication facilities and poor governance.

  3. The ever elusive African technological and industrial “leapfrog”. I remember reading about the idea in a Newsweek magazine ages ago as a teen and it kinda blew my mind. We were behind, but our superpower was the ability to jump over the time wasting nonsense and failed ideas of the advanced nations and get straight to the good stuff! And while we’ve seen glimpses of this at work, its been painfully slow. I hope his vision can come to pass but eish, its been a long wait so far.

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