How African continent has embraced Huawei

By Joyce Chimbi Source:Global Times Published: 2019/3/3 19:42:55

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

Going by recent developments that have seen the US, Australia and Japan ban Huawei from providing 5G technology, it is natural to assume that China's leading tech business is in the eye of a storm. 

In Africa, this is not the case with the tech giant. The controversy around Huawei could not be further from the reality for African governments or the people who have embraced its low cost-high quality products.

To say that Huawei has struck the right chord in the African market is an understatement. 

Working with local brands, the Chinese company has been able to deliver products that are targeted at the technological needs of developing countries. 

Currently, Huawei is the fastest growing smartphone brand in Africa.

Generally, Huawei prices its products five to 15 percent lower than its European competitors Nokia and Ericsson. 

It is little wonder then that South Africans are, for instance, buying more Huawei mobile phones than iPhones and it is expected that the Chinese brand will soon outdo Samsung.

The controversial Huawei ban has been driven by alleged security concerns ranging from spying suspicion to intellectual property theft by the Chinese multinational. 

Huawei has been accused of allowing the Chinese government to use its devices to spy on the US. So far, these are just allegations.

There are those who believe that this is a strategy to push out Huawei from lucrative deals as the world moves to the next generation network - 5G.

African governments have relied on Chinese companies including Huawei to develop their technology infrastructure. The Chinese firm is among the top three telecommunications companies operating across the continent.

Due to its strategic pricing, Huawei is a go-to company for struggling African governments with huge budget deficits, which are determined not to be left behind as the world embraces more advanced technology.

Huawei first began operations in Kenya in 1998 and has made inroads in at least 40 African countries for the last 20 years. 

One of the reasons why the brand is so strong in Africa is the company's vision to work with countries with a GDP per capita similar to China's or lower.

Second, China-Africa relations run deep. Strong economic ties exist between China and the continent in which countries need to embrace scaled up technologies to accelerate development. 

Huawei has invested heavily in the backbone of Africa's technology infrastructure. So far, Huawei and ZTE Corporation have established at least 50 third-generation (3G) telecom networks in more than 36 African countries. The two Chinese firms have built e-government networks in at least 30 African countries.

In Kenya for instance, e-government systems have enabled citizens to access key services in a more timely, efficient and effective manner.

Controversy around data breach and intellectual property theft does not seem to be a primary concern in the Sino-Africa equation. 

The continent has relied heavily on Chinese companies, Huawei included, to upgrade from third generation to the widely used 4G network.

The company has clearly articulated its vision for Africa's technologies which includes enabling 100 percent of businesses to be cloud based by 2025. 

This means businesses can operate remotely, reducing the need for physical infrastructure, which lowers both investment and operational costs.

Huawei is undertaking trials for 5G rollout with Africa's largest telecom firms such as Kenya's Safaricom. This is again in line with finding local solutions to country-specific technological problems and gaps. 

So far, the Chinese company has signed at least 22 commercial contracts for a 5G technology upgrade and is working with over 50 network carriers on 5G commercial tests across the continent.

That is not all. Huawei products find favor with both governments and the masses. 

Huawei products camera system is a hit on the continent for enabling people document memorable life moments without necessarily relying on larger, bulkier and expensive photography equipment.

These cameras have also enabled young African millennials to make a living through social media platforms.  

Access to affordable and quality camera phones has boosted the number of video bloggers who are finding creative ways to build their own personal brands. 

A strong personal brand means that bigger names can engage them for social media marketing.

Importantly, everything is connected. A 5G technology upgrade is expected to work hand in hand with China's Belt and Road Initiative to deliver a revolutionary economic vision. 

For struggling developing countries across Africa, it is a package deal that is simply too good to turn down.

The author is a Kenya-based journalist.

Posted in: VIEWPOINT

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