Senegal’s corner shops go digital to track trade

Senegalese restaurant owner and Weebi user Marieme Assi Diagne, poses with a digital tablet at her office in Dakar. Although just 40 users so far have the app, which is a standalone download or can be bought for 118,000 FCFA ($200) preloaded onto a tablet, 300 clients have shown an interest in the product in the Dakar area. (AFP) AFP
Updated 18 June 2017
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Senegal’s corner shops go digital to track trade

DAKAR: Corner shops, markets and street traders are still the traditional way most Senegalese do their shopping, but micro-businesses are turning to digital means of tracking clients in the West African nation’s informal economy.
Amadou Bawol Bah, like many owners of the corner “boutiques” in Senegal, used to have a large ledger he filled in each day with purchases and credit offered to his customers.
“One day, I was filling in some details and some cooking oil tipped onto the ledger,” he recalled of the moment in 2015 that wiped out years of careful bookkeeping.
Bawol Bah’s disaster became the inspiration for a locally-designed app called “Weebi,” meaning “easy” in the local Pulaar language and the trader has not looked back since downloading it.
“Weebi simplifies sales and my invoices. The tablet and smartphone replaces the notebook and pen,” explained Weebi’s co-founder Cheikh Sene, who began his startup with two other Senegalese and a Frenchman. A micro-printer for receipts completes the mix, Sene added.
Around half of Senegal’s registered businesses are one-man traders like Bawol Bah, according to government statistics, and operate at thin margins with clients often reliant on credit paid back at the end of the month.
In the case of accidents like Bawol Bah’s, the app comes with confidential backup for each user, according to Weebi, so data remains safe in case of loss or damage to a device.
After winning a prize for digital innovation at the Africa-France summit held in Bamako in January, Weebi’s ambitions are growing in the capital.
Although just 40 users so far have the app, which is a standalone download or can be bought for 118,000 FCFA ($200) preloaded onto a tablet, 300 clients have shown an interest in the product in the Dakar area.
Marieme Assietou Diagne, who manages a health food delivery business, said she has gained “more free time and better sales” since using the software.
“It helps us to follow clients — who are the regulars, the number of orders and how many meals we are selling per day,” she told AFP. “We can reward loyal customers at the end of the month.”
Other small business owners have begun using “Somtou,” a console launched in May with an interface specifically designed for Senegal’s majority illiterate population that works with icons and voice commands.
The upstart costs of buying a laptop and the electricity required to run it all day are prohibitive for most and training in accountancy programs or software such as Microsoft Excel hard to come by without paying for classes. With sturdy casing and bright graphics, Somtou is aimed squarely at market traders and small businesses, said its Cameroonian creator Ted Boulou.
“It allows those in the informal sector to manage their work more effectively, and gives them more precise estimates of income, revenue and clients,” Boulou said.
That can empower them to better bargain wholesale costs and promotions, making businesses more effective, he added, while filing of tax returns and other government documents became simpler and more accurate.
Pricing is also flexible for clients without much upfront cash.
“Some will pay 13,000 FCFA ($22) per month for two years, or 500 FCFA (85 US cents) a day for two years,” Boulou explained, as the single payment of 275,000 FCFA was prohibitive for many — and he has taken 100 orders.


Mozambique’s gas-fueled future threatened by militants

Updated 24 June 2018
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Mozambique’s gas-fueled future threatened by militants

  • An unprecedented wave of militant attacks in northern Mozambique has raised fears the country will fail to fully cash in on a gas bonanza
  • Since October, more than 30 people have been killed in brazen assaults on unarmed villagers

MAPUTO: An unprecedented wave of militant attacks in northern Mozambique has raised fears the country will fail to fully cash in on a gas bonanza.
After 180 trillion cubic feet (5.1 trillion cubic meters) of natural gas were discovered off the country’s northeastern shore, Mozambique entertained dreams of following Qatar down the path toward wealth. The government even predicted that by 2035, the country’s GDP per head could increase sevenfold.
But the southeast African country’s golden vision has been thrown into doubt by an explosion of bloodthirsty assaults by a shadowy militant group in the region where the industry plans to base its hub.
Since October, more than 30 people have been killed in brazen assaults on unarmed villagers.
Security forces have rushed reinforcements to be area yet seem powerless to stem the attacks. Terrorized, many civilians have fled their homes and a cloud hangs over the great expansion plans.
US oil and gas giant Anadarko, the largest exploration company in the region, has invested $4 billion (3.4 billion euros) so far — it plans to put in $20 billion over the lifetime of the gasfields.
But following a US embassy alert on June 8 that warned of an imminent attack on the regional gas hub Palma, Anadarko temporary suspended some activities and moved affected workers and contractors to a secure site.
Canada’s Wentworth Resources has already suffered delays to its projects as a result of the insecurity, forcing it to seek a year-long extension for its initial exploration.
In its successful application to the authorities, Wentworth said the attacks had “prevented safe access to the area for Wentworth staff and contractors.”
There have been more than 10 attacks on villages since October, featuring beheadings and arson. None has targeted gas operations.
“Due to the attacks, we took additional measures to protect not only the oil and gas companies operating in that area, but also to protect the communities,” said Joaquim Sive, the police commander in Cabo Delgado.
Eric Morier-Genoud, a researcher at Queen’s University Belfast, said any attack against the gas “majors” would be an “escalation from which the militants would come out the losers.”
“At this point... based on the information we have, we classify the attacks as an insignificant risk to the economy,” Rogerio Zandamela, the governor of Mozambique’s central bank, told AFP.
In contrast to this, the central bank did consider a spate of attacks carried out by a militia loyal to the main opposition Renamo party in the country’s center in 2015 and 2016 as an economic risk.
“There was much more clarity about the conflict in central Mozambique... We cannot equate the north with the south,” Zandamela said. “The information available on the conflict in Cabo Delgado is very limited.”
Police have stepped up security around gas projects — particularly those close to areas that have come under attack, national police spokesman Inacio Dina told AFP.
An official at Anadarko, who declined to be named, said “There have been no threats specific to our project. However, it is a cause for concern, and therefore, as operations continue, we have undertaken appropriate measures.”
The company has a gas operations camp in a forest on the Afungi Peninsula.
Police and army units have established a command post in the forest following the attacks.
But a source at Anadarko told AFP that the firm has also stepped up its own security efforts, increasing its private protection force by two-thirds — a move that will have an impact on costs.
Despite such problems, foreign investors for now still have a big appetite for a share of Mozambique’s gas treasures.
Japan’s Tokyo Gas and Britain’s Centrica inked supply deals with Anadarko on June 15 — just a day after a machete attack on the village of Ibu.
Even so, experts say the instability in the northeast could still prove costly. It could cut into the dividend that Mozambique expects from the huge find.
“(The gas projects) are at risk in their early stages, as attacks can adversely affect logistics. Materials must reach Palma by land,” said Maputo-based political science researcher Joao Pereira.
“The insurgency is most likely to delay rather than derail development of the sector,” said Ed Hobey-Hamsher, an analyst at global risk consultancy Verisk Maplecroft.
“Attacks will certainly make the investment more expensive because of security needs reducing revenues for the state.”