Photos by Peter Cox and Marcel de Buck
E-Hustling East Africa: Online with Alibabara
Timm Donke and Leif Czakai
During his 2017 visit to Kenya, Jack Ma, the CEO of the Alibaba Group, told a group of young East African entrepreneurs, “E-commerce is the future. If you are not there, you are nowhere.” By announcing his intention to build up a local version of Alipay, Ma seemed confident that the lessons and experience gained by rapidly increasing the digital market penetration in China would help guide the parallel process in East Africa and across the wider continent. In the process, Alibaba would have a greater stake in the massive growth potential in East African e-commerce and strengthen the political and infrastructural links between China and Africa. But is this a viable vision, or does it place too much faith in the power of network technology to override the unique social and cultural qualities that shape design and trade in every local economy?
This project explores how Chinese e-commerce technology can be implemented in the context of central Uganda by setting up an online shoe shop in collaboration with Barbara Ahimbise, a Chinese language student living in Kampala. While mobile money is widely used in East Africa, online commerce is neither trusted nor facilitated at an institutional level in Uganda. The government’s controversial introduction of a social media tax, low faith in online payments, and lack of familiarity with online services have all contributed to this climate. In contrast, small unofficial shops or street vendors constitute a widespread and bustling business, but without an alternative financial infrastructure they remain vulnerable to the threat of eviction. E-Hustling East-Africa asks whether Ugandan street vendors can build a new business model based on online vending, using the Alibaba toolbox to grow into an adaptive local-online business hybrid.
Main collaborator: Barbara Ahimbise
Further collaborators: Professor Julius Kiiza, Rodnay Rugyema, Akim Lukwago
Read an interview with Leif Czakai and Timm Donke on Low-Cost, Fast-Turnover Design Values Link
Leif Czakai and Timm Donke are the designers behind Bricknic, a project that was launched with their graduation from Design Academy Eindhoven in 2018 (BA Food Non Food). Inspired by the age-old process of brick-firing in East Africa, this collaborative project aims to put social interaction on the menu. As individual designers, Leif and Timm are both dedicated to creating together with diverse communities in workshops, exhibitions, and self-initiated projects, focusing on aspects like place, food, society, and individual needs and potentials.