African entrepreneurs are starting to challenge multinationals in industries like automobiles, mobile phones and toy manufacturing by producing and manufacturing their own products.
Behind this shift are technological and production advancements that have made it easier than ever before for African entrepreneurs to compete in the global marketplace.
We profile three such entrepreneurs who are finding success in industries that are not usually considered by many African entrepreneurs, and are finding success in both domestic and international markets alike.
Toy production – Nigeria
Nigerian entrepreneur Taofick Okoya’s rise to success was a story of seeing an opportunity hidden in plain sight. Eight years ago, Okoya couldn’t find a black doll on the market for his niece. One that would look like her and with which she would identify. And so he took the matters into his own hands and created one.
Queens of Africa doll by Taofick Okoya .
“I happen to be the kind of person that doesn’t enjoy complaining and criticising without taking action,” the 43 year-old Okoya told ELLE magazine last month.
Today, Okoya’s brand of black dolls, Queens of Africa and Naija Princesses, outsells the world famous Barbie doll in Nigeria. The dolls’ look is modelled on three of the Nigeria’s biggest tribes and aims to promote strong feminine ideals, like love, peace and endurance.
Okoya’s dolls are unique in that they are black and come with traditional outfits and accessories. It’s this ingenuity in their skin colour and style that has made Queens of Africa so popular in Nigeria. The company has taken a lions share of the market from multinational corporations like Mattel Inc (the makers of Barbie doll) in Africa’s most populous country.
According to Reuters, Okoya sells up to 9 000 “Queens and Princesses” a month, a 10 to 15% of Nigeria’s growing toy market. Though regulations prevent Okoya from selling his dolls to American retailers, he is maximising his online presence to reach global markets.
“Africa is best served by Africans themselves”
Automobiles – Ghana
The World Bank projects private consumption in Africa to remain strong in 2015-17 makes the continent’s nearly 1.2 billion population a very attractive prospect for global automobile manufacturers to penetrate.
The Kantanka car from Ghana.
In 2014 alone, 1.8 million vehicles were sold in the continent, this is according to the publication Africa Business Pages.
Now African entrepreneurs are entering the automobile industry; designing and developing vehicles specifically geared for the local market but with global aspirations.
Ghanaian-based automobile company, Kantanka Motors assembles its passenger vehicles (mainly SUVs and pickup trucks) at the company’s manufacturing plant in Ghana.
It was founded by Apostle Safo Kantanka, a mysterious inventor popularly known as the Star of Africa.
The automobile company has reportedly pushed back commercial release of its models pending approval from the Ghana Standards Authority.
“The excitement is on. Finally, Ghana will be having her name in the list of car producing countries to create jobs and enhance the economy,” Apostle Kantanka told Ghana Is Rising last year.
Mobile phones – Uganda
After putting more than five million devices into Africa as director of sales for Motorola on the continent, Ugandan-born entrepreneur Alpesh Patel founded his own company, Mi-Fone in 2008.
Patel says he realised that the big brands like Nokia and Motorola were missing the point and that ultimately Africa was best served by Africans themselves. His company produces mobile phones for the mass market, ‘bottom of the pyramid’ African consumer.
Patel made a name for himself selling large volumes of mobile devices to the Chinese back in the 90s.
Patel told Forbes magazine in 2013 of how he saw the gap in the African market.
“I did not quit to launch Mi-Fone. I quit because as the first cellphone brand on the African continent, Motorola was not doing justice to itself and to the average African consumer,” he said.
To date, Mi-Tech has sold over 2 million devices in over 15 African countries.