Clara talked about how American tech companies such as Google use algorithmic neutrality and I wanted to discuss Chinese capitalist imperialism as a counter example to Anglo-American “liberal” imperialism.
Overview: “brand penetration and market dominance in Africa”:
- present in 35 African countries
- 41.1% and 31.1% market share in Tanzania and Nigeria
- has sold over 45 million mobile phones in Africa as of 2017
- 25% – 40% of the African mobile phone market
Why it succeeds in Africa:
- advanced technology
- relatively reasonable price: $120-280 (The annual average Kenyan wage is $1,200)
- “most innovative designs”:
“Tecno also noticed that the African telecom market is highly fragmented, which means customers using different telecom operators need to pay hefty fees to call and text each other.
Given this situation, local people tend to use dual-sim phones to save money. Tecno pushed the envelope and introduced four-sim handsets, enabling customers to use up to four carriers.
Again this is not groundbreaking technology, but the minor adjustment made Tecno phones hugely popular in Africa.”
“The look is also crucial. Most global mobile brands have shifted toward simplistic designs, but Africans prefer sharp colors and shiny handsets. Tecno wasted no time in appealing to the local taste.”
More Tailoring for each different African country
“For example, in Nigeria customers wanted a mobile phone that had a longer battery life due to the electrical power shortage and in Kenya, customers wanted mobile phones with better picture quality. These requirements were looked and the Camon CX was launched (Tecno’s new product of 2017). “
Most interestingly –
Specialising in making selfie camera for dark-toned faces
“…the picture system of most mobile phones is based on white or yellow skin tones. When African users take selfies, the pictures are often either too dark or blurred.”
“To solve this problem, Tecno collected a large number of pictures taken by African customers and tweaked the picture function of its handsets based on the data. The superior selfie quality soon became a major selling point.”
“The Camon CX uses a smart image sensor which composes of 16-megapixel sensors in the front camera ‘which detects light, captures individual images and converts the information into signals before forming the final image, resulting in selfies that are 30% brighter, making it the ultimate selfie phone.’”
Technology and the Selfie Culture in the 21st century
“Generally globally people like to take photos of themselves and then share it on the social networke, we have been in the African market like Kenya for a long time and we do studies…one of the demands from consumers is Selfies and so because of this insight that really drove us to bring the latest visual technology in our latest smartphone..’ – Marketing Officer at Tecno
Techno clearly realises the contemporary global phenomenon of selfies. Having done thorough investigation on the African market, it realises the overwhelming selfie culture applies to Africa just as much as everywhere else across globe. However, the selfie cameras on all the mobile phones were designed for light-toned skin, namely Apple. Tecno is the first and mobile phone company that aims to provide selfie camera for dark-toned skin. What is more is that the technology market of Africa is still relatively underdeveloped and new compared to many other parts of the World, Tecno saw an opportunity and made use of its discovery in Africa. In contrast, Apple’s lack of specialised strategy in Africa and high prices have led its unpopularity in the African mobile phone market. By 2017, it had only 5.2% market share in Africa.
Attai Oguche, a Lagos-based deputy marketing manager for Tecno, told CNBC via telephone that Chinese companies are “good at spotting trends.”
They “adapt easily and come up with a product that everyone likes,” he said.
Oguche added that the “very conservative” European approach means companies risk falling short of their Chinese competitors.
A 21st century kind of (Chinese) colonialism/imperialism?
“In big ways and small, China is making its presence felt across the continent.’
“China has also spread its influence in less visible ways.”
Clearly, Chinese mobile phone companies like Tecno, have really dived into the African market and it is interesting to consider their intentions and implications.
Business & Opportunism
It can be argued that they are in Africa for the profit. Africa is the fastest growing mobile phone market and Tecno benefitted from thinking outside the box in terms of some novel ideas such as selfie camera suited for dark skin and making 4-sim phones. The ideas of tailoring for different African countries and communities and specialising in the African market are to be considered as a huge success from a business point of view.
Neo-colonialism & Capitalist Imperialism
On the other hand, regarding China in African in general, the term neo-colonialism has been raised very often.
But in the case of Tecno, it is hard to see how it neo-colonises Africa in terms of cultural intervention – it specialises its products for Africans and there is essentially nothing ‘Chinese’ about these phones apart from it is designed and made by a Chinese company.
Further, it sets out a sharp contrast against Anglo-American mobile phone companies such as Apple who do nothing like what Tecno does, and still sell their phones at a very high price for Africans. Is Apple only targeting on the richest Africans? Or it simply does not care much? It is hard to say who embodies neo-colonialism more.
However, it has been argued by Lenin that imperialism is spread across the globe with the help of capitalism and the division of territories are divided by the biggest global capitalist powers. Contemporary scholars have renewed Lenin’s theory by adding that technology has helped the growth and expansion of capitalism. Here we can see how Chinese tech companies like Tecno gradually capitalises and dominates Africa’s market, hence a rising global power of capitalist imperialism.
Dal Yong Jin (Jin, 2013) has argued that with the rise of new technologies in the context of globalisation from the end of 20th century, brought about a new meaning of imperialism, namely technology and information imperialism. Jin suggests like Lenin thought, cultural imperialism is spread with the help of capitalism.
“capitalism at that stage of development at which the domination of monopolies and fi- nance capital is established: in which the export of capital has acquired pronounced im- portance; in which the division of the world among the international trusts has begun; in which the division of all the territories of the globe among the biggest capitalist powers has been completed (Lenin,1917, 237, cited in Jin, 2013).
Moreover, the idea of capitalist imperialism in the 21st century is helped with capitalising technological products.
“Capitalist imperialism, which focuses on the flow of economic power across and through continuous space through the daily practices of trade, commerce, capital flows, labor migration, technology transfer, flows of information, cultural impulses and the like”. (Harvey, 2003, 26f, cited in Jin, 2013)
Social and Racial Preferences
In addition in a globalised and anglo-americanised world, Tecno’s approach to Africa and its success inspires us to rethink how much social preference and here more importantly racial preferences weigh in business and even development approaches.
“We read quite a lot about the economies of other countries. We read about their political situation. It’s more unusual for us to read about how they function as societies and what their social preferences are and how these might differ from those of neighboring countries and how there might be different social preferences within a given country.”
“The UN’s Efforts in International Development: Relevant or Not?”, David Malone’s speech at the Carnegie Council of Ethics in International Affairs, May 2015
“Africa’s leading mobile maker, TECNO, is disrupting the global mobile market with its latest flagship duo”, Ventures Africa, Sep 2016
“African’s crave for selfies Inspires Tecno latest Smartphone”, PulseLive, March 2017
“TECNO: China’s home grown smartphone manufacturer has quietly taken over the African smartphone market”, Kapron Asia, Sep 2017
“How a little-known brand conquered African mobile phone market”, Ejisight, Jan 2017
“Why Africa’s Smartphone Market Still Dragging”, Tech in Africa, Dec 2017
“China goes to Africa”, The Economist, Jul 2017
“‘China is everywhere’ in Africa’s rising technology industry”, CNBC, July 2017
Jin, Dal Yong (2013), “The Construction of Platform Imperialism in the Globalization Era”, TripleC, 11 (1): 145-172