The idea of servicing “over half a billion Africans with mobile phones” is romantic and appealing. Especially when it comes to the continent’s technology startup ecosystem.

You see and hear it sometimes when a young startup founder waxes lyrical about their new company and what it offers;

“Africa has 500 million mobile phone users, we are targeting that 1% will use our widget…”
Representatives of 13 European states, the United States of America and the Ottoman Empire converged on Berlin at the invitation of German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck to divide up Africa among themselves "in accordance with international law." Africans were not invited to the meeting. The borders carved up at The Berlin Conference on 26 February 1885 persist to this day. Interestingly, and to illustrate just how big Africa is, when the Berlin Conference came to an end there were still large swathes of Africa on which no European had ever set foot. 📷 picture-alliance/akg-images

It is not that easy.

A quick glance (not exhaustive research) suggests to me that 2 companies, 2 countries, and companies from 1 industry (excluding airlines) have been able to scale across Africa with relative levels of success. For our purposes, scale means presence in every region (East, West, North, South) of the continent.

MTN Group have somehow managed to wiggle their way into almost every nook and cranny of the continent, staying true to what used to be their slogan (is it still their slogan?) “Everywhere you go.” I don’t want to speculate as to how they could’ve managed this. Another company, also in telecommunications, that is slowly working its way across the continent is Liquid Telecom. You could argue that it’s a case of them building telecommunications infrastructure where it is needed but I suspect it takes much more than technical know-how to scale across Africa as both have been doing.

Then there’s the USA and China. Although China is a more recent occurrence with an interesting model for scaling across Africa - a discussion for another day.

Lastly, it is financial services institutions.

Now, as I mentioned at the beginning, this is by no means an exhaustive list but it gives you a good idea what type of “organization” can actually, practically, scale across Africa. For the rest of us, we are merely scaling across Africa from a marketing and pitch deck perspective.

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