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BALANCING TRADE

African diplomats are live-streaming and making deliveries to China’s consumers

Two phones, one, on the left, with the image of two women and the other, on the right, with a man's image.
Reuters/Florence Lo/Illustration
Digital business.
By Carlos Mureithi
Published Last updated

Rwanda and Ethiopia are using creative marketing approaches to attract e-commerce users in China and increase their exports to the Asian country.

Last week, Rwanda’s ambassador to China, James Kimonyo, rode a bike to deliver Rwandan coffee to a customer who had ordered it from the online retailer JD.com. Donning the company’s attire—a red helmet, face mask, and jacket—and with JD.com workers in tow, Kimonyo went to the customer’s house, delivered the coffee and signed a certificate thanking her for buying a Rwandan product, Rwanda’s New Times newspaper reported.

Later, Ethiopia’s ambassador to China, Teshome Toga, participated in a livestream with top Chinese influencer Li Jiaqi, also known as Lipstick King, on e-commerce retailer Alibaba’s e-shopping platform Tmall to launch and sell a brand of Ethiopian coffee in the country. 11,000 bags of coffee of the Arada Coffee brand, in 500 g packets, were sold in five seconds.

“We have to depart from the conventional way of marketing our products,” Rwanda’s Kimonyo told the New Times. “If you do marketing in the usual way, it is not going to work. That is why livestreaming and the use of online platforms is becoming extremely important for anyone who would want to market here.”

China is the world’s largest e-commerce market

With their marketing strategy, Rwanda and Ethiopia are looking to attract consumers in the world’s most populous country. China has almost 1 billion internet users, and it’s the largest e-commerce market in the world, making the country’s digital space an ideal marketing space for the African countries.

China is Africa’s largest trading partner, with goods worth $254 billion traded between the two last year, according to China’s customs agency. But China’s exports outweigh its imports from Africa. Last year, Africa exported goods worth $106 billion to China and imported goods worth $148 billion from the Asian country.

This trade deficit is likely to reduce, with China looking to import more goods from Africa, particularly agricultural products. The digital approach by Rwanda and Ethiopia to position themselves to sell more of their products to the Asian giant may also give this a boost.

“This trade initiative aims to ensure that Africa can bring back the balance of trade,” said Vera Songwe, the executive secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, one of the livestream’s organizers.

Other African countries are also working to increase their exports to China. Kenya, for example, is creating an online platform to sell agricultural products including tea, coffee and macadamia nuts to the Asian country.

Other organizers of the livestream were the Ethiopian government, Alibaba Group, its affiliate Ant Group, and Tmall. Rwanda has partnered with JD.com and Alibaba Group. Both countries are members of the Alibaba-led Electronic World Trade Platform, an initiative to foster a more effective and efficient policy and business environment for cross-border e-commerce.

“This launch demonstrates the benefits that, not only Ethiopia, but Africa can reap in harnessing digitalization,” said Gebremeskel Chala, Ethiopia’s minister of trade and regional integration.

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