Think and act for entrepreneurship in Africa


Are mobile phone operators overtaxed in Africa?

A tax on internet voice calls such as WhatsApp, Skype, and Viber triggered massive protests in Lebanon, which brought down the government a few months later. Several other countries, especially…

A tax on internet voice calls such as WhatsApp, Skype, and Viber triggered massive protests in Lebanon, which brought down the government a few months later. Several other countries, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa (Uganda, Zambia, Kenya), have raised or tried to raise (Benin)[1] similar taxes. These experiences reflect the difficult choice of States torn between their desire to take advantage of new opportunities for tax revenue while preserving the dynamism of activity and the level of acceptability of telecoms taxes.

In fact, the telecoms sector is one of the most dynamic economic sectors in Africa and still displays significant growth potential. In 2017 subscriber penetration remained low, at around 45% on average in Africa, compared to more than 60% in other developing countries (GSMA intelligence, 2018). These figures suggest that the catch-up is continuing and there is still significant growth (Cariolle J, 2021).

Telecommunication participates in the economic development of countries by reducing transaction costs and improving market efficiency (Aker and Mbiti, 2010).

Where should we place the cursor between promoting economic activity through fiscal measures and collecting tax revenue for public funding purposes? What design should be implemented for this taxation, which today often takes the form of specific taxes[2], like those usually used for alcohol and tobacco?

What should be the level of taxation on mobile phone operators?

In the economic literature, two approaches exist. For some, the limited number of telecommunications operators would allow them to benefit from their operations[3]. Following this logic the tax regime applied to telecommunication should follow the same schema as applied to the extractive industries, thus including, in addition to taxes under the ordinary law regime, special taxes such as mining royalties, surface royalties, or even rent tax, which would enable States to capture a share of the rent.

For others, telecommunications operators participate in the bridging of the digital divide and thus the development of many other sectors of activity, thus justifying potential tax incentives.

With the app, we were able to estimate the tax burden on the mobile tele­communication sector in 25 African countries.[4] This tax burden encompasses not only standard and special taxes under the control of the Ministry of Finance (MoF) but also fees raised by the national telecommunication Regulatory Agency (RA). We compute the Average Effective Tax Rate (AETR) for a representative mobile network operator, which we call TELCO, using the GSMA Intelligence database.[5] The Average Effective Tax Rate (AETR) represents the share of taxes paid by TELCO in what it produces as cash flow during its operating licence.[6]

The AETR ranges significantly across the 25 countries from 33% in Ethiopia, 35% in Morocco, 97% in DRC, to 118% in Niger with an average of 64%. Ethiopia is an outlier of our sample since the liberalization of its telecommunication sector has not yet been done. Special taxes and fees represent a large share of the AETR illustrating some taxation by regulation and a potential tax competition (a race to the top) between the MoF and the RA.

Telecommunication is generally more taxed than the mining sector.

We compare the AETR of TELCO to that of a representative gold mining firm and a standard firm with similar gross re­turn over the period. The tax burden of the tele­communication sector is higher than that of the mining sector in 15 countries out of the 19 countries for which we have data on the gold mining sector.

The Average Effective Tax Rates of a mobile phone operator, a gold mining project and a standard firm:

Source: Authors.


The AETR in the gold mining sector ranges from 31% in Nigeria to 72% in Chad. The average value of AETR is around 46% for the gold mining sector versus 68% for the mobile phone sector. In several countries, the special taxation on telecommunications alone is higher than the total tax burden applied to the mining sector. However the mining sector remains more taxed than a standard economic sector, except in Nigeria.

Higher AETR is associated with lower market penetration and lower Gross National Income (GNI) per capita.

These results are mainly driven by special taxes and fees (Rota Graziosi, Sawadogo, 2020).

AETR and market penetration:

Source: Authors.


As well as the level of taxation measured through AETR the form of taxation matters in terms of revenue and telecommunication development. Telecommunication RAs can raise distortionary taxes or fees, as Hausman (1998) emphasized in the case of the US Telecommunication Act of 1996. Alternatively, these correlations may also illustrate that countries with more mobile phone penetration rely less on special taxation. This relationship could result from the more powerful lobbying of MNOs in these countries.

Thus, in most countries on the African continent, the tax burden on the telecommunications sector is much heavier than that on the gold mining sector and on the standard sectors of activity without special taxation. This is a counter-productive practice that must be stopped.

To go further:


[1] The Lebanese government’s Decree 218-34 of July 25, 2018 introduced a tax on the use of social media at a rate of 5 FCFA or equivalently US$ 0.009 per megabyte. Online and street protests pushed the government to cancel this tax a few month later.

[2] The tax is specific when its base is a quantity (e.g. minutes, megabyte…).

[3] However, a limited number of competitors does not systematically lead to an income, as shown by the classic case of Bertrand’s duopoly. This would imply that there is a tacit collusion between telecommunications operators and a failure in the processes of regulation of the sector.

[4] We study 25 African countries: Algeria, Angola, Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, Cote d’Ivoire, DRC, Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya, Gabon, Ghana, Guinea, Madagascar, Mali, Morocco, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Tanzania, Tunisia, and Zambia.

[5] Our approach is close to Djankov et al. (2010) and the Doing Business Report of the World Bank for standard economic activity and the Fiscal Analysis of Resource Industries of the International Monetary Fund for mining and petroleum project.

[6] The cash flow considered here is the pre-tax cash flow corresponding to the difference between turnover and operating and investment expenses.

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African schools: facing the covid-19 crisis

The management of the Covid-19 pandemic is disrupting global education. The closure of schools and universities across 184 countries have sent home 1.5 billion students, representing more than 90% of…

The management of the Covid-19 pandemic is disrupting global education. The closure of schools and universities across 184 countries have sent home 1.5 billion students, representing more than 90% of the world’s students [1].

Since mid-March, a large proportion of African schools and universities have closed their doors. However, these closures do not mean that teaching activities have come to a complete cessation. Whether public, private or supported by associations, all institutions are trying to do their best to provide transitional solutions so that pupils can continue their schooling and so that the precious learning time is not lost for good.

The group Investisseurs & Partenaires, which supports some fifteen companies in the education sector, can testify the strong resilience and innovative spirit of these actors. From nurseries to high schools and training centers, these companies are showing that they can adapt their business during a crisis that is hitting them hard. This article is largely based on I&P’s portfolio, but also includes some other noteworthy initiatives.


E-learning: an obvious choice?

In order to ensure continuity of teaching activities, many institutions rely on e-learning systems. This is for example the case of Enko Education’s network of high schools, whose courses have been taking place since the end of March on a new online platform. Following the creation of a crisis committee, new working methods have also been introduced. Teachers must now ensure that each student has daily access to the resources needed to follow the courses, either in digital format or by printing the booklets sent to the families[2]. In the early childhood sector, where screen time must be limited, it is the relationship between parents and pre-school structures that needs to be reinvented. Thanks to social networks, newsletter, WhatsApp groups and other communication media, specialist companies, such as Ker Imagination in Senegal [3], can support parents to promote good practice at home and strengthen the learning community.

Some educational companies made distance learning the core of their model long before the crisis. The startup Etudesk, based in Abidjan and supported by Comoé Capital, has thus developed valuable expertise in building tailor-made e-learning platforms with various partners. Today, Etudesk supports about ten educational institutions in Ivory Coast and Senegal to adapt and put online their pedagogical content in the best possible time and conditions. African Management Institute builds distance and face-to-face training courses for entrepreneurs and SMEs in East Africa. AMI currently provides a free “survival kit” to entrepreneurs to learn crisis management and make the right decisions in the face of serious risks to their business [4]. Another exciting example is the Mali-based company Kabakoo, which is exploring a new model of engineering training that focuses on “solutions to concrete and immediate problems” in its environment. Kabakoo is now making its international platform available for its learners and experts to design and manufacture objects useful in the fight against Coronavirus, such as artificial respirators and masks [5]. With a unique positioning in the technology and education sector, Etudesk, AMI and Kabakoo are leveraging their capacities for innovation and resilience to bring rapid and concrete responses to traditional educational players as well as to companies and citizens.

With a unique positioning in the technology and education sector, these companies are leveraging their capacities for innovation and resilience to bring rapid and concrete responses to traditional educational player


Connectivity, cost and learning conditions: the challenges of home schooling

However, the good practices that are emerging here and there face many difficulties. In West Africa, household connectivity is not provided in large rural or isolated areas [6]. In addition to the challenges of Internet coverage, there is also the issue of the cost involved for consulting these tools online. Other channels are thus necessary and several initiatives are underway to improve the inclusion of education systems in the time of the coronavirus and to limit the risks of school dropout [7]. National radio stations and television channels can be massive solutions for disseminating educational content [8], provided that there is enhanced cooperation between the ministries concerned and the telecom company, as it is the case in Ivory Coast [9].

On the other hand, it will be necessary to ensure that pupils can study under good conditions and with assiduity, which is in fact the major issue on which e-learning offers little information for the moment. A fundamental reflection on the role of teachers and on distance teaching methods must be carried out to accompany the development of educational technologies.


Economic impacts are immediate and lasting

Finally, the coronavirus crisis poses a very strong threat to the financial sustainability of companies in this sector. With a complete revenue freeze that could last until September, educational companies must seek to maintain a good relationship with all their stakeholders, especially their employees. Specific measures can be envisaged in the short term, such as adjusting cash flow plans, eliminating non-essential charges, prioritizing creditors, etc. For the most robust institutions, these measures will undoubtedly be sufficient and will probably be in addition to the benevolent support of banking partners. But for a majority of the more vulnerable private players, additional and significant support measures will be absolutely necessary for their survival. Governments, donors, investors and all education financers will have to provide appropriate responses as quickly as possible.


The opportunity to transform education

The current experience is unprecedented. The educational enterprises best prepared for the crisis were those that had integrated, even if incompletely, the challenge of digital transformation into their model. Thus, the coronavirus crisis provides the entire education sector with perhaps an unprecedented opportunity to deploy new models that resonate with the aspirations and practices of new generations of learners.

Broadening access to content, opening up populations, developing new services, individualizing educational pathways, building new learning communities: the potential of digital education is considerable, both for the company and for its beneficiaries. After today’s emergency, it will undoubtedly be time for all those involved in the education sector to re-imagine their model while keeping the issues of accessibility, inclusion and quality at the heart of their principles.

The current crisis provides the entire education sector with an unprecedented opportunity to deploy new models that resonate with the aspirations and practices of new generations of learners.




[1] Informations de l’UNESCO au 7 avril 2020





[6] Voir par exemple l’indice de connectivité développé par GMSA montrant les déficits d’infrastructure et de connectivité dans la zone Afrique de l’Ouest

[7] Voir les risques soulignés par Jeune Afrique au Sénégal :

[8] Voici les différents canaux d’enseignement à distance recensés par le GPE :

[9] Voir ici l’initiative du gouvernement ivoirien qui a démarré le 6 avril 2020 pour les classes d’examens (CM2, 3ème, Terminal).

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Understanding the tech ecosystem in Francophone Africa

For several years now, the growth of the African continent has largely relied on the growth of the French-speaking countries. According to the World Bank’s World Economic Outlook report, the…

For several years now, the growth of the African continent has largely relied on the growth of the French-speaking countries. According to the World Bank’s World Economic Outlook report, the economic growth rate of French-speaking African countries was 4.9% over the period 2012-2018, compared to 2.9% for the rest of the continent.

Côte d’Ivoire, Senegal and Guinea, with their young and rapidly growing populations, are among the fastest growing economies in Africa. Francophone Africa is also one of the youngest sub-regions in the world, with an average age of 15 years in Niger, for example. In parallel with these economic and demographic developments, the penetration rate of mobile phones, which is still lower than that of English-speaking countries, is increasing.

In this rapidly changing environment, what are the challenges for the technological ecosystem of French-speaking Africa?

Every year the investment group Seedstars produces an Index to measure the quality, potential and maturity of technological ecosystems in the 75 emerging markets in which it operates, as well as a platform to identify and train entrepreneurs in emerging countries. Three pillars are analyzed: opportunities, environment, and culture.


Culture: mindset and community

The third pillar of the Index, culture, is often the most difficult to define. It takes into account criteria such as the density of entrepreneurs, the number of events related to entrepreneurship, the presence of start-ups in the media, the collaboration between the actors of the ecosystem and the number of success stories….

While there are significant differences between all countries in the region, the Index generally gives a low rating to the entrepreneurial culture of French-speaking countries.

“Ivorian students are more attracted to jobs in the civil service and large companies. Entrepreneurship ranks 3rd in their career choice” – Mohamed Aly Bakayoko, Founder of Unikjob in Côte d’Ivoire

The good news is that significant progress is ongoing.

The spirit of creativity and rebellion, which are necessary ingredients for any technological ecosystem, are present in French-speaking Africa.

We often hear about the lack of successful entrepreneurs in the region, but several startups have already proven that French-speaking countries can create innovative and high-growth models. To quote a few exemples: In Senegal, Coin Afrique has raised €2.5 million in 2018 and has more than 400,000 active monthly users, Intouch has raised about €10 million in 2017 and developed its activities in 7 countries.


An environment that is becoming more business-friendly?

Although the business climate is not considered ideal, some countries such as Côte d’Ivoire (moving from 167th in 2012 to 122nd in 2019 in the World Bank’s Doing Business ranking) or Benin (from 175th to 153rd in 2019) have made decisive progress.

Several governments are trying to address the challenges faced by entrepreneurs. For example, the Ivorian government has developed a National Plan to support ICTs, in order to simplify the creation of technology companies (by 2020). In Senegal, a $50 million start-up fund, the DER, aims to catalyze entrepreneurship throughout the country. This initiative is intended to be a real tool for the economic empowerment of women and youth. The fund will provide funding, training and technical assistance to its targets.


Dynamic ecosystems: training and mentoring programs

The number of innovators seems to be increasing considerably. In still unstructured ecosystems such as Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of Congo, more and more ambitious actors are emerging. For example, Ingenious City, an incubation platform launched in May 2018 in Kinshasa, is doing a lot of work to promote entrepreneurship and provide appropriate content.

It is interesting to note the growing link with European ecosystems, particularly in France, through programmes such as Afric’Innov, a community of incubators launched by the French Development Agency. In addition, important international and pan-African initiatives are taking root in French-speaking countries, building bridges with English-speaking or Portuguese-speaking countries (for example, MEST, Impact Hub, Orange Corners or Seedstars).

An initiative such as Afrique Excelle, supported by the World Bank, focuses specifically on French-speaking countries, and supports some of the best digital companies in French-speaking Africa. This program will be mainly in French. Indeed, language itself is often cited as a barrier, as most of the online content available to train entrepreneurs is in English.


Investments to be closely monitored

In its latest 2019 report, Partech confirms Senegal’s position as the market leader in French-speaking Africa, with its $22 million raised in four deals. However, the French-speaking African market stagnated, with $54.3 million raised, a similar increase to the previous year’s results.

Some positive signals are to be noted: investors such as Partech and ODV have decided to set up in French-speaking countries, which brings them closer to these ecosystems. Africinvest, a private equity fund with several offices in French-speaking African countries, has announced the creation of a venture capital fund for startups in Africa. Similarly, Seedstars, which has a hub in Abidjan, has just announced the launch of its $100 million fund for African start-ups.

The Francophone African Investors Summit held at the end of March in Bamako attracted several hundred participants, including investors, politicians, support structures and entrepreneurs, strengthening the positive dynamics of the ecosystem.


In conclusion

Francophone African countries are definitely emerging as countries to be considered in the technology sector, whether as entrepreneurs to launch their projects or as investors to support this promising ecosystem.

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