Alibaba says it has no plan to launch an ecommerce business in Ethiopia
Alibaba Group, china’s tech giant, reiterated that it has no partnership agreements with Ermias Amelga, refuting the latter’s claim that he was in business with the e-commerce giant and is in a projects implementation stage. In a statement sent to The Reporter, the group explained it has no plan to launch an e-commerce business in Ethiopia.
In January 2022, Ermias Amelga, an Ethiopian entrepreneur and business figure, claimed he is developing an e-commerce platform in partnership with the Alibaba Group. Ermias also told The Reporter that the e-commerce platform will be launched in five to six months’ time, which would mean by now or in the next couple of months.
However, after the story was published on The Reporter and widely circulated, the Group sent a statement to The Reporter on March 22, 2022, falsifying Ermias’s claim.
Luica Mak, Alibaba’s head of International Corporate Communications, during a phone conversation with The Reporter said, “We have no e-commerce partnerships in Ethiopia.”
Going further, Maja Hauke, Alibaba’s International Corporate Affairs director for Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA), confirmed to The Reporter that Alibaba has no plans to launch an e-commerce business in Ethiopia anytime soon.
Following the statements from Alibaba, both over an email and phone conversations, The Reporter approached Ermias to verify the issue. The Reporter requested Ermias, in an official letter, to provide his evidence that he had entered or reached an agreement with Alibaba.
Ermias said the agreement was inked with Alibaba’s Ethiopia representatives. However, the contacts of these “representatives,” that Ermias provided to The Reporter, neither confirmed nor denied the agreement.
According to Luica, Alibaba’s regional EMEA offices and data centers are located only in Dubai, Frankfurt and London.
After “Alibaba’s Ethiopia representatives” failed to respond to The Reporter’s requests, Ermias said the agreement was rather with Whale Cloud Technology Ltd, and not Alibaba.
“Whale Cloud is an Alibaba-owned entity through which it conducts its international operations,” read a phone message Ermias sent to the writer on April 14, 2022.
Established in China in 1993, Whale Cloud is among the leading telecom software developers globally. Whale cloud is formerly the telecom arm of ZTE, according to its website. Though Whale Cloud entered a “strategic partnership” with Alibaba Cloud in 2018, Luica said Whale Cloud enters agreements independently, and not as Alibaba.
However, Ermias failed to clearly show and provide the agreement document between his company and Whale Cloud. After promising to show the agreement to the writers, he rather quickly moved to show a presentation slide on his personal computer, with logos of Alibaba Group and Whale Cloud, found on the first pages of the PowerPoint slides.
Ermias also failed to specify when or where and with whom the agreement is entered with. He was also not willing to give more than three minutes to discuss the matter with The Reporter.
Ermias provided different and contradicting facts at different times, on the same questions asked by The Reporter’s investigative team.
“We definitely have never signed or seen such a document. Anybody can place Alibaba’s logo on any document,” said Luica, during a phone conversation with The Reporter.
After The Reporter published the story of Alibaba and Ermias’s partnership in January 2022, Ermias is currently dealing with local companies, trying to persuade them he is brining Alibaba onboard.
However, local e-commerce company managers, that have knowledgeable about the matter, state Alibaba cannot enter partnerships with individuals in the first place.
“Alibaba is an end-to-end tech giant. It has an e-commerce site, payment solutions, Alibaba Cloud for cloud data computation, and its own delivery arm equipped even with drones. What can Ermias offer Alibaba that is so unique? If it wants, Alibaba can directly launch its own e-commerce in Ethiopia, without entering partnership with anybody, like it is doing in developed countries,” said an insider whose name is held on request.
“Ermias is disseminating such information just to build his own business image. Simply, he is a marketing machine. Probably Ermias rented a cloud data space at Whale Cloud and is claiming it is a partnership,” added the insider.
Officials at the Ministry of Innovation and Technology (MInT) also confirmed there is no such agreement between Ermias and the Alibaba Group.
“Ermias made a bold claim. There is not even a legal framework that allows Alibaba or any foreign e-commerce company to come and operate in Ethiopia as of now. Both MInT and the National Bank of Ethiopia did not introduce a law to determine whether such foreign e-commerce company should transact in birr or foreign currency,” said Khalid Ahmed (PhD), head of digital tech ecosystem development and regulatory unit at MInT.
MInT is also mandated to test and certify e-commerce companies before they go online. However, no request for certification of competency has come from Alibaba or Ermias so far, according Abel Solomon (PhD), Digital Transformation program manager at MInT.
Asked about the officials’ responses, Ermias said “MInT has nothing to do with this. The e-commerce company will transact in birr.”
The only agreement that materialized was the electronic World Trade Platform (eWTP), which was signed by Getahun Mekuria (Eng.), the then Minister of MInT, when Jack Ma, Alibaba Group founder, visited Ethiopia back in November 2019.
eWTP is a multifunction digital trade hub to serve as a gateway for Ethiopian products to China, a center for cross-border e-commerce and trade within Africa, and a training center. China Commodities City International (CCCI) partnered with Alibaba in the development of the eWTP Hub.
eWTP is an Alibaba-led multi-stakeholder global initiative, promoting public-private dialogue, in order to support a more inclusive global trade, which uses technology and policy innovation to provide greater opportunities for SMEs, women and youth.
Ethiopia is the second country in Africa to establish an eWTP hub, and this new partnership builds upon the success of other eWTP partnerships in Asia (China and Malaysia), Europe (Belgium) and Africa (Rwanda) over the past two years.
However, even the eWTP Hub has not materialized yet, according to MInT officials.
“Jack Ma signed an agreement only with government, to launch the eWTP. Even this project is currently suspended. The eWTP is delayed by two years because we could not agree on technical issues with Alibaba. As far as I know, there is no agreement between Alibaba and Ermias. It’s a weird and strange claim, what Ermias says will start in six months,” said Khalid. However, Abel from the Innovation Ministry says eWTP is so far operational only to trade Ethiopian coffee in the Chinese market.
“Anybody can buy from Alibaba now, if they have the foreign currency. But NBE should determine the transaction modality, if Alibaba comes and operates in Ethiopia. There is no legal framework on exchange rate, forex payment modality and repatriation, regarding foreign e-commerce businesses that wish to operate in Ethiopia,” added Khalid.
Retired former Minister, Getahun, who is said is the only person to have a relation with Alibaba Group officials, did not respond to The Reporter’s requests for a comment.
this content originally published on the reporter ethiopia newspaper