The Year 2020 had just begun well in most parts of the world and the first quarter of the year was all indicative of better days ahead. However this year will remain in history records as one that had human activities disrupted by the invasion of a corona virus (SARS-CoV-2) believed to have originated in China towards the end of year 2019.
In Africa, coronavirus was just a foreign subject making news further afield, but things started changing and getting closer home in mid-March when governments started confirming cases of coronavirus infections and imposing movement restriction measures to contain the spread.
East Africa’s nation South Sudan was never spared, and the confirmation of the invasion of the novel corona virus in the country was made on 5th April 2020.
Subsequently the government without taking chances pronounced itself on containment measures to control the spread of what had in a record time already been declared a global pandemic by the World Health Organization.
Technology eases access to essential goods in new normal
The onset of these containment measures and the fear that came with the pandemic had significant negative impact on the country’s economy and individual business enterprises thereby forcing entrepreneurs to shut down or invest in innovative ways to adapt to the unfolding new normal.
AlelaTechnologies & Alela Shop in South Sudan’s capital Juba is one of the few enterprises that have managed to continue operating during the Covid-19.
Owners of the small-scale enterprise – two young South Sudanese decided to embrace digital technology in a country with less than 10% internet penetration and perennial internal violent conflict.
According to Denaya Denis, the normal operation of their business was adversely affected during the pandemic as a result of a lockdown and curfew imposed by the government, a fact that inspired them to think outside the box and amid all odds try doing things differently through an online platform – Alela Shop Online.
This was to enable them attend to the needs of those that could not make it physically to the markets for essential items but have internet access.
“We were aware that people would mostly be online, this is why we thought of launching the Alela shop online in order to continue providing services. We also wanted to connect the sellers to their buyers, so we always marketed other people’s products on our platform,” Denaya said.
Doing business online is still very new in South Sudan and many people still do not know its advantages or how to leverage on the internet to grow their businesses beyond the traditional physical markets and stores.
Denis, who is 32 years old, is happy to observe that selling products online saves his clients time and minimizes their risk of contracting the coronavirus.
Instead of going to the market to get the items they may need and also risk exposing themselves to the virus, via Alela Shop they can just place an order online and the goods will be delivered to them.
“You will save a lot of time and even money. For instance, if you stay in a far-away suburb and want items from the market, the team from Alela can also be reachable by phone and the client can speak directly to them and their items can be delivered to them,” Denis said.
He told us that the number of businesses operating online in the country is low as he encouraged young people to start online businesses instead of spending much of their time only watching YouTube videos online.
Technological challenges hindering investment in E-Commerce
Denis’ partner and Alela Technology Shop’s co-founder, Nelson Kwaje a technologist is quick to note that although they have been registering intrinsic success from their online venture, South Sudan is still faced with a lot of technological challenges.
These challenges have forced many people in the developing nation to shy off from investing in E-commerce.
Mr. Kwaje is optimistic that the situation will improve with time and is encouraging people in South Sudan to take advantage of the available digital technology and platforms to start investing in local businesses especially E-commerce in order accelerate logistical services.
The decision by the 29-year-old and that of his partner to venture online came at an ideal time as their online shop was able to deliver Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs) to one of the fumigation companies contracted to provide services at Juba International Airport.
“Our team was able to deliver PPE material such as gumboots, overalls etc. to one of the fumigation companies at the airport within a period of a week, he said.
At that time, it was not possible to supply anything due to the lockdown, I think it’s a great achievement!” Mr. Kwaje observed.
Alela Online Shop currently one of the authentic South Sudanese e-commerce business venture offering products and services through a digital platform in a country occupying 19,745 sq. km and with a population of slightly above 11 million inhabitants.
This story was produced with support from Open Society Initiative for East Africa (OSIEA) as part of the series of creative stories of innovation, resilience and solidarity during COVID-19 pandemic.