BD Insider 230: Inside Nigeria's first multilingual AI model

Inside: YC-backed MarketForce exits B2B e-commerce and the latest about Tiktok's regulation in Kenya.

BD Insider 230: Inside Nigeria's first multilingual AI model
'Bosun Tijani, Nigeria's ICT minister

Facing billions in losses from damaged cables, the Nigerian government is taking action. They're proposing a new law that would criminalise damaging fibre optic cables, especially those buried underground.

This comes after estimates showed repairs and lost revenue due to cable damage cost the telecom sector nearly ₦27 billion (around $23 million) in 2023 alone.

According to Bloomberg, the new regulation is expected to be signed as an executive order by President Bola Tinubu. The details of the law, including specific penalties for offenders, are still being finalised.

We'll continue to monitor the situation and provide updates as this legislation unfolds.

 In this letter, we explore:

  • MarketForce's B2B e-commerce shutdown
  • Nigeria's first multilingual AI model
  • the latest about Tiktok in Kenya

And other noteworthy information like:

  • the latest African Tech Startup Deals
  • opportunities, interesting reads, and more

The big three!

#1. YC-backed MarketForce exits B2B e-commerce

The news: MarketForce, a Y Combinator-backed e-commerce startup, has closed its B2B platform, RejaReja.

"After immense efforts to make our business model sustainable, including downsizing the business to extend the runway for as long as possible, we have concluded that it is no longer feasible to keep RejaReja operational," Tesh Mbaabu, co-founder and CEO said.

This shutdown follows RejaReja's withdrawal from Kenya in October 2023. At that time, the company aimed to focus resources on its strongest market, Uganda.

However, Mbaabu explained the challenges that led to the closure: "The retail FMCG market has razor-thin margins, which means that at a unit level, we struggled with profitability. The segment is also highly price elastic, which means there are constant price wars."

RejaReja, in its three-year run, facilitated over $160 million in transactions across one million orders.
L-R: Mesongo Sibuti and Tesh Mbaabu MarketForce co-founders

What now? Last year when MarketForce was downsizing the operations of Reja Reja, the startup launched Chpter, a social commerce platform that allows merchants to convert social media conversations into increased sales.

"We are figuring out more profitable and high-margin segments and that is why we decided to move into social commerce," said Mbaabu. Chpter is currently available in Kenya and South Africa.

Around 92% of small and medium enterprises in Kenya utilise social commerce as a fundamental part of their business operations. In contrast, just 27% opt for formal platforms like Jumia or Upwork.

In the Kenyan social commerce market, Chpter will face competition from established players like Tushop and Elloe AI.

In Africa, almost 400 million people use social media, and many buy things online for the first time through these platforms. This has made social commerce popular on the continent. In 2022, the social commerce market in Africa and the Middle East was worth about $9 billion, and it is expected to grow by about 55.2% every year from 2022 to 2028.

"Social commerce is a bridge or a halfway point between full e-commerce and someone working informally," according to Stephanie von Friedeburg, senior vice president for operations at the International Finance Corporation.

#2. Nigeria to build a multilingual AI model

The news: The Nigerian government has launched the country's first-ever multilingual large language model (LLM).

This project, developed in collaboration with a Nigerian AI startup Awarritech, DataDotOrg, a global tech company, the National Information Technology Development Agency and the National Centre for AI and Robotics, aims to improve how AI interacts with Nigerian languages.

The LLM will be trained in five specific Nigerian languages, along with accented English. This focus on under-resourced languages ensures a more diverse range of voices are included in AI development, leading to more accurate and inclusive AI solutions for all Nigerians.

This launch coincides with the recent National Artificial Intelligence Strategy (NAIS) workshop, where over 120 AI experts gathered to develop a national policy for AI adoption. The country has secured a $3.5 million seed funding to formulate and implement the strategy.

Also Read: African countries rank lowest on the AI readiness index globally

#3. Kenyan ICT official opts for regulation, not Ban, of TikTok

The news: Kenyan ICT official John Tanui called for increased regulation of TikTok instead of an outright ban during a recent parliamentary hearing.

He suggested that the platform be more transparent about content moderation, requiring them to submit quarterly reports detailing removed content and the reasoning behind the removals.

"The regulation of TikTok and similar platforms instead of a ban is a win-win solution. Regulation will maintain access to global social media platforms, which will enhance the free flow of information and ideas across borders, enabling Kenyan internet users to be competitive in the global digital landscape," Tanui said.

Rewind: This call for regulation comes in response to a petition submitted last year by Bob Ndolo, CEO of Bridget Connect Consultancy, urging Kenya's national assembly to ban TikTok. Ndolo argued that the platform was promoting violence, explicit sexual content, hate speech, and offensive behaviour among the youth.

Fortune Mgwili-Sibanda, TikTok's head of public policy for sub-Saharan Africa, revealed that the platform had already removed over 296,000 inappropriate videos from Kenya in 2023. Mgwili-Sibanda urged parliament to dismiss Ndolo's petition, emphasizing TikTok's commitment to addressing harmful content.

Zoom in: Last August, talks between Kenyan President William Ruto and TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew led to the announcement of a proposed Kenyan office for the social media company.

The office will serve as the African headquarters, aiming to strengthen collaboration with the Kenyan and other African governments on content moderation efforts that align with community expectations.

However, there haven't been any updates on the office's opening.

With an estimated 10.6 million users, TikTok is a major social media platform in Kenya, with some creators even making a living through their content. A 2023 Reuters Institute report found Kenya leads the world in TikTok usage, with roughly half the population on the social media app.

Kenya isn't alone in Africa with concerns about TikTok. Senegal and Somalia banned the platform last year, and calls for regulation or even a ban have been voiced in Egypt and Uganda.

πŸ’° State of Funding in Africa

  • Kenyan insurtech startup Pula secured $20 million in its Series B funding round. Led by investment manager BlueOrchard's InsuResilience strategy, the round also saw participation from the International Finance Corporation, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Hesabu Capital and existing investors.
  • African-focused B2B marketplace The Folklore has secured a $3.4 million seed
  • Spatialedge, a South African AI-driven software startup raised about $3 million from Hlayisani Growth Fund.

πŸ“š Noteworthy

Here are other important stories in the media:

  • This self-taught innovator in Nigeria upcycles e-waste into power banks: A few years ago, Zang Luka Bot saw an opportunity to transform electronic waste, diverting it from landfills and giving it a new life as power banks and solar lanterns.
  • Nigerian big banks race to raise funds by capital hike deadline: Nigeria's banking giants, such as Access, GT Bank, UBA, and First Bank, are in a rush to raise capital before the CBN's recapitalisation deadline of March 2026.
  • Starlink to discontinue roaming in unlicensed areas: Starting April 30, Starlink will restrict roaming in Cameroon, South Africa and other unlicensed regions.
  • AI β€œdeathbots” are helping people in China grieve: Avatars of deceased relatives are increasingly popular for consoling those in mourning, or hiding the deaths of loved ones from children, Rest of World reports.

πŸ’Ό Opportunities


We carefully curate open opportunities in Product & Design, Data & Engineering, and Admin & Growth every week.

Product & Design

Data & Engineering

Admin & Growth

Other opportunities

  • For African early stage startups: Applications for Pitch2Win are now open. Winner gets $10,000 equity-free prize money and an opportunity to attend the IVS Event in Kyoto Japan. Deadline: May 5, 2024.
  • For African tech entreprenuers: The FC Startup Innovation Challenge offers African tech entreprenuers a chance to win a $1,000 equity-free cash prize plus up to $300,000 worth of incredible perks from Paystack, Google for Startups, Intercom, AWS, Founders Factory to fuel your startup's growth. Apply by April 28.

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Have a great week!

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