1 June 2001

Top Story

The Danish company internet Metrocomia has launched companies in Uganda and Kenya and is looking to open in more countries in Africa if it can find the right partners. It believes the African market has tremendous potential. Russell Southwood spoke to Metrocomia’s Chair and Co-founder David Madie to find out what gives him this confidence.


Metrocomia opened a company in Uganda in July 1999 (headed by Robert Wakabe) and in Kenya (headed by Charles Mutinda) in June of this year. The company in Kenya was formed out of a merger of two previous companies whilst the Ugandan one was a new venture. Launching one new company a year so far is not bad going by any standard but the company is still looking for new partners so that it can open in other African markets. It also has companies in Bangladesh and Malaysia.


So what’s behind this expansion? Metrocomia was launched in Denmark in 1994 and was one of the first internet companies there. One of its founders - Johnni Kjelsgaard - was formerly the Director of a student organisation AIESEC International and knew Africa from that time. He convinced Chair David Madie that they could find the people and the markets needed in Africa. Last year Metrocomia was bought by Catenas, a global network of business consultancy companies, now based in San Francisco but run by a Dane. It put investment resources into establishing Metrocomia’s role as its network’s expert in building emerging markets.


Metrocomia has three very distinct social perspectives that underpin its business strategy:


  1. To bridge the digital divide by building a local internet industry to world class standards, through leveraging local talent.


  1. To counteract the 3rd world "brain drain" by offering skilled people good job opportunities and co-ownership of its new joint venture businesses.


  1. To strengthen export opportunities for 3rd world industries through the use of the internet.


Metrocomia believes that it can grow the local market so that its companies can survive on that income but has long-term plans to enable each company to get outsourcing work from developed country markets. Its overall contribution to its international network of companies is to provide a set of business system tools and an overarching organisational culture. Its experience in Uganda has shown that the skills and talent available is very good and it believes that those working there may for example go to other offices in the South to train employees there. It believes that passing on knowledge and teaching others makes a crucial psychological difference to people’s view of their own skills.


The Ugandan company employs 20 people and after a year has gone into profit, according to David Madie. Its primary business is web design and strategic advice on web strategies and its clients include corporates like the local British Airways office, media companies, government and NGOs.


The Kenyan company was formed out of a merger of EDK and 4Bill and has 15 employees. It is about the same size as Kenya’s other leading internet web design company 3Mice but far from seeing this as a solely competitive position it believes that effective competition stimulates the development of the market and that both companies will benefit.


It is looking at investing in the following countries: Egypt, Ghana, Zimbabwe and (possibly) Mozambique. It will invest in a number of different ways: into a completely new company, by merging existing companies or into a small web company that can b e grown through the transfer of investment and knowledge.


Its criteria for investment is not made out of some detailed market analysis. It believes that the market has only one way to go and that is up. It is not overly hung up on assessing technical skills. These can be learnt. It looks for political stability and people who it feels it can trust and who will share the company’s values and the vision of widely distributed global centres. Prospective partners need to have demonstrated that they could run a business already. If you are interested in joining this global network with "a mission", contact Chair David Madie on







Have just managed to read Arthur Goldstuck’s article in issue 71. It is introduced by a suggestion that the info will give clues as to developments in the rest of the continent.


What I have not yet seen is an analysis which looks closer at a particular set of users - and developers of websites. Traffic analysis is likely to miss these, but they may be particularly important because they link into broader social networks of information. These are the NGO’s or social movement groups.


My experience is that they are wired in ways that the rest of the African continent is not - and so although there is a generally reported ‘gap’ in the internet in Africa, it may well be that small numbers do not equal insignficance in the distribution, use or impact of the new media on the continent.


I think this is a growing trend and is likely to outstrip individual and commercial use, if it has not already done so. It would be interesting to see whether any research is available on this phenomenon.


Paul Graham




Thanks for the mention of our Hausa effort. I appreciate your attention to the issue of African languages and ICT, and to Bisharat’s modest efforts on it.


I neglected to mention the translation work by Ousmane Nayaya Aboubacar (Hausa spelling of his name used on the site), without whose collaboration the Hausa presentation would not have been possible.I would have mentioned it if I knew this news would get into the Update.


I should also note that there are at least a couple of other sites that have used Unicode for African languages, also with mixed results from the web user’s point of view:The Universal Declaration of Human Rights site (but not for Hausa, which is presented without the special characters): ... and a page at the Université de Genève site reporting on a workshop here in Niamey last year (that I just found out about yesterday):


Perhaps this will turn out to be a bit like Columbus, who was actually the "last" person from the Old World to discover America. Others did it before him, but only after the voyages he captained did it become common knowledge (with all the terribly mixed results that history has recorded).Obviously one would not to carry this analogy too far...


Don Osborn, Bisharat




What do the intials VOIP (used in issue 73’s story on Chard) stand for?


Umaru Bah


Answer: Voice Over Internet Protocol. Sometimes used as a shorthand for Internet Telephony.