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South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, left, shakes hands with Jack Ma in Hangzhou city, China South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, left, shakes hands with Jack Ma, chairman of Alibaba Group, in Hangzhou city, Zhejiang province, China, Sept. 5, 2018 (Imaginechina photo via AP Images).

Tech Giants Are Engaged in a New Scramble for Africa

Wednesday, Dec. 18, 2019

By his own account, Jack Ma, the founder of the hugely successful Chinese e-commerce company Alibaba, only visited Africa for the first time in 2017, when he went to Kenya and Rwanda. And yet there he was earlier this month in the Opinion pages of The New York Times, full of supposed wisdom about how the continent can leap into the future by cultivating his own brand of entrepreneurialism. “If we all work together to support entrepreneurs,” Ma gushed, “then Africa will become a hub of innovation and growth, the global leader we know it can be.”

It is worth noting that after founding Alibaba in 1999, Ma became one of the world’s richest people not only as an innovator, but also, perhaps even primarily, as an astute adopter of trends set in motion by others. Early Alibaba, after all, essentially copied elements of the business models of eBay and PayPal. ...

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