As Google announces its White Space plans in the Republic of South Africa, Samsung too is extending its operations across the the continent. Apple’s investments in Africa are more limited. Who will win the race for the next emerging electronics market?

Google has announced experiments that will allow it to test and commercialise unused parts of the radio spectrum. It’s particularly interesting in light of Google’s expansion of its fiber network in Kansas. Google began expanding its Africa operations a couple of years back, and translating its search engine into local languages.

Africa has a population of around 1 billion people but the lowest Internet penetration. Countries like Nigeria are expanding Internet activities quickly, in part aided by Google.

Samsung, meanwhile, is expanding its huge supply chain reach into Africa with plans to develop new assembly facilities in Ethiopia. The plan, agreed with the Ethiopian Government,  was announced  at a conference in Cape Town last week. Samsung also sponsors the Smart Government conference in South Africa. And the company has a program to train 10,000 engineers for Africa by 2015, including a year’s internship in Korea.

The education program was launched in 2011 at a time when Samsung announced it would quintuple revenues from Africa to $10 billion by 2015 (Samsung’s China revenues were $10 billion at the time).

Competitor Apple, meanwhile, is thought not to source any of its components from Africa.

Samsung’s Ethiopian plan could be both good and bad news. Samsung operates in technology markets with rapid growth, which brings almost immediate returns for the country’s where it invests. But dependency on Samsung is not far behind.

Add in the fact that Samsung’s has run into problems with its treatment of employment rights. Unlike competitor Apple, Samsung’s potential abuses have gone largely unremarked, though they have drawn the Korean company into conflict with international observers.

Samsung’s footprint globally is huge, not only through its electronics arm but also through construction – in Africa it already has large oil-related operations in Nigeria. But it is in the hugely competitive field of electronics that Samsung is both a high growth and a high dependency partner.

According to Tech In Asia, Samsung’s investment in one plant in Vietnam now accounts for 10% of the country’s exports.

That is courtesy of a manufacturing facility set up there in 2009. Samsung recently announced plans to invest $3.2 billion to make Vietnam its Asia production hub.

At the same time the Korean giant had been looking to Africa, with rumors of a possible manufacturing plant in Nigeria. Samsung opted instead for the assembly plant in Ethiopia, which will assemble laptops and printers. The race for the Africa nation appears to be on, though in terms of concrete investments in jobs America’s finest seems to be lagging, a factor that might be laid at the door of lack luster Administration foreign policy in recent years.


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Neva is a storyteller and media strategist with a background in PR, film, advertising and digital marketing who is passionate about technology, new media and the endless possibilities of the social and mobile sphere. Read more about her on our 'About Us' page.

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