Sauti Africa launches to simplify cross-border trade in East Africa

Sauti Africa is a Kenyan-based company that developed a mobile-based tool that empowers cross-border traders to trade safely within the law, with adequate knowledge of their rights, and to profitably trade within the East African community. Techmoran had a conversation with Sautis COO David Orega, who told us more about the company’s vision.

Tell me about yourself, educational background, role at Sauti

My name is David Orega, I am the Chief Operations Officer at Sauti Africa, I have a background in Information Sciences from Moi University.

Tell me about your company, what does it do

Trade comprises a significant component of East African economies. Estimates suggest 43% of Africans are involved in trade & the value of small-scale cross-border trade (CBT) in the East African Community (EAC) is 2 billion USD a year. Cross Border Traders are often unaware of their rights & obligations as citizens of the East African Community, including benefits of preferential tariff rates & compliance with complex border procedures. This information asymmetry makes Cross Border Traders crossing borders vulnerable to harassment, impounding of goods & corruption which is experienced by 56% of women daily.
Additionally, lack of market information about commodity pricing & currency exchange rates means traders must buy & sell their goods at suboptimal prices, & suffer profit losses due to dishonest middlemen and moneychangers. Past interventions in this area have been unsustainable & focused on traditional communications while failing to make use of innovation & technology to improve availability, accessibility & affordability of information.
Sauti is a mobile-based trade & market information platform for SMEs engaged in cross-border trade in the East African Community. Through the Sauti platform, any citizen with a phone can use SMS and USSD to access tailored information on trade procedures, taxes and tariffs applicable to their products, regional market and exchange rates.
Sauti leverages the competitive advantages of mobile technology to deliver business information at scale & services tailored to needs of Micro Small and Medium Enterprises engaged in cross-border trade. Sauti platform offers traders accurate, officially-sourced, real- time trade and market information, accessible on one user-friendly manner directly through their mobile phones.

What market gap did the founder of Sauti Africa spot that prompted them to start the business?

Information asymmetry on trade on many occasions would make the traders who are mostly women vulnerable to harassment, corruption, impounding of goods with some opting to use the informal routes popularly known as panya routes. In these panya routes, their vulnerabilities are even compounded with some of them losing their goods to dishonest transporters.
Considering that most of the traders depend on trade as their main source of income and livelihood for their families, with profits diminishing and frustrations hitting rocket high, families find it hard to make ends meet.
To address the information gap, a USSD based information platform was established. It is projected that as a result of the Sauti platform, traders, who are mostly women, would be able to access the prerequisite trade and market information to enable them trade legally, profitably and safely across borders. Through our platform, they would be able to access this information at the comfort of their homes and this would greatly help them make informed business decisions.

What specific information do you provide?

Through our platform, one can be able to access officially sourced trade information including procedures for legally importing and exporting, taxes and tariffs applicable to imports and exports, documentation required, relevant agencies and their contacts.
Additionally, we provide commodity prices from the entire East African Community countries. Through this, traders can be able to make informed choices on where to source and sell their commodities across the region. Traders can also, through the Sauti platform, access real time exchange rates for all the major currencies across the EAC region.
We also provide summaries on trade trends based on the data we collect through our platform.
Through our platform again, traders are also able to anonymously report incidences of harassment and corruption they experience at the border crossings.

Where does Sauti source its data on commodities price, legal and market information?

Sauti has forged formidable working relationships with the relevant government departments and agencies involved in cross border trade facilitation. We source the information from the government agencies including the revenue authorities. We simplify and translate the information to languages popularly used across the EAC and leverage our robust interactive technology to disseminate the information. Currently, our information is available in English, Swahili and Luganda. Once the simplification has been done, we share the information with the relevant agencies for verification before we go live with the information on our platform .

Where or who do the complaints and anonymous reports get sent? What do you do with these reports?

The incidence reports we receive anonymously through our platform are shared with the relevant government and customs agencies for action. We also share the same analyzed reports with the Civil Society Organizations for evidence based advocacy. We hope that these reports would help inform policy decisions on issues cross border in the future.
How has uptake been since you launched?
We have about 2200 users drawn from Kenya and Uganda since we launched the Sauti platform in July 2017. We are currently servicing the border crossings of Busia and Malaba but we are looking at reaching 10,000 users by the end of 2019 drawn from across the East African Community.

What are the major challenges you have faced since inception of the company

Many of the struggles we have encountered we have been able to overcome. Some of the challenges included reaching the potential users considering that the modern communication channels like whatsapp, facebook which are currently ideal for marketing do not suit them. Most of them use simple feature phones and even for those who have smartphones, hardly do they use Apps.
We had initially also struggled to access holistic information. Most of the information is agency specific and this meant that we had to visit the individual agencies and get their information before finally condensing the information.

How can one access Sauti Africa hotlines

Sauti can be accessed in Kenya and Uganda by dialing (48335# Kenya) and (27035# Uganda).The services are completely free for Safaricom Kenya and Airtel Uganda subscribers. You can also access our platform online on: http://sautiafrica.org/sauti-platform/

Here is a brief video that summarizes the main activities of Sauti Africa

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