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 Media Studies from Moi University.

Tell me about your company, what does it do
At Sauti Africa, we have recognized a challenge in access to information particularly at the grass root level, regarding cross-border trade. There are about 16,000,000 active traders within the East African community. Intra-East African trade is estimated to be worth about 5.6 Billion USD. Informal trade also brings in about 2 Billion USD. Despite this massive amount of money going around in trade, a lot of these traders still don’t understand the information they need to carry out their business. For example, they don’t have adequate information on the taxation rates when crossing the border or the kind of documentation they need.
This lack of information leads to challenges for them in the context that, it makes them vulnerable to vices such as corruption, harassment and exploitation. Out of this large number of traders, the statistics say that 70% of them are women, a lot of them are not only exploited, but sexually harassed. This is an issue that could be attributed to not knowing the right channels and procedures to follow while going about their trading.
These people contribute immensely to their households, they on average have about 7 dependents looking up to them. Most of them depend on trade as their main source of income.
At Sauti we decided to take up the challenge and try to find a solution to their main problem which is the lack off ready access to trading information, we might be well placed to help them improve their profits, safety standards of working and enable them to do their business legally.
We also discovered that most of these people use “panya routes”, (undocumented roads and routes mostly used for illegal purposes) these are routes followed when carrying contraband, or just restricted goods, or even good legal materials, but they end up using the, and are robbed, raped and left for dead
We have built a system that enables traders to access this information from the comfort of their own homes.
Most traders do not have the luxury of modern expensive technology, most have kabambe or mulika mwizi phones (feature phones), so we have a USSD application, through which they can access information using simple feature or smart phones. This tech works best for this phone

What market gap did the founder of Sauti Africa spot that prompted them to start the business?
As aforementioned, Sauti Africa was created with the aim of making trading information accessible to low level cross border traders, from the convenience of their mobile phones. This is in a bid to reduce the rate at which these traders are exploited, harassed and even robbed while they go about their trading at the border. The information we provide will enable them to avoid such experiences, as well as conduct their business legally.
We also provide a platform for these traders to report illegal activity such as corruption, whilst preserving their anonymity. We collect this data and share it with various authorities in the trade industry, for their use in better decision making.

What specific information do you provide?
Based on the challenges that are there and the statistic that we have analyzed, we have come up with this system. We provide information such as:
Trading information: procedure for crossing the border, documentation needed, offices to visit and taxes they need to pay. Such that in the long run the trader can be able to clear the goods by themselves following the procedures we provide for them, and they can avoid middle men and brokers who make a killing of the ignorance of simple traders.
Market information such as the selling price of various commodities in the market, during the various seasons.

Where does Sauti source its data on commodities price, legal and market information?
The information we give is verified and accurate. We get our information from various sources.
E.g. taxation and rates for cross border traders is acquired from KRA.

Where or who do the complaints and anonymous reports get sent? What do you do with these reports?
The incidence reports we receive through our platform are shared with the relevant government and customs agencies for action. We also share the same analysed reports with the Civil Society Organizations for evidence based advocacy and hopefully would help inform policy decisions in the future

local traders using Sauti services

How has uptake been since you launched?
We have about 2000 active users, 9000 information reports and 300 reports so far. WE are actively looking to grow these figures.

What are the major challenges you have faced since inception of the company
We have been fortunate enough to receive various grants. However, we still face significant challenges with sourcing data.
Marketing: creating awareness about our product to our target users is a major challenge for us. We are currently banking on word of mouth marketing, articles on platforms like, say your Techmoran, and we also go to the field and educate users about the product.
Also the end users to some extent are apprehensive about the authorities using the system to better execute taxation on them. They are also apprehensive about the information they give us when reporting being used later on to victimize them. Which is why we ensure the reports are kept anonymous.

How can one access Sauti Africa hotlines
Sauti can be accessed in Kenya and Uganda by dialing 48335# (Kenya) and 27035# (Uganda).There are no USSD charges for Safaricom and Airtel Uganda subscribers.

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