WeChat, China’s leading social media platform which is often compared to be China’s WhatsApp messenger.
Africa, which considered being the most favourable market ground for almost any business seems set to receive and welcome WeChat.
The move is leading the South Africa-China joint venture down a fiercely competitive path as Facebook’s WhatsApp is already part of the social media fabric in most African countries.
WeChat stands at a major disadvantage as WhatsApp is used far more widely, making users naturally reluctant to choose a rival service.
But WeChat is betting an array of services that include money transfers, prepaid electricity and airtime purchases and its experience in selling products to lower income users in the villages of China will loosen the Silicon Valley grip.
“That’s at the heart of the story for us because we knew that we were late to the market compared to other instant messaging apps and so we realised that focusing on chat services was not the most practical way to get to market,” WeChat Africa head Brett Loubser told Reuters.
Launched in Africa in 2013 by China’s Internet giant Tencent and its 34% shareholder South African e-commerce and media group Naspers, WeChat Africa is a rare south-south corporate partnership to expand on the continent.
The joint venture is facing an uphill battle in taking on WhatsApp, which offers free text, picture and video messages and whose adoption in big African markets such as South Africa was lightening-fast because texts over a phone network are still expensive.
A 2015 study by World Wide Worx, a Johannesburg consultancy, showed WhatsApp had just over 10 million users in South Africa compared with just over 5 million for WeChat.
But WhatsApp, acquired by Facebook in 2014 for $19bn and which has a long-standing promise to keep the platform ad-free, has no immediate plans to make money out of the service in Africa, Facebook Africa head Nunu Ntshingila said.
“At this point in time, we are not at the stage where we are looking at monetising WhatsApp,” Ntshingila told Reuters. “That’s in a three-year time frame because right now the focus is on two big apps which are Facebook and Messenger.”