Big InterviewBusiness

Our Plan To Revolutionize Business in Africa- Martins Fareo, CiAfrica Founder/CEO

By Shola Oshunkeye and Biodun Durojaye

When Martin Adewale Fareo, an Australia business management expert, woke upon one morning in September, 2018, to found CiAfrica Connect, his sole aim was to create a platform that would bridge the gap between businesses in Africa and those in the developed world, generally. Specifically, he set out to create new pathways for businesses in the continent; create customized business solutions and provide consumer insight through painstaking market research, as well as provide opportunities for millions of graduates roaming the streets scouting for non-existent white-collar jobs.

But cognizant of incumbent big players on the stage, and the need to get the project off the ground flawlessly, he tarried awhile. But with the opening up of many world economies in the immediate aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the increasing lopsidedness in trade between the developed and developing world, Fareo kicked the project to a flying start in January.

Few months down the line, several embassies and missions in Africa and Australia are already exploring avenues for partnership with CiAfrica Connect.

“The response has been quite impressive,” enthuses Fareo, a corporate strategist, marketing consultant and Master’s degree holder. “We couldn’t have had it better.”

Fareo elucidates on the core objectives of CiAfrica (Commerce and Industry Africa), declaring that, among other things, it was established to promote and support Africa’s small to medium sized enterprises (SMEs) in growth and sustainability, as well as showcase Africa and its strategic partners, products and services to the rest of the world on a global platform.

“We aim to empower Africa SMEs’ continuous development through our online and offline workshop programmes, trainings and seminars, all designed to address the various facets of business process. CiAfrica online and offline workshops and training programmes are hosted by world-class trainers, mentors and professionals in their respective specialisations and industry, sharing their tried and proven business process methods and experiences. Overall, our mission is to be the best marketplace for African businesses and their strategic partners.

“This determination heightens our commitment to research, learning and developing innovative technologies, skills and concepts to expand new frontiers of African SMEs. CiAfrica Connect endeavours to continually support and aid Africa’s economy growth through our initiatives and incentive programmes for African SMEs, to network and build partnership based on trust, transparency and mutual growth benefits.”

…When I watch African news here (Australia), what I see is doom and gloom. Everything seems hopeless. We need to give people hope. And we can’t give them hope by instilling fear. It just doesn’t work.


Martin Adewale Fareo, CiAfrica Connect CEO
Martin Adewale Fareo, CiAfrica Connect CEO

Here are excerpts from the interview conducted with Fareo, the CiAfrica Connect founder and Chief Executive Officer, via zoom: 

When and how did you get the inspiration to start CiAfrica Connect?

It started a little over three years ago. There were lots of things happening around the world for Blacks, especially Africans, at the time; even now. It started from the United States, with the killing of Black people everywhere by the police. And 99 percent of these killings were just because of the colour of the victims’ skin. I added up everything, and I felt we were displaced. But I figured that if we could come together, if we pooled our God-given potentials and positive energies together, we would be unstoppable. We would move the world.
We have always talked about collaboration and all that, yet, there is no platform to facilitate that opportunity. That was how the idea of CiAfrica came to me. That was how it was born.

There are already existing online platforms devoted to helping SMEs connect with customers. How is CiAfrica Connect different from those ones?

CiAfrica is unique. It is quite different in its approach and methodology. Basically, before designing a portal like this, a lot research must have, and has indeed, taken place. It is all about products and a solid platform to showcase them, to advertise them. But what is missing for African people, African SMEs, is not only how to showcase their products but a solid support mechanism. That is why we, at CiAfrica went a step further by providing business support in terms of solid knowledge base. In business, as in every sphere of life, having adequate information is very vital in decision making. This is one of the reasons we incorporated workshops to close the dearth of information because information is power. When you have information, you have power.  Of course, we also introduced research whereby we collate research and scholarly articles by scholars and business people, basically sharing their knowledge with other businesses that would like to take the same path and grow.

…If we (Africans) could come together, if we pooled our God-given potentials and positive energies together, we would be unstoppable. We would move the world.

We all know that the world of business is very vast. It’s like the ocean. And if you are fishing in this ocean that is so vast, are you going to be doing general business or you are going to have a niche by focusing on specific areas of this ocean?

The platform itself is quite big. It covers a lot of diverse industries, various categories in industry and sub-sectors. CiAfrica is one big open market, that provides opportunities for even the service sector, a vital tool that is missing in a lot of current market leaders.

In Africa, we have a lot of graduates waiting for government to provide employment. But if we look around the so-called developed world, we have so many freelance platforms that provide opportunities for the service sector. We don’t have anything like that in Africa. That is why CiAfrica actually differentiated itself from the market leaders by providing the opportunity for service. So, it is quite a diverse platform.

Can you elucidate on the unique selling point of CiAfrica?

CiAfrica is a gateway to Africa’s commerce and industry because we are entering the market with a Blue Ocean Strategy. We have created so much differentiation in the platform. So, in terms of comparing CiAfrica with the market leaders, we are similar in so many ways but uniquely different in the service offerings.

What is Blue Ocean Strategy for the sake of those who may not know?

A Blue Ocean Strategy is when you create so much differentiation that surpasses the current market. Basically, we are entering the market with something new, and something that is so unique there is so much craving for it. And by this deliberate design, you outpace the competition.

CiAfrica is being positioned as both Business-2-Business and Business-2-Customer portal. This is very unique. But which of the two channels do you give more focus?

If you look at our needs in Africa, one wishes that everything can be done at once. Although there is an urgent and ever present need to promote Business-2-Business, we cannot ignore Business-2-Consumer. That is why the platform is designed in such a way that accommodates both concepts, that takes care of manufacturers, wholesalers, distributors, and retailers.


CiAfrica is a gateway to Africa’s commerce and industry because we are entering the market with a Blue Ocean Strategy. We have created so much differentiation in the platform. …In terms of comparing CiAfrica with the market leaders, we are similar in so many ways but uniquely different in the service offerings

How easy is your portal to use? As you know, adoption is often linked to ease of use, and given that SME owners are often not tech savvy.

CiAfrica platform is designed in such a way that is very easy to use. It is designed even for average people to use. In terms of subscribing to packages or getting access to support, each Admin Area, whether for Product Store or Service Store, the requirement of the Store Owner is quite easy.

Of course, we have a Referral Partnership programme which supports that area…
The Referral Partnership Programme gives opportunity for average people in Africa to talk to businesses, introduce them and help them to upload some of their products and services images.

Of course, there is video Step-by-Step on how to manage the store. That is on the platform as well. So, all the measures have been taken to make sure that the stores owners are adequately informed on how to manage those stores.

Are online transactions enabled on your portal? If yes, tell us about that and your charges.

The platform is actually free for any user, whether product seller or service seller. However, for every product or service sold, there is 7 per cent charge which covers administration fee and cost of money transfer.

But we have paid services such as Search Results panel where businesses can position themselves in prime locations on the platform; video advertisement; and front-page banner advertisement. So, there are paid services on the platform but to have a store on the platform is free.

Support is crucial to user experience and success of a portal like yours. What support channels do you have available for users- Business users and Customer users? And could there be a situation where a transaction is hanging…

This platform takes the buyer’s right very paramount. Anything sold on the platform, we ensure the buyer receives the goods in good condition before releasing the money to the seller. The platform is to create mutual growth benefit for the African businesses.

We also have certificate of authentication. This Certificate is a service that businesses can tap into. However, before we issue the Certificate, we investigate the business. So, buyers would be assured while buying on the platform that definitely their goods would be received.

I was asking about channels. Is it by email, by telephone…?

The Admin section of the store has a direct email correspondence to support. The buyer’s admin area also has direct email correspondence to support. If there is any issue with the order, such emails are dealt with accordingly.

Can you enlighten us more on the different categories of users of the platform and the benefits to each of these categories?

We have three main users. We have the sellers, which fall into two categories-product sellers and service sellers. We also have the buyers as well as the referral partners.

The functions of the buyer and the referral partner are very similar. The referral partner is to support CiAfrica’s growth. In all, we have minimum of three categories of users of the platform.

I believe there is a wide space and place for Africa to arise and surge forward. But we,  Africans, need to unite. If we unite, we are unstoppable. If we unite, the future is bright.

In these days of pervasive cyber crime all over the world, and the continuous bid by cyber criminals to undo the law, what assurance are you giving to users as to their safety, the safety of their transactions?

If you take a cursory look at the platform, you discover that it is designed for Africans to do many things. True, there is the problem of stigma. But CiAfrica went extra mile to ensure that stigma doesn’t come on this platform.

What stigma are you talking about?

Of insecurity shrouding most business done online in Africa. And we are saying that since this platform came about basically to grow the Africa economy as a collective, we take the issue of security of transaction and investments seriously. User safety is non-negotiable. In terms of cybercrime and cyber security, security of the platform is very paramount. We take pride in that.

We have some incumbents that CiAfrica will be competing with, and some of them have been around for years, and they have gotten quite strong. Aren’t you intimidated by competition from these portals who are already controlling enormous portion of the market?

Competition is a healthy thing. I love competition. It challenges us to focus more on innovation and come up with new ideas. That is the name of the game.

It is necessary to have competition, otherwise, you would be complacent. Even in the present stage that the platform is, when you benchmark CiAfrica with the market leaders, it is already superceding in terms of what they have got to offer. None of the so-called market leaders is offering the service industry any opportunity. Like I said, we have so many graduates coming out of the universities every year with no job to go to. Rather that depending on government every time for job, CiAfrica intends to nurture this critical mass of people into new entrepreneurs coming out of Africa and help them to utilise their skills. In a nutshell, CiAfrica is building new frontiers of leadership and new crop of African leaders.

So, you are not afraid of competition?

Not at all. Rather, I love competition. In fact, this was embedded in the design-to go above and beyond the market leaders.

There is actually a recent research by Olawole Fatoki (published) I believe in 2014 which basically says the market leaders have been facing backlash. Of course, they undermine job security… They are all about ‘bring the product, we showcase it, we sell it’. But we want to nurture the business to sustainable growth. By so doing, if they grow, we grow as well. So, CiAfrica is not intimidated at all.

Going back to one of the unique features of CiAfrica, which is business support. Tell us more about the workshops and research components of the portal.

The workshop is basically to bring on board professional trainers, offering their tried and proven knowledge in their respective fields in order to help African businesses. At the moment, it would be just online workshops. Eventually, we will be doing bricks-and-mortar. The workshops will deal with various facets of business processes-sales, marketing, business process, etc. The support will be there for businesses to tap into, as required.

We know who Martin Adewale Fareo is. But for those who may not know, could you kindly unveil yourself? Is he an Australian? Or, Nigerian-Australian? Who is Martin Adewale Fareo?

I am from Ilesha, Osun State. I grew up in Lagos. My family is still there. I came to Australia quite a while back. And since I have been here, it has been pretty much business roles, building myself. I believe you have to be at the top of your game in order to be competitive.  I believe in continuous upgrading. I believe in continuing to improve myself.

With the way the world is going, you can’t afford to be complacent. You must be passionate about your dreams. You must strive to be the best. That was we didn’t rush things when the idea of this platform came three years ago. We took our time because we wanted to be sure we got it right.

What is your passion?

I think I can say it is: building collective Africa economy. That is my ultimate goal. According to history, we (Africans) are supposed to be the first race in the world. But if you look at our economic position, we are not exactly where we are supposed to be.

Looking at how our brothers and sisters have been, and are being treated around the world, I have seen so many horrific videos, images and the like… We just have to go back to the roots, pick up ourselves and use our God-given potentials which no power can take from us. Our continent is full of wealth but our peoples are languishing in abject poverty. What is lacking is working together in building.

We have this Free Trade Agreement in place as well, and there has to be a facilitator to derive the maximum benefits of that agreement. So, my passion is basically to bring Africans together.

What does the future hold for CiAfrica?

I believe there is a wide space and place for Africa to arise and surge forward. But we,  Africans, need to unite. If we unite, we are unstoppable. If we unite, the future is bright.

If you are consulted on how to lift this continent up in terms of economy, business and all that, what would you do?

Sadly, when I watch African news here (Australia), what I see is doom and gloom. Everything seems hopeless. We need to give people hope. And we can’t give them hope by instilling fear. It just doesn’t work. Fortunately, I have been communicating with some embassies (of African countries) here in Australia. I have gotten the support of some of them.

I weep, most times, when I watch or listen to the news coming out of Africa, especially Nigeria, my beloved Fatherland. We are supposed to be giant of Africa. When I was growing up at home, Nigeria held so much promise. Things were completely different from what I am seeing now. I am not quite happy. However, all hope is not lost. We can make Nigeria great again. I believe there is always room to make things better; to improve. But if we are not striving for that improvement, what is the point?

What can Africa do about its leadership problem?

We have leadership problem, that is a fact. But I look at our people themselves, are we (the followers) any better?  I say this because these leaders are the products of the communities. They come in with contaminated and polluted mindset that most have, and they bring that into government. How can we get the desired results with that?

So, first and foremost, we need to recommit ourselves to those values that made Nigeria a great country in the past. Two, we need to get serious with our leadership recruitment process. Leadership selection or recruitment process is like computing.  It is what you input that you get as output. Garbage in, garbage out. We have to put our best feet forward at all times. Equally important is the issue of unity. Unity is paramount, and a necessary condition for progress. And that is why CiAfrica Connect decided to bring Africans to one platform so we can see each other, build each other up, and the whole world would pay attention.





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