How SWAPAfrica is redefining Barter trade in modern Uganda
Yes, you read that correctly. And you probably don’t have fond memories of the word ‘Barter trade’, considering the negative connotation it carries from history lessons: naïve and helpless Uganda kings, in the nineteenth-century, traded our ancestors and precious minerals for spoons and forks.
The online Business Dictionary defines Barter Trade as trading in which goods or services are exchanged without the use of cash.
One of Uganda’s budding enterprises is promoting that kind of business.
But unlike in the old-fashioned, unfair barter trade that was practiced by Ugandan monarchs and foreigners, here the participants mutually agree on the type of good or service to exchange.
SwapAfrica is a brainchild of Vincent Nemeyimana and he launched the company in 2018. Through the platform, now only available via the web, you can exchange the products or services you have for something you need.
You just need to create an account on the platform and post all the products and services you have and the other people on the platform will be notified on what you’ve so they can see whether you can do business together.
For instance, if you know how to swim but you want to learn how to code and there is a coder who wants to take swimming lessons, you can work together. Or you can exchange your iPhone with Shamim for a laptop.
Nemeyima, 30, is a nurse by profession and he is currently pursuing a master’s degree in Public Health at Uganda Martyrs’ Nkozi. He also works with Mulago Hospital and he is a tutor at Indian Institute of Allied and Health Sciences located on Bombo Road in Kampala.
We caught up with him recently to talk about how he started SwapAfrica and the company’s future plans. Read the excerpts from the conversation below.
Let’s start with what inspired you
I started with a blog in 2014. It was an inspirational blog called The Complete You Ministry.
I used to write about business, Bible, love & relationships and health.
When it came to business, I realized there was a lot to be done in terms of how one can do business while at the same time promoting Christian values.
I didn’t have immediate answers so I just kept thinking about it a lot.
And in 2018, having read a lot of books about business I started realizing how money limits people from accessing a number of things.
I also opened another blog called Sacred Entrepreneurship where I wrote about how entrepreneurship and innovation can transform humanity. The book that was more eye-opening on this topic is called Sacred Economics by Charles Eisenstein.
[The book traces the history of money from ancient gift economies to modern capitalism, revealing how the money system has contributed to alienation, competition, and scarcity, destroyed community, and necessitated endless growth.]
After reading about Gift Economy from the book, I started thinking of how I can also contribute to its growth in the modern world and the idea of SwapAfrica was conceived.
Consequently, I started reading extensively on online barter trade. I found that some European countries like Sweden and Germany were already practicing it.
In August 2018 I launched the website (swapafrica.net).
Did you code the website yourself?
I didn’t know how to code so I just created from the WordPress template. I didn’t have money to hire a developer so I took me a lot of time to come up with something workable.
Are you still working on it yourself?
No, I have hired someone to improve the website and also create an app.
By the end of this month, the website will have a professional feel and the application will also be out.
Before we proceed, there’s a way you talked about money which kind of gives it’s a negative connotation and you seem to be a very religious person
No, I actually love money, and I work for money. But the way the current economy handles money is the wrong way [he gives an example of high-interest rates in the banking system which make borrowing hard for small businesses].
All the problems you’re seeing now are because of money. While money is solving a problem for person A, it’s creating problems for X. When one person gets out of debt, several others are dumped in it.
What we’re trying to do at SwapAfrica is not to eliminate the use of money but to create channels through which people can get most of life basic essentials (food, clothing etc.) even when they have no money.
How big is the team now?
We’re not very many. But since we won the Total Startup Challenge, we’re planning on hiring, especially in the IT department.
We’re currently four: my wife, a secretary, the new IT guy and me. We might need more other two.
How many people have signed up to the platform?
More than sixty.
How do you plan to monetize the platform?
We shall have premium offers where people have to pay a fee to access certain features and services like instant messaging, be able to post more items than others, share profiles, we plan to open a SWAP center where people will meet to swap items and so on.
We won’t be charging a lot of money since we’re not a profit-oriented enterprise. We’re after offering a service that will transform how people access services, so most of the funds we raise are to maintain the platform.
How are you currently marketing the platform?
We’re organically growing through social media platforms like Facebook, WhatsApp; SEO and word of mouth. But once our website is redesigned and the application is launched, we shall invest in digital advertising.
In the short period you’ve been running SwapAfrica, what would you say have been the main challenges?
Not very many. The main challenge has been funding the technical bit of the startup. The website is still rudimentary so we get a lot of complaints since navigating the website is still quite a challenge.
Would you be willing to take up an investor?
Yes, but we are not going to accept investors who want shares. I have researched a lot of bout investments in startups and for our type of company attracting an investor who is motivated by profits might divert us from our mission.
It will also increase pressure. We want people who are willing to support us and share from the benefits we shall accrue along the way.
Where do you see SwapAfrica 10 years from now?
Let’s just talk 5 years. I want to see SwapAfrica becoming a gateway for every young person. I am envisioning a world where money is not a limiting factor in what you get from life.
For instance, if there was already something like SwapAfrica when I was starting, I wouldn’t be suffering to find a developer. There are many other small businesses that are struggling yet they would easily share skills to grow each other.
We are also planning to Swap events for people who are not on the internet so they can also physically trade items and services.
Any partying shots?
To fellow young people, I would advise them not to give up and to love finding knowledge; to be specific, reading.
[He talks about a book he wrote while in high school, got turned down by many publishers until he was able to self-publish on Amazon some years later.]