Big Tech informed as regulators in Africa group to investigate their market conduct

by Ana Lopez

Several competition watchdogs in Africa plan to jointly survey the market behavior of global digital companies, alerting big techs like Google and Meta, which have been investigating and corrective action in other jurisdictions.

The planned investigations follow a decision last month by regulators from Kenya, Egypt, Mauritius, Nigeria, South Africa, Morocco, Gambia and Zambia to establish a working group for collaboration on competition and consumer welfare concerns in Africa .

The Common Markets of Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) Competition Commission, representing 21 countries, is also part of the new working group, which agreed, among other things, to address mutual concerns about Africa’s digital markets. The group will also promote joint action against obstacles limiting the emergence and expansion of African digital platforms.

The new development follows the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding by member states in 2022 and a decision last month to establish a working group and leadership team.

Member States will also be able to develop and/or bridge gaps in their legislative instruments.

“Members have identified the need to collectively question market behavior that has been the subject of investigation and corrective action in other international jurisdictions but remains unmanaged in African markets to the detriment of African consumers, businesses and economies,” Dr. Adano Wario, the acting director-general of Kenya’s state competition authority, told businessupdates.org.

“One of several activities in the pipeline is cross-border market research into digital markets, with a focus on issues affecting competition and consumer welfare in Africa,” said Wario.

While the regulators will jointly conduct market investigations, enforcement by Member States will be independent and in accordance with their laws. It is estimated that two-thirds of countries in Africa have competition laws, while the rest are governed by the laws of regional bodies such as the African Continental Free Trade Area and COMESA.

The group said its focus areas will be e-commerce, aggregator services (online travel agencies and online advertising), matchmaker services (e-hailing and delivery services such as Uber and Glovo), digital advertising (search and social media sites such as Google and Facebook), fintech and app stores.

Wario added that member states have agreed to conduct joint studies where partners can share information about studies without compromising confidential commitments, to ensure coherent and consistent decisions and the optimal use of limited resources in promoting healthy regional competition.

The strategy, it said, will ensure efficient enforcement of competition law and policies in digital markets, ensuring a competitive market and boosting the growth of African digital companies.

“Digital companies with a global presence can bring innovations to African markets, but they can also stifle the development of domestic platforms. Therefore, the potential exists to positively impact our economies by ensuring adequate enforcement in this evolving space, including a clear understanding of the barriers to entry and expansion that affect local platforms,” ​​said Wario.

Meta was subject to various types of scrutiny last year for potentially anti-competitive behavior in Africa, while more recently a consumer welfare violation judgment by pan-African e-commerce platform Jumia forced the company to review its terms and conditions.

Globally, major tech companies such as Google and Meta have been investigated on multiple occasions and faced remedial action for violating antitrust laws in the US and Europe. For example, in January the US Justice Department sued Google over alleged antitrust issues, claiming it had a monopoly on the digital advertising market, while Meta was recently discovered to be abusing its dominance to favor its Facebook Marketplace in Europe.

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