Mahali ensures e-commerce in Africa is properly addressed

The development of e-commerce in Africa is still facing a fundamental pitfall: the absence or lack of structuring of addressing systems. Due to the lack of a precise or complete postal address, delivering products is a risky business—at the moment, half of all deliveries cannot be made. The Mahali web app offers a simple, digital response to this problem which is tailored to local practices and uses.

Offering buyers, sellers and couriers a digital location service tailored to local practices.

Although e-commerce is now a standard component of everyday life for hundreds of millions of people, its development varies by region. In Africa, the growth of digital sales remains constrained—among other things—by payment and delivery issues in countries where the use of banks is not widespread and addressing systems are not necessarily advanced. For example, in Ivory Coast, 99% of the population does not have a postal address (United Nations report from 2011).

Digital for an “essential” service

This observation led Alexis Bafcop and Géraud Lacaze, two Orange engineers, to create Mahali, which means “place” in Swahili. This digital location service is tailored to the local practices of buyers, sellers and couriers.  In countries where people tend to indicate their position by using a location description and referring to landmarks, Mahali translates this use into a simple web app that is available on a smartphone ( The tool incorporates a database of locations which is fueled in part by the users themselves, who can provide their address by indicating the town, district and landmarks with photos. The courier of a package receives a code which, once registered in Mahali, allows them to access the necessary information and send a delivery window to the buyer. The buyer can then pay with their mobile (Mahali currently integrates this functionality with Orange Money).

In addition to being used for e-commerce, the address created on the app can be used for other purposes such as guiding emergency services or visitors to the address.

Born on the ground

Like Orange Money, Mahali was created from closely observing and analyzing the land and habits of the inhabitants in Abidjan, Ivory Coast. “The team immersed themselves in studying the ways used to locate and describe a place in the region,” explain Alexis Bafcop and Géraud Lacaze, the co-founders of the app. “We interviewed people in e-commerce warehouses, couriers, buyers, founders of start-ups, etc., to identify the reality and issues faced by various players in the field. We then developed an initial simplified version of the service (MVP – minimum viable product) that enabled us to validate our hypotheses and solutions first with a few e-traders and buyers as early as June 2019 before finally launching a complete version in Abidjan on December 5, 2019.”

Originally submitted via the Ideas Wall, a tool for internal ideation within the Group, the project was subsequently supported and accompanied by Orange’s intrapreneurship structure, Intrapreneurs Studio. In addition, Mahali is based on the expertise of Orange entities such as Orange Labs Services, XDLAB (UX design), and receives a great deal of support from the Orange Côte d’Ivoire teams: Orange Money, Corporate Services, Customer Test Center and data scientists.

Artificial intelligence to the rescue

The launch on December 5 was just the beginning of the road. Currently in its beta version, Mahali is intended to grow and offer new functionalities to its users. AI is already used to moderate user photos, but the team wants to go further and is working in particular on an IA/data analysis site to study the data relating to the landmarks provided in the app. “The service has been designed to be universal, accessible and simple to use. But the way that location descriptions are formulated can be tedious from a user perspective. A semantic analysis of the descriptions and landmarks created on Mahali will make this task easier by taking local habits into account. For example, Ivorians use travel time more than distances to locate places, often refer to three landmarks, and use pharmacies a lot as a reference point.  Ultimately, we can rebuild a description from the user experience.”

An interface with Orange Money is also being developed to secure the act of payment. In the coming months, the solution will also be deployed in other countries, including Senegal and Cameroon.

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