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Guinean immigrants in France send food home online

Channels Television  
Updated February 21, 2012

Intercontinental grocery shopping — a recently launched website offers a new way for Guineans living abroad to support family back home.

As an alternative to traditional funds transfer companies, Wontanra.com gives Guinean migrants the opportunity to buy groceries online that recipients in Guinea can immediately collect from their local grocer against a simple phone transaction, or even have them delivered to their home.

Forty one year-old Guinean engineer, Aboubakar Kourouma — founder of the project, said this “e-social transfer” is a new concept that aims to ensure food security and contribute to the local economy.

Wontanara — meaning “all together” in Guinea’s Soussou language, was launched in August 2011 and already has 5000 users.

Kourouma came to France six years ago with no papers. The idea for Wontanara came to him while he was working illegally in a bakery.

He said he wanted to change the money transfer system used my many like him because traditional money transfer methods were expensive and not available for those who live far from a big city.

“Wontanara has the advantage of providing a completely zero-cost service to the giver, that’s one thing, the other thing is that Wontanara allows a distribution of proximity, that means the system in place allows the recipients to benefit from our products from wherever they live in Guinea,” Kourouma said.

For now, Wontanara.com is only available for Guinea, but Kourouma said they were working on expanding it further, starting in the West African region.

Soon the website will provide ways to pay for school supplies, medicines, or even electricity bills, he said.

With this social business concept, Kourouma won the “RE THINK” prize from the prestigious French business school H.E.C (Haute Ecole de Commerce) in 2009.

Thanks to it, he met Alexandre Peisse, a 31-year old H.E.C (Haute Ecole de Commerce) student who offered to fund and launch his project.

“There is a very large African, Guinean diaspora outside Guinea which sends approximately 60 millions US dollars every year, and those 60 millions dollars are very wrongly allocated, with enormous commissions taken by the traditional money transfer firm,” Peisse said.

“The idea of Wontanara is to remove teh middle man and to give back some purchasing power to everybody, donors and beneficiaries,” he added.

Money transfers between African migrants and their families are an important share of foreign investment in Africa but transfer charges could be holding the foreign capital inflows back.

A report by the African Development Bank and the World Bank last year estimated that about 30 million Africans live outside their home countries, but African governments had not realised the full economic benefits of remittances, which accounted for 40 billion US dollars between 1990 and 2010.

Analysts say this can be attributed to the fact that it is still very expensive to send remittances to Africa.
One of the clients of the website, Mamadou Boubacar Diallo said that since he discovered Wontanara.com his use of traditional money transfer services has drastically reduced.

“We must encourage ideas like this, it’s is very beneficial for Africa, that people think about that kind of service for the diaspora,” he said.

Wontanara.com developers said the service was aimed at guaranteeing fresh products were delivered to the recipients, as the site works directly with local shops in Guinea to ensure immediate delivery of daily groceries to families who would otherwise not afford it.

Reuters