It’s not a phone. It’s not a data plan. It’s not airtime. It’s not even ring back tune. It’s a cooking pot, and MTN wants you to buy it.

Why? Because since last year, MTN has owned a third of Rocket Internet’s Africa Internet Holdings, the holding company for Jumia and the other Rocket companies across Africa. It makes sense that they want you to buy pressure cookers, or whatever else Jumia is selling.

It is of course expected that MTN’s involvement in AIH would create to a number of advantages for local Rocket “startups”, the kind that sheltering under the wings of the dominant telecommunications company in a country with 170 million people can provide. Like bundling data on mobile hardware sold on Jumia. We would hardly blink if they went as far as zero-rating data access to Rocket startup websites and apps — yes yes, let’s have the net neutrality debate later.

Directly marketing Jumia’s products to their social media audience is however an interesting and slightly strange move. I’m still not sure what to make of it. The brand alignment of kitchen utensils and telecoms is tenuous at best. Of course MTN is no longer a telco, so there. But if you took away the branding scruples and focused on raw marketing power, there could be an argument for it. MTN Nigeria has more than double Jumia’s Facebook following, and ten times more followers on Twitter. It doesn’t matter what you think, some people are bound to click.

mtn jumia marketing

Those clicks are obviously being tracked, as you might have noticed from the marked section in the image above, suggesting that this is some sort of experiment. There hasn’t been another sales post like the first I observed on Thursday, but I’m certain that some people somewhere are looking at the link’s performance and deciding if and when they’ll post more.

If it works, here’s a theory. It wouldn’t surprise me if MTN began hocking Jumia’s stuff to its customers beyond social media. SMS blasts, robocalls, push messages, the works. Whatever ways MTN uses to reach its customers could become marketing channels for Rocket Internet’s AIH companies.

As Rocket approaches its expected IPO, interesting behaviour is emerging among its investors. Last week, Holtzbrinck Ventures exchanged its interest in 7 Rocket ecommerce businesses for a 2.5 stake in Rocket itself. The exchange was negotiated with PLDT, the largest telco in the Philippines, whose 10 percent stake got pared down to 8.4 percent. It does make sense that in the event of an IPO, pure VC companies would feel better to holding shares directly in the parent company, while corporate VCs who got involved to further their local strategic interests will not mind getting hands-on with the startups they invested in.

Whichever way you look at it, MTN’s 30 percent stake in Rocket’s AIH is enough incentive to get their hands dirty. Selling kitchenware is a good place to start.

In response to my inquiry, a Jumia spokesperson acknowledged the partnership.

“MTN has a partnership with Jumia. They are not doing Jumia’s marketing but they are one of our partners.”

Yeah sure. They don’t describe what the actual partnership looks like. I’m going with “motivated investor”.

Bankole Oluwafemi Author

Get the best African tech newsletters in your inbox