September 16, 2021

Recommendations to Increase Access to E-Commerce Services in Central Africa

According to a report jointly produced by the UN Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) and the GSMA, the digital economy in the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS), which is comprised of the nations of Angola, Burundi, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Congo, Democratic Republic of Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Rwanda, Sao Tome & Principe, "is expanding rapidly, driven by strong adoption of mobile services. Overall mobile subscriber penetration in the sub-region grew from just 18% at the start of the last decade to 42% by the end of 2019, while the number of mobile internet users had reached 46 million by the same date."

Titled Enabling e-commerce in Central Africa: the role of mobile services and policy implications, the report adds: "E-commerce is a key component of the digital economy, allowing buyers and sellers to interact and transact online regardless of time and location. This has the potential to generate significant social and economic benefits, particularly in emerging countries. It can create jobs and stimulate economic activity by encouraging investment and opening up new markets to otherwise isolated rural communities. Women and young entrepreneurs in particular are increasingly using e-commerce platforms to grow their businesses, reducing inequalities and helping local value creation."

The ESA and GSMA note that governments in the sub-region have a significant role to play in implementing policies to support and stimulate investment in e-commerce services. And as such, they identify key areas where action is required to increase access to digital services in general and e-commerce services in particular: enhancing digital and financial inclusion; taking the right approach to data regulation; addressing key challenges in the business environment; and leveraging stakeholder collaboration.

I support the recommendation for Central Africa's eleven governments to adopt policies to accelerate e-commerce, including better access to digital services and public-private collaboration. Yet, the report says "ECCAS member states are still a long way from maximizing the e-commerce opportunity due to a combination of infrastructure, macro-structural and regulatory constraints. As governments in the sub-region increasingly recognize the potential for e-commerce to drive economic growth and sustainable development, they must now move to address the key challenges to e-commerce adoption, working together with other stakeholders in the e-commerce ecosystem."

"A first step is to get more people online, by addressing the access and affordability barriers to connectivity for unconnected citizens, and create an enabling environment for e-commerce services to scale and reach new customers."

What are your recommendations for how Central African governments can support the growth of its e-commerce sector?

Aaron Rose is a board member, corporate advisor, and co-founder of great companies. He also serves as the editor of GT Perspectives, an online forum focused on turning perspective into opportunity.

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