With digitization bringing new opportunities to Africa, the continent is becoming the next frontier for Internet-based e-commerce solutions.
Across the continent, new digital businesses are emerging rapidly and growing fast.
But with Africa also epitomizing the digital divide between the connected and the unconnected, it is critical to seize the chance to drive development for African economies and their populations, so that no-one is left behind.
The United Nations body responsible for helping leverage trade to deliver development, UNCTAD, is next week organizing the debut edition of Africa e-Commerce Week.
Held from December 10-14, the conference in Nairobi is the first regional incarnation of UNCTAD’s global e-Commerce Week, held annually in Geneva.
Under the theme “Empowering African Economies in the Digital Era”, Africa e-commerce Week is a response to the growing demand for e-commerce dialogues, as the digital and mobile revolution continues apace.
It comes at an opportune moment, given that the international community, regional organizations, and individual countries are exploring ways to advance development gains from the digital economy and thereby help achieve the ambition of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
Moreover, the landmark African Continental Free Trade Agreement, signed in March this year, is expected to have a positive impact on intra-African trade. As trade increasingly moves online, there is a growing need to discuss the implications of e-commerce for African economies.
Already, in 2017, Africa had 21 million online shoppers – showing the enormous potential of the African e-commerce marketplace.
“Turning this tremendous opportunity into inclusive development requires a massive effort on the part of all of us – in Africa and beyond,” said UNCTAD Secretary-General Mukhisa Kituyi.
“We are at a critical juncture – and that it is why UNCTAD decided to have a meeting in Africa, for Africa and by Africa, focused on harnessing the potential of digitalization and the mobile revolution.”
The Africa e-commerce Week, which will take place at the United Nations Office in Nairobi is co-organized by the African Union and the European Union.
Hosted by the government of Kenya, it is part of joint efforts by partners in the eTrade for all initiative.
More than 1,000 participants from 48 countries are scheduled to head to the event to share their experiences and success stories for leveraging e-commerce for the development of African economies.
Representatives of 330 businesses, including 50 CEOs and other entrepreneurs from start-ups and small and medium-sized enterprises, among them African graduates of the eFounders Initiative facilitated by UNCTAD will attend the event.
Also taking part will be civil society delegates and officials from more than 20 international organizations, and eTrade for all partners.
Among questions to be addressed is online trust – how to divide the good, the illicit, and the mislabelled – taxation in the digital economy, consumer protection, a single window at the borders, e-commerce and commodity dependence, trade logistics, digital identity, and much more.
In October, Dr Kituyi said that the digital divide is impeding development and that by the end of the next decade, growth, productivity gains, and human development will be determined by levels of integration into the digital economy.
He says that to guard against new forms of inequality, the international community must do more to help developing countries close the connectivity gap.