The UN Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) and the GSMA have called on Central Africa’s 11 governments to adopt policies to accelerate e-commerce, including better access to digital services and public-private collaboration.
Mobile internet use in Central Africa more than doubled in the past decade to 42% at the end of 2019. Women and entrepreneurs increasingly use e-commerce platforms to grow their businesses, according to the joint GSMA-ECA report titled “Enabling e-commerce in Central Africa: the role of mobile services and policy implications”. The report makes the potential for economic development and social inclusion clear.
E-commerce is growing quickly in Central Africa and mobile connectivity and payments are key to gaining momentum. By the end of 2020, there were 16 live mobile money services in Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS), serving nearly 50 million registered accounts. The ECCAS consists of Angola, Burundi, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Congo, the DRC, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Rwanda, Sao Tome & Principe.
The report shows that while the retail e-commerce landscape is dominated by global players, such as Amazon, eBay and Alibaba, domestic and regional players are leveraging local knowledge to compete. Jumia, is an example of this and is Africa’s largest e-commerce company with operations in 11 countries across the continent.
Insights from the report outline how social commerce, the use of social networks for e-commerce, is also gaining traction. Facebook’s 14 million users in the sub-region make an attractive marketplace and the preferred platform for many e-commerce entrepreneurs.
Despite this progress, all 11 countries in Central Africa are falling behind when compared to their peers. The infrastructure, investment and skills necessary to fuel online shopping rank in the bottom third of the UN Conference on Trade and Development’s Business-to-Consumer E-commerce Index of 152 countries.
The report makes clear that mobile telecom operators are a vital part of the solution. They provide connectivity for online activities, including e-commerce, enable digital payments and, support e-commerce by way of APIs and sales agents to address challenges in the sector.
“Central Africa is budding with economic potential and e-commerce can accelerate that growth,” said Angela Wamola, the GSMA’s Head of sub-Sahara Africa. “The GSMA is proud to partner with the ECA on this report bringing our knowledge of how digital technologies can propel sustainable development to the work. We hope it will inspire action from policymakers and stakeholders in the region.”
In Central Africa, as many as 264 e-commerce start-ups operate in at least 23 countries. The employment potential is significant with online marketplaces are set to generate 3 million jobs by 2025.
The region can progress quickly if governments enact policies to accelerate digital and e-commerce services, specifically:
- Enhance digital and financial inclusion
- Take the right approach to data regulation
- Address key challenges in the business environment
- Leverage stakeholder collaboration
“Mobile network operators must play a critical role to accelerate digital inclusion, economic diversification and sustainable development,” said Antonio Pedro, Director of ECA’s Sub-regional Office for Central Africa. “If governments act now, Central Africa can be more competitive and collaborative for the benefit and inclusion of all citizens.”