Africa’s political leadership should make ecommerce a priority in order to improve the continent's standing in the digital economy.
Although Kenya and South Africa lead the continent with ecommerce at six per cent, followed at third position by Nigeria, the figure is generally low compared to what businesses in Asia and China are doing with the platforms, said secretary general of UNCTAD Mukhisa Kituyi, during the opening panel of the African Union e-commerce conference yesterday.
He said in Europe, procurement proceedings are 75 per cent done online, driving billions in business value to micro and small businesses as well as the government.
“Ecommerce is growing exponentially, at above five per cent of the normal GDP in developed nations. We need to identify the malaise here, know the missing links before we can come up with workable solutions,” he said.
He said regulatory frameworks that are supportive of crossborder online trading should be encouraged to foster trust and speed in dispute resolutions.
“We need a national diagnostic study that will inform where work should be done to seal the missing links.” He singled out privacy laws and safety of internet user information as some of the laws that should be clear in order to protect consumer online activities. He said obsolete laws such as the Exchange Control Act automatically impede the use of electronic platforms when carrying out cross border payments.
“Is there a way for a customer to safely return an item to the dealer? Are there laws on resolving a dispute in the shortest time possible? When such laws are in place, then crossborder trading becomes seamless,” Mukhisa told the meeting.
The panel was told that platforms invented by Africans for Africa are best to answer to the continent’s unique needs, rather than running on platforms that have been created by others to solve our ecommerce problems.
ICT cabinet secretary Joe Mucheru said the continent is home to more than 200 million smartphones, which are a prerequisite for accessing internet on mobile phones.
He argued for the patenting of original African ideas to avoid losing to buyouts from rich investors. He said African governments should protect creators and innovators through patenting their work so that they can start enjoying from their intellectual property.
“With our own trading platforms, foodstuff such as groceries from Kinangop can get immediate global buyers through relevant online shops,” he said.