Low access to the Internet, predominance of cash payments, logistical problems, digital divide, inadequate regulatory and institutional frameworks, unfavorable environment, consumers not fully aware … Barriers are plentiful for e-commerce operators in Africa. And yet, start-ups, entrepreneurs, and retail giants are convinced that, just as mobile telephony has turned the telecommunications market upside down, e-commerce could change things quickly. A condition, however: to take into account reality and adapt.

“Having the best conditions for thriving e-commerce does not necessarily translate into real online sales in most African countries,” warns the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (Unctad) in its latest report. Therefore, several questions arise: What battle is played around e-commerce in Africa? Who are the safe actors? Which countries to invest in? Where are the potential buyers? Response elements.

A great disparity between countries and obstacles shared by all
The Consumer Uncertainty Index (B2C), produced by Unctad, a UN specialized agency, ranks 151 countries worldwide, including 43 African countries, by measuring their ability to shop online. The index is based on four indicators: banking penetration or mobile money, use of the Internet, availability of Internet servers and reliability of postal services. And, from the outset, the report notes a “disparity of core indicators and real purchases” in Africa.

The two main brakes remain the banking system, still less than 20% on average, and access to the Internet in the reliability and speed of connections. Other obstacles include logistics, which is explained by the fact that most countries do not have an addressing system. There are road barriers as well. Another challenge facing the e-commerce sector is the incomplete legal and regulatory framework and above all the lack of e-commerce-specific skills. “Education is still too oriented towards traditional commerce and does not sufficiently take into account the digital economy”, deplores UNCTAD, which notes “the important gap between the needs of companies and the knowledge of graduates of the third cycle” .

On the other hand, consumers, the other engine of e-commerce, are not used to buying online. In addition to the lack of trust, there is mistrust, fear of being stolen data, cyberinsecurity, in short. In the end, it takes time to change the quasi-cultural habits that consist for many to go to the market, to negotiate prices. There is, of course, the diaspora consumers’ pool that is playing an increasingly important role in the dynamism of African e-commerce, but here again, the barriers of the field operate, notably the logistics, slowing down the growth of a promising sector.

A great disparity between countries and obstacles shared by all
The Consumer Uncertainty Index (B2C), produced by Unctad, a UN specialized agency, ranks 151 countries worldwide, including 43 African countries, by measuring their ability to shop online. The index is based on four indicators: banking penetration or mobile money, use of the Internet, availability of Internet servers and reliability of postal services. And, from the outset, the report notes a “disparity of core indicators and real purchases” in Africa.

The two main brakes remain the banking system, still less than 20% on average, and access to the Internet in the reliability and speed of connections. Other obstacles include logistics, which is explained by the fact that most countries do not have an addressing system. There are road barriers as well. Another challenge facing the e-commerce sector is the incomplete legal and regulatory framework and above all the lack of e-commerce-specific skills. “Education is still too oriented towards traditional commerce and does not sufficiently take into account the digital economy”, deplores UNCTAD, which notes “the important gap between the needs of companies and the knowledge of graduates of the third cycle” .

On the other hand, consumers, the other engine of e-commerce, are not used to buying online. In addition to the lack of trust, there is mistrust, fear of being stolen data, cyberinsecurity, in short. In the end, it takes time to change the quasi-cultural habits that consist for many to go to the market, to negotiate prices. There is, of course, the diaspora consumers’ pool that is playing an increasingly important role in the dynamism of African e-commerce, but here again, the barriers of the field operate, notably the logistics, slowing down the growth of a promising sector.

Mauritius, Nigeria and South Africa ahead
Leader of the continent, Mauritius occupies the 55th place of this world ranking, which is dominated by the Netherlands, Singapore and Switzerland. Mauritius has a comfortable lead of 12 points over the African country that follows, Nigeria. This small island state in the heart of the Indian Ocean has relatively high scores for each of the four indicators. That said, it stands out more particularly by the percentage of its population with a bank account or a mobile wallet, about 90%.

Nigeria, the most populous country on the continent, is in second position, thanks in large part to the greater reliability gained by its postal services, according to the assessment made by the Postal Union. Universal (UPU). As Africa’s largest business-to-consumer e-commerce market (both by number of buyers and by revenue), the reliability of deliveries is for the essential giant.

South Africa is the third African country in the rankings. It competes with several other countries such as Cape Verde, Gabon, or Morocco with regard to the penetration rate of the Internet. It dominates significantly by the number of secure web servers per million inhabitants, that is, websites that accept online sales and payments.

In West Africa, Senegal stands out, even if it is still at the bottom of this year’s ranking. “Dakar has become a laboratory of start-ups and start-ups that have made ICT a key asset to their development,” notes a report on the country. Internationally renowned players, such as Jumia, have established a strong presence, relying on the local market and the large Senegalese diaspora on other continents. Others, on a smaller scale, are trying to find a place in a market destined to grow. However, this reality can not hide the fact that, with the exception of a small number of operators, e-commerce is developing mainly in the informal economy through private classified ads and aggregator sites as well as social networks.

The challenge of the “last mile”
For UNCTAD, for example, African countries need to promote the use of the Internet to grow e-commerce. This will be possible now with the mobilization of actors, the State, the private sector, partners through e-Trade for All, an initiative launched by the international organization, which consists of a platform gathering datasets on the topic.

In the end, African e-commerce markets present what industry experts typically call the “last mile” challenge – from the distribution center to their final destination. In parallel with the publication of its report, on December 14, Unctad organized the first e-commerce week in Africa. The opportunity to outline the key steps to take advantage of this sector. “The e-commerce development gains are not automatic and the increased use of digital technologies can lead to new divisions and greater income inequalities,” organizers of the Nairobi event said. in Kenya.

“Debit, public service”, a necessity
“Today, broadband has to be considered a public service,” said Mukhisa Kituyi. And that’s possible, says Andrus Ansip, European Commissioner for the Digital Single Market and Vice-President of the European Commission. For him, it is important that mistakes made in the European Union are not copied in Africa. He mentioned the transition to 3G and the failures that have slowed investments towards 4G. “Affordable connectivity is the first requirement” to build the digital economy, he said. The digital single market in Europe has also been slow to build, he said. Until then, Europe had lost start-ups to the United States.

By creating an African digital single market, states will avoid fragmentation between small national markets. Okot Okello, Uganda’s Deputy Trade Commissioner, said that cross-border connections were too expensive. “There is a lot to do,” he said. But it is necessary to think of manufacturing goods with added values ​​that are worth exporting, because without this, “the construction of digital trading platforms will not go far”, he added, noting Until now, e-commerce has favored imports from abroad to Africa. The good news is that there are plenty of opportunities for Africa to engage in e-commerce and take advantage of it with the coming into force of the continental free trade agreement.

 

About The Author

CEO AfrikaTech

Comme beaucoup de personnes j’ai connu l’Afrique à travers des stéréotypes : l’Afrique est pauvre, il y a la guerre, famine… Je suis devenu entrepreneur pour briser ces clichés et participer à la construction du continent. J’ai lancé plusieurs entreprises dont Kareea (Formation et développement web), Tutorys (Plate-forme de e-learning), AfrikanFunding (Plate-forme de crowdfunding). Après un échec sur ma startup Tutorys, à cause d’une mauvaise exécution Business, un manque de réseau, pas de mentor, je suis parti 6 mois en immersion dans l’écosystème Tech au Sénégal. J’ai rencontré de nombreux entrepreneurs passionnés, talentueux et déterminés. A mon retour sur Paris je décide de raconter leur histoire en créant le média AfrikaTech. L'objectif est de soutenir les entrepreneurs qui se battent quotidiennement en Afrique en leur offrant la visibilité, les connaissances, le réseautage et les capitaux nécessaires pour réussir. L'Afrique de demain se construit aujourd'hui ensemble. Rejoignez-nous ! LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/boubacardiallo

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