The Council of Ministers of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) approved a regional e-commerce strategy for all 15 members on July 7, 2023. This does not come as a surprise — pre-COVID-19, national and regional institutions in West Africa expressed their interest in a regional strategy that focuses on the development of e-commerce and a digital economy.
Benefits of E-Commerce
The increase of e-commerce in West Africa will help to bridge the poverty gap between urban and rural areas. It is a tool that can provide the people of West Africa with a better quality of life.
The first benefit of e-commerce is that it is electronic, which means it can reach the global market. It is open 24/7, 365 days a year, and it allows people to work from any location as long as electricity and an internet connection are provided. This gives potential customers the flexibility to purchase whenever they want to, without being restricted by a store’s hours.
In comparison to physical stores, e-commerce reduces costs and requires a lower investment. Physical stores require costs, such as rent, repairs, store design, etc., that are not incurred in e-commerce. E-commerce allows for affordable advertising and marketing. Websites like Amazon have interfaces to help users add videos, infographics and photos. Good reviews will also help customers see products and services from developing countries.
E-commerce can be used to deepen trade and boost productivity, creating jobs for the growing young population. Many researchers regard it as a critical means for alleviating poverty. ICT as a whole has the potential to reduce poverty by allowing easy access to education, health, government and financial services as well as other relevant information.
Lastly, the introduction of e-commerce in West Africa can be used to help bridge the poverty gap between those living in rural and urban areas. By providing the right infrastructure in rural areas, e-commerce can allow people like low-income farmers to earn much more by cutting their costs.
The Progression to E-Commerce
E-commerce in West Africa will prove to provide many benefits, though it requires a certain environment in order for it to survive and thrive. Important requirements include electricity, a stable internet connection, credit card ownership, good road infrastructure and adequate literacy rates.
West Africa has been planning ahead to ensure that requirements are met to allow e-commerce to flourish. Without meeting these requirements, e-commerce will only be available to the rich, rather than becoming accessible to everyone.
The ECOWAS region has seen a significant rise in internet usage over the last decade. The Internet is now being used mostly for commercial purposes, and this can be seen in the increase in online retail. This increase is influenced by a rise in internet penetration, the adoption of phones, the development of cashless payments and the young growing population.
More people in West Africa are starting to pay for goods and services with credit cards, mobile money and online, rather than cash. West Africa is leading the continent in terms of the number of registered mobile money accounts, and it has the world’s largest number of mobile services to date.
Road infrastructure is important for the delivery of goods, both imports and exports. The 2023 West Africa Road Infrastructure and Investment Forum is set to be the most important road infrastructure event in West Africa. It will address how road development, investment and technology synergize and how to fund and finish infrastructure projects on time and within budget.
Literacy is important for e-commerce and West African countries have made progress towards increasing literacy rates; some countries mention literacy in their national development plans, while others have adopted non-formal education policies.
Education is important to e-commerce, as people need skills to start selling and buying online. Education and average primary school enrollment in Western and Central Africa is close to the universal average. It has risen from 50% in the 1990s to almost 90% today. Secondary enrollment in the last decade has more than doubled to the current average of 55%.
With a boost to e-commerce in West Africa and the correct infrastructure in place, the lives of West Africans will surely become easier. Low-income farmers and others can use the tool to increase their revenue. E-commerce is a tool used on a global scale. With West Africa adopting more technology and providing the right infrastructure, e-commerce will help to alleviate poverty.
– Lewis Butcher