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Headline : Kenya : Digital Africa must make its mark, Nairobi e-commerce event hears
Summary : UNCTAD's Africa eCommerce Week in Nairobi, Kenya, focusses on what must be done to speed up the readiness of African countries to engage in and benefit from e-commerce.

Key findings from assessments of what African countries need to do to benefit from e-commerce and the digital economy were at the centre of discussions on 10 December at the first ministerial roundtable at UNCTAD’s African eCommerce Week in Nairobi, Kenya.

UNCTAD’s Rapid eTrade Readiness Assessments focus on practical steps that national governments, with the support of donor agencies, development banks and international organizations, can take to boost online trade.

The assessments show that vast reforms are needed to seize the development opportunities offered by e-commerce. But they also help African countries to identify opportunities, barriers and relevant policy measures required to improve their readiness to engage in and benefit from e-commerce.

Afric e-week
Opening the 10–14 December conference, UNCTAD Secretary-General Mukhisa Kituyi said there was a sense of urgency that Africa was being left out of the discourse on e-commerce that had already taken place elsewhere.

“That’s why this meeting is important,” he said. Rapid eTrade Readiness Assessments were unique products that had been much in demand by African governments, he said.

“Faced with current global trade challenges, many countries are moving forward with e-commerce strategies, but it is important that governments include all stakeholders,” he said.

The demand for eTrade Readiness Assessments was spreading fast, and beyond the least developed countries, Dr. Kituyi said. “The appetite is growing, but the laggards lie on this continent.”

Dr. Kituyi added that it was important to remember that building e-commerce ecosystems in Africa was not only about consumers being enabled to buy goods “made in India, made in China” but for the world to buy merchandise “made in Africa”.

Historic opportunity

Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) Executive Secretary Vera Songwe said that the question was how African countries could build the systems that would allow them to compete in world markets, and to identify the right e-commerce strategies for them.

“We at the ECA say this must be done within the context of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement, and that Africa has a long way to go in intra-continental levels of trade compared to other global regions,” she said.

“As we start our drive to deeper trading we must ensure that no one is left behind,” to avoid the kind of backlash against globalization the rest of the world had seen, she said. “E-commerce allows us to do trade more inclusively.”

She said that harmonization was critical so that “Angola can talk to Egypt and Zimbabwe can talk to Senegal.”

The millions of Africans without any means of identification, online or off, was an issue that the ECA was working on she said, along with other ways to bring women and informal businesses into formal economic activity.

Universal Postal Union (UPU) Director General Bishar Hussein said: “The importance of the postal sector for the e-commerce sector has been underlined in the eTrade Readiness Assessments.”

In Africa, private initiatives to set up e-logistics services have met regulatory and legal barriers which national postal services can overcome, he said.

The UPU was active in supporting national postal infrastructure reform in Africa, and this was more important than ever as the e-commerce revolution rolled across Africa.