Working Papers

The Rising Potential of e-Commerce for Trade and Development in Africa

The Rising Potential of e-Commerce for Trade and Development in Africa

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30 May 2018

Author(s): John Stuart

The world economy has changed at a faster pace in the last thirty years than at any time in history. The mid-1990s brought on the so-called ‘information age’ and the age of the world wide web/the Internet and the myriad of services that it makes possible. Before the Internet existed, services as a proportion of output, had been growing for the developed world, but the Internet era saw this growth accelerate as services became both wider and deeper in their application.

A third dynamic also came into being in the proliferation of services – the creation of entirely new services and their inevitable role in disrupting existing sectors. Services such as centralised ride-hailing, payments gateways, retail portals and collaborative platforms showed that the Internet was not just useful in extending the definitions of commerce, but also of many other aspects of social interaction.

This paper examines the role of electronic commerce (e-commerce) and related Information and Communication Technology services (ICTs) in the furthering of trade and development in Africa. The paper begins with a discussion of how ICTs can drive development through creating new, accessible models of trade. Both the types of services and the devices that are required to access them are discussed, as well as the roles of mobile money and e-commerce platforms.

The second component of the paper entails extensive visualisation of a set of data for the main regions of the globe, the African regional economic communities (RECs) and the individual African countries as members of the RECs. The analysis examines readiness for business-to-consumer (B2C) and business-to-business (B2B) electronic trade, as well as indicators of overall Internet penetration, technology adoption, postal reliability and credit card uptake. Depending on the specific challenges faced by a grouping or country, recommendations are made and summarised again in the conclusion to the paper.


Readers are encouraged to quote and reproduce this material for educational, non-profit purposes, provided the source is acknowledged. All views and opinions expressed remain solely those of the author and do not purport to reflect the views of tralac.

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The Rising Potential of e-Commerce for Trade and Development in Africa - Author(s): John Stuart
Africa’s e-commerce readiness: Infographic

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