The world is increasingly going digital but much still need to be done on the continent to increase internet penetration. According to the International Telecommunication Union, in 2019 only 28 per cent of Africans used the internet and online shoppers are relatively still few.
Experts say that in the wake of COVID-19, there is an urgent need for African enterprises to digitalize and tap into enormous opportunities offered by e-commerce.
For example, Kenya, Mauritius, Namibia and South Africa are the only countries where the share of online shoppers exceeds 8 per cent. In most other countries, it is below 5 per cent.
Ms Mama Keita, Director of UN Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) in Eastern Africa says that the COVID-19 pandemic changed the way we do business, and this should be an accelerator for digital transformation. Sectors like education, health, trade, food delivery, events and conferencing experienced unprecedented demand for technology.
Ms Keita was speaking in a virtual dialogue on how women digital entrepreneurs are contributing to the region’s digital transformation. She stressed how COVID-19 crisis and containment measures have upended almost every aspect of life, affecting big and small enterprises, disrupting supply chains, causing the decline of export revenues and interrupting the tourism, transport and logistic sectors significantly.
Ms Keita who explained the Socioeconomic Effects of the pandemic in Africa said that Africa’s projected GDP growth of 3.2 per cent for 2020 is now expected to be a sharp contraction. She, however, noted that East Africa’s economic growth, although highly impacted too, is expected to remain the largest in Africa. “COVID-19 pandemic should be used as a game-changer. It should serve as a wakeup call underscoring the urgency to turn Africa’s structural vulnerabilities into opportunities” she noted.
Ms Keita said that the overreliance on imports from the Rest of the World of essential goods such as medical, pharmaceutical and food items, should be reduced considerably and gradually be replaced with local production. “This a great occasion to promote industrialization and structural transformation”.
She recalled the urgency of implementing the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA). “The rapid implementation of the agreement could fast-track the industrial development of the continent and render it more resilient to shocks such as the COVID 19 pandemic” said Ms Keita, adding that digital transformation has a significant role to play in this process, just as digital solutions are helping mitigate the impacts of COVID at the moment.
Also speaking at the event, Ms Clarisse Ilibagiza, entrepreneur and founder of HEHE Ltd, a company that develops mobile technologies in Rwanda spoke on the necessity to build a conducive business environment. She called for policymakers to ensure that women entrepreneurs are supported and can build both the network and resilience they need to thrive in the digital economy in a post-coronavirus context.
The online dialogue event was organized by UNCTAD and provided a platform for women founders of digital businesses from Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda, to reflect the dynamism and variety of the digital landscape in the region.